Personal History

Personal History

by Katharine Graham


$16.20 $18.00 Save 10% Current price is $16.2, Original price is $18. You Save 10%. View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Thursday, October 17


The captivating, inside story of the woman who helmed the Washington Post during one of the most turbulent periods in the history of American media.

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Biography

In this bestselling and widely acclaimed memoir, Katharine Graham, the woman who piloted the Washington Post through the scandals of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate, tells her story—one that is extraordinary both for the events it encompasses and for the courage, candor, and dignity of its telling.
Here is the awkward child who grew up amid material wealth and emotional isolation; the young bride who watched her brilliant, charismatic husband—a confidant to John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson—plunge into the mental illness that would culminate in his suicide. And here is the widow who shook off her grief and insecurity to take on a president and a pressman’s union as she entered the profane boys’ club of the newspaper business.
As timely now as ever, Personal History is an exemplary record of our history and of the woman who played such a shaping role within them, discovering her own strength and sense of self as she confronted—and mastered—the personal and professional crises of her fascinating life.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375701047
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/28/1998
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 688
Sales rank: 74,437
Product dimensions: 5.15(w) x 7.98(h) x 1.37(d)

About the Author

Katharine Graham is fondly remembered as the powerful, longtime publisher of the Washington Post. She died in 2001.

Read an Excerpt

From Chapter One

Excerpted from "Personal History"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Katharine Graham.
Excerpted by permission of Diversified Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and suggestions for further reading that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading of Katharine Graham's Personal History. We hope that they will aid your discussion of this autobiography by one of America's most remarkable and accomplished women. Graham recounts her sheltered girlhood as the daughter of a self-made millionaire and his formidable, egotistical wife; her education at Vassar at the University of Chicago; her early work at a San Francisco newspaper; and her marriage to the brilliant and politically ambitious Philip Graham, at the time a clerk to Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter. After her husband's suicide, which followed his harrowing descent into manic-depressive illness, Katharine Graham stepped abruptly out of her supporting role as wife and mother to take over as publisher of The Washington Post.

1. Graham spent her childhood and adolescence in a household that revolved around the needs of the parents rather than those of the children. It wasn't until she was two and a half that she was first mentioned, in passing, in her mother's diary--"The babes (Bill and K) take some of my time this week" [p. 27]--and when her parents moved from New York to Washington, the children remained behind with a nursemaid and governess for the first four years. What long-term effects, if any, did this parental neglect have upon Graham's life?

2. Of her father's passing the Post to his son-in-law rather than to his daughter, Graham notes, "Far from troubling me personally that my father thought of my husband and not me, it pleased me" [p. 149]. Why did Graham and many other women of her generation have this point of view? At the time, her father explained that "no man should be in the position of working for his wife" [p. 181]; how would the marriage have been affected if Katharine Graham had been chosen to run the Post?

3. Eugene Meyer believed that social responsibility accompanied the privileges of wealth. Does the sense of public duty that Eugene Meyer passed on to his daughter strike you as unusual? He also believed that a newspaper's first duty was to serve the public interest, not the political ends of its owner. How closely did Philip Graham, and later his wife, adhere to these precepts while at the helm of the Post?

4. Hardly a conventional woman in her own day, Agnes Meyer was ambitious, politically involved, intellectually driven, and not at all "nurturing" of her children. In what ways did her mother shape the person Katharine Graham was to become?

5. What does Graham's description of the heated political argument that delayed her wedding ceremony indicate about the role of politics in her married life? What impression do you gain from the narrative of Philip Graham's political agenda and his influence upon Presidents Johnson and Kennedy? What impresses you about how Katharine Graham handled herself in friendships and business dealings with men in power? Do you think that Katharine Graham would have made a good political figure herself?

6. Graham writes of her relationship with her husband, "I literally believed that he had created me, that I was totally dependent on him, and I didn't see the downside at all" [p. 309]. Was this a happy marriage up until the time when Philip Graham's illness became obvious? Or do you agree with her friend's assessment that it was "good" for her that he left [p. 309]?. Was her continued loyalty to him, even after he left her for another woman, misplaced? How would you characterize Graham's account of their separation and her portrayal of her husband's mistress?

7. Three major crises punctuate Graham's account of her years at The Washington Post: the decision to publish the Pentagon Papers, the handling of the revelations of the Watergate affair, and her dealings with the pressmen's strike. How do these three events show the quality of her leadership? Her ability to react under extreme pressure? Is there anything in her handling of these situations that you disagree with? In the pressmens' strike, she was blamed for the suicide of one of the workers. Is there any justification for this?

8. The reader will not learn much from Katharine Graham about what it's like to live with millions of dollars at one's personal disposal. What role does Graham's inherited--and later earned--wealth play in this narrative?

9. Does the couple's attempt to conceal Philip Graham's breakdown strike you as indicative of a social stigma attending mental illness that our society has since outgrown? Was the self-imposed isolation that Katharine Graham endured at the time, as his sole confidante and support during the course of his illness, worthwhile? When she writes of herself and her children as "enablers" [p. 331] of her husband's actions, what does she mean?

10. In any memoir, the writer is faced with looking back at the past and at actions that seem, from the present venue, regrettable. What is the role of self-criticism in this memoir? Do you agree with Graham's belief that to have gone on a cruise after her husband's suicide was the wrong thing to do, since it meant that her two youngest sons had to deal with the aftermath of their father's death on their own? What other aspects of her life would she change, do you suppose, if she had the chance?

11. Are you surprised at how much social contact there was between the Grahams and such figures as Presidents Johnson and Kennedy, Henry Kissinger, and George Shultz, etc.? Is your view of these well-known figures changed at all by seeing them through Graham's eyes?
How well do you think that she dealt with the wrath of Richard Nixon? How do the revelations in this book change your preconceptions about the relationship between media and politics in this country?

12. Philip Graham's suicide is clearly a turning point in his wife's story. Is she, in a sense, a different person once she goes to work at the Post? The episode of his mental illness and its aftermath encapsulates many of the recurrent themes in the work, especially the competing obligations Graham felt as a private woman versus a public one. How well does she deal with the exposure that comes with being in such an elevated position? How well does she balance the needs of home and of work? Is this a story of a person who was to find her real fulfillment as a working woman, but who never would have discovered that if she had remained at home?

13. Although Katharine Graham did not at first identify with the aims of the feminist movement, throughout her career she found herself confronting a good deal of gender-based discrimination and prejudice. For instance, she was characterized as being a "'house mother and cheerleader'" for the company [p. 432]. What were the particular challenges facing her that a man in her position would not have had to confront? Would you consider Graham a feminist?

14. Graham identifies her husband as the energetic partner in the marriage, the one who was fun to be around, while she herself was "the foundation, the stability" [p. 250]. Is this situation--the mother feels herself to be "boring" and relegated to the background, but nevertheless is relied upon to manage the family's life--still typical of many families? Has the women's movement significantly affected gender roles in most marriages?

15. Many celebrity books in this country are ghostwritten, and clearly Katharine Graham did not have to take on the enormous labor of writing such a lengthy book herself. Why do you suppose she chose to do so? What does she achieve by having done so? What stylistic and tonal qualities of her writing contribute to your sense of Katharine Graham's presence, personality, and character?

16. "I suppose that, without quite realizing it, I was taking a veil" [p. 339]. How do you interpret this description of what it meant to Graham to take on her husband's job after his suicide? Elsewhere, she writes of being married to her job. Do you think that she would have accomplished what she did had she married again?

17. Katharine Graham found a truly productive partnership with Ben Bradlee; in many ways he seems to have been an integral part of her success at the paper. Why do you suppose they worked so well together? To what degree is success dependent upon working with the right people, or learning how to deal with less sympathetic people? To what degree is successful management determined by finding the right balance of personalities in a working environment?

18. In any autobiography some episodes are emphasized while others are muted. What parts of Graham's life are underplayed in this memoir? Do you sometimes find yourself wanting to know more about certain aspects of her life? What might explain or justify these omissions?

19. While the tradition of autobiograpy by men in public life is well established, that of women is far less so. If you have read recent examples--those of Colin Powell and Robert McNamara, for instance--how does Graham's narrative follow the pattern established by male writers? What does it owe to the emerging tradition of writing about female experience? What are the differences, if any, between the two?

20. Though they are nonfiction, autobiographies can be compared to novels that follow a character's education, development, life story--novels like Jane Austen's Emma, George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss, or Charles Dickens's Great Expectations. How does Graham's narrative compare to these or similar novels you've read? How would you characterize the movements of its "plot"? What is the effect upon you as a reader of the story as a whole?

21. Graham often mentions the fact that she lacked confidence, even after having reached a level of achievement that few people--men or women--ever do. Does she come across in her writing as a woman lacking in confidence? Is this, at bottom, a problem shared by most individuals, no matter how successful and no matter their sex? If not, how is Katharine Graham's lack of confidence specific to her sex and her generation?

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Personal History 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 34 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had been meaning to read this for awhile, and never found the time - glad I finally did. One of the first women to hold a true position of power; and one of the most influential and captivating women in contemporary America Graham tells of making it inspite of and despite considerable odds- including the fact that she was born to wealth, married to a genius suffering from manic- depression, and then publisher/owner of the Washington Post. She was a legendary figure that shows herself as being human all too human, writing of her mistakes, of overcoming, enjoying and learning from obstacles and privileges. The book offers slices of American history from the inside, not only Watergate but also major characters such as Warren Buffet. It chronicles both her personal and then professional life at the Washington Post- recounting history (hers, the Wposts' and the nations') from her point of view. It tells of the need to keep on moving forward, even when in doubt of the path to take, of making a tough call and sticking to it- perserverance with elegance. Not only a fascinating history of the Washington Post from the inside but also an incredible odessey of personal growth and empowerment.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A very good look at a tough business. Amazing detail. She knows how to tell a story.
SeriousGrace on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Even though I categorized this as an autobiography it is not a traditional "my life" story. Instead, it is Katharine Graham's personal history with The Washington Post first and foremost. She begins with a brief overview of how her parents met, when and where she was born, and her college years. This sets the stage for her increased involvement with the paper. From the time she was 16 years old, when her father bought the failing Washington Post at auction, until the end of her role as chairman of the board in 1991, 58 years of Graham's life was immersed in making the paper a success. Raised without a strong mother-figure or adolescent role models Katharine Graham was a trendsetter for women in business. For her era, her rise to power was nothing short of remarkable. But, in addition what makes Personal History such a fascinating read is Graham's unflinching view of her world. She does not hide the fact she had a strained and difficult relationship with her absentee mother. Her voice drips with contempt when she recounts her mother's failed attempts at guidance in life. Graham addresses her husband's mental illness and subsequent suicide in a matter of fact manner. She does not sugar coat the difficulties she faced being a woman of influence in a world traditionally reserved for the man of the house. Despite being born into privilege Graham exemplified the meaning of hard work and perseverance.
NewsieQ on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The BEST biography I've read -- ever. Easy to forget it is an AUTObiography and not written by an impartial observer. I read biographies of Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley about the same time I read this one and they were absolutely lightweight compared to hers. An amazing book by an amazing woman -- easy to see why it won a Pulitzer Prize.
sallysvenson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A fabulous autobiography by a woman who was forced into and mastered a role that she had no interest in and thought beyond her. Wise, honest, and ego-free.
phyllis01 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This may be the best autobiography I've ever read. Graham was charming, brilliant, tough as hell, and a lady all the way through. Her description of the legal wrangling regarding publishing the Pentagon Papers is as hold your breath tense as any thriller.
Clueless on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very informative but could have used some serious editing. There was a lot of name dropping that would mean absolutely nothing to someone out of the USA. Still an interesting story. Empowering for women.
Marliesd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
While my mind is on Washington, D.C., another good read. I listened to this one a few years back.
swinebass on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Never have a I read a more honest, genuflective and intriguing autobiography. Graham is as open and frank about her life, especially her early years and her marriage to her bipolar disorder-suffering and eventually suicidal husband, as she could possibly be.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this insider look at Washington through the eyes of this amazing woman. I particularly enjoyed the sections on the Pentagon papers and Watergate. Highly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Normally not one for autobiographies, I truly enjoyed this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm still enjoying the read. Great review with history.
Gamma46 More than 1 year ago
I really did not know much about Katharine Graham until reading her personal history. Quite an amazing story. She writes with such honesty about herself it was sometimes heart wrenching. Well written and most interesting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Granuaile More than 1 year ago
And the history wasn't so personal. Too much detail about other people. It might have well as been Her husband's biography.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Katharine Graham not only tells a complete story of her life but also of the Washington that she lived in.She doesnt shy away from any of her struggles or painful moments.I liked the way she shared her life from the time she was a child, to her marriage, to old age. This creates a good read but it can get a little lengthy. Other than that it is a powerful read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a female journalist in a male-dominated industry, I was captivated by Katherine Graham's "Personal History." Graham was at the helm of one of the nation's largest newspapers at a time when very few women held positions of power. Everyone, regardless of their gender, can learn much from the way she handled herself in various situations, both professionally and personally. The historical insight and personal details added so much to the book. This is one of my all time favorites!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This autobiography was published just before Ms. Graham died. I would have liked to listen to the recently released Watergate tapes with her in her private quarters. I know her laughter would have shook the building.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just recently finished Personal History and the only real thing that I learned was how many people this woman actually knew in her life. I didn't feel that we really got to know Katharine. It seemed that all she wanted to include in her book is how each of the thousands of people that she mentioned amazingly touched her life. This is my first serious biography that I have ever read, so that may be the way they all are. But this will probably be my last. I agree she led an exciting life, but if I had grown up with that much money, I might have been able to do all of those things too. I wanted to know the real stories, like why she felt the way she did about her husband, what was her real relationship with her children. I just wasn't moved by this story or her life in any way except to say this is not a book worth reading.