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Edward R. Murrow: An American Original by Joseph E. Persico (268,000 words, 30 illustrations)

“Murrow was a cut stone with an astonishing number of facets. He was born in a cabin with an outhouse, and behaved like an English squire, when he was not acting like a lumberjack, or an intellectual gadfly, or a cowboy, or a philosopher, or a daredevil, or a social crusader, or a raconteur, or a hermit. He could be found firing at metal ducks in a Times Square shooting gallery or shooting at grouse on the moors of an English country estate. He could spin dialect stories at a crowded bar or go for twenty-four hours without uttering a word to a house guest. He could send his son to the most prestigious schools, all the while telling the boy that college was not important to a successful life. He was either telling friends how humble his own origins were or insinuating into the conversation that his wife’s ancestors came over on the Mayflower. He was a handsome man and an elegant dresser who bristled at anyone who made mention of his striking appearance. He was impervious, even oblivious, to the charms of most women, yet became involved with an aristocratic beauty and nearly destroyed his marriage. He spent his professional life in world capitals, yet liked to imagine that he would be happier at a small-town college. He made a good deal of money, yet felt guilty about it and was so openhanded that it seemed at times that he was trying to give it all away. His pastimes were those of the he-man, yet he was a favorite of intellectuals. He had everything to live for, but he gambled his life dozens of times flying unnecessary combat missions. He could condemn a war, as he did in Korea, yet find it irresistible. He was modest, even flip, with colleagues about his physical bravery, but wrote letters to his parents presenting an almost maudlinly heroic self-image. He had every reason to be a happy man. He was not.

I was drawn to his life because he was the preeminent figure in a profession that he essentially fathered. It is difficult for any thinking person not to be simultaneously mesmerized and repelled by the hold of mass communications over the modern world. Murrow’s story is integral to that phenomenon.” — from Joseph E. Persico’s foreword to
Edward R. Murrow: An American Original


“If one is curious to find out what makes some people stand out above the rest, what makes a person a hero, the story is in
Edward R. Murrow: An American Original. Murrow had talent, drive, intelligence, personality and vision... In comprehensive detail, with dramatic, well-told anecdotes and insight and perceptiveness, Joseph E. Persico describes a man of extraordinary natural gifts, human failings and stunning accomplishments... a well-organized and readable trip through Murrow’s public and personal life... Mr. Persico is a diligent researcher who clearly won the confidence of the people he needed, most especially Murrow’s widow, Janet... [He] is an able reporter and a fine storyteller whose taste, tact and skill have produced an appropriate biography... We should be grateful to this book for reminding us that television once had, and on occasion still has — when someone is willing to put up a fight — the surprising and the exceptional.” — Joan Konner, The New York Times

“Persico’s distinguished and compellingly readable biography does not slight the stuff of the Murrow legend — his humble origins as the son of a North Carolina dirt farmer, his work as a lumberjack in the Pacific Northwest, his invention of himself as a dashing and dapper foreign correspondent, his pioneering broadcasts from London during the Blitz, his televised showdown with Joseph McCarthy. But, then, Persico goes far beyond the myth and shows us the real man — to his surprise, and perhaps to our own... the book is rich with intimate anecdotes, recounted by a sympathetic but unadoring biographer, drawing on first-person sources who were close enough to Murrow to detect the cracks in the plaster saint of journalism... Persico brings to
Murrow the intellectual discipline of the historian, the polished and memorable prose of the accomplished biographer... a fast but substantial and satisfying read.” — Jonathan Kirsch, Los Angeles Times

“[T]he conjunctions of events that propelled [Murrow] into a career that didn’t exist until he created it is an absorbing tale that Persico tells compellingly. He also has a keen eye for some of the other towering egos that came to populate the scene.” — Anne Chamberlin,
Washington Post

“Persico has produced a work which reveals... Murrow’s spirit and his passion for broadcast journalism... Persico tells us what drove this man to such professional heights. This is the work to read for insights into Murrow’s personality, beliefs, feelings, foibles and frustrations. Persico’s work is likely to become the most popular biography of Murrow. He interviewed the right people and his research was faultless and well-documented in the book... His writing is entertaining, revealing, and alive with characters, stories, suspense and humor... Persico causes the reader to share the emotions, the tensions, and the passions felt by Murrow and those close to him. Persico’s is an excellent book to put on a reading list for students, either graduate or undergraduate, it is an especially appropriate selection for those studying the role of broadcasting in our society and the current debate over the public trusteeship of broadcast licensees.” — Edward Funkhouser,
Journalism Quarterly

“A plain-spoken, essentially favorable, and near definitive appraisal of the accomplished, angst-ridden man who almost single-handedly made broadcast journalism a respectable profession. Persico secured the cooperation of Murrow’s widow, Janet, and other family members; he also had access to private papers not available to previous biographers... As one result, the author is able to add telling detail to the largely familiar, often romanticized record of Murrow’s career... Persico’s diligent research has enabled him to offer a coherent, revelatory narrative that addresses Murrow’s shortcomings and setbacks as well as his triumphs. His informed, evenhanded text clears the air of myth-makers’ hyperbole without tarnishing in any significant way the achievements of a complex, charismatic broadcast pioneer.” —
Kirkus