“In 1960, Bernstein was just a sixteen-year-old at considerable risk of failing to graduate high school. Inquisitive, self-taught―and, yes, truant―Bernstein landed a job as a copyboy at the Evening Star, the afternoon paper in Washington. By nineteen, he was a reporter there.
In Chasing History (Amazon), Bernstein recalls the origins of his storied journalistic career as he chronicles the Kennedy era, the swelling civil rights movement, and a slew of grisly crimes. He spins a buoyant, frenetic account of educating himself in what Bob Woodward describes as “the genius of perpetual engagement.”
Funny and exhilarating, poignant and frank, Chasing History is an extraordinary memoir of life on the cusp of adulthood for a determined young man with a dogged commitment to the truth.”
Carl Bernstein is a living journalism legend. As part of the Woodward and Bernstein duo that doggedly wrote about the Watergate break-ins in 1972, it led to President Nixon’s resignation. That sort of investigative journalism was unheard of at the time and for good or bad, changed the way the press dealt with public figures. But what wasn’t known to some was that Bernstein got his start in the newsroom as a teenager. Chasing history chronicles his time at the Washington Evening Star in the early 1960’s, an eventful time in American history.
I have to say, I’m always amazed when memoirs or history books are hyper-focused on a short period of time because I figure there have to be journals to follow someone’s life so closely. Bernstein had a newspaper archive to jog his memories, and he may have had a journal, he never explicitly says one way or another.
Chasing History is a fascinating look at Washington, D.C. leading up to and during the Kennedy administration and beyond. Bernstein was there at one of JFK’s campaign stops, the inaugural parade, and more. He did this at the age of 16, working at the paper after school and on the weekends. School became an afterthought as the author started writing his own news stories. There was a question whether he would even graduate high school.
I can relate. When I was in college, I got a job at a local television station. Over the next few years, I got promoted several times and was actually doing the job that I was trying to get a degree for, so I ultimately chose work over school, much to my regret. (I would eventually return to school and get two degrees to make up for dropping out the first time.)
Chasing History looks back at a time when a lot was happening in the U.S. The dynamic young president and his beautiful, talented wife, the growth of the civil rights movement including the March on Washington, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy’s death and the early days of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency. Bernstein was a local kid so he knew the city well and it helped him in his reporting. That’s one of the things I lament when I watch or read the local news. The best reporters turn out to be the ones that grew up here or close by because they already have an advantage when they start out: they know the people and the area well.
This time capsule of a book is a great way to get a feel of what the nation’s capitol was like during a bygone era. It also is a primer on how news stories were gathered once upon a time, and how journalism used to be practiced. It was a real treat listening to all the stories Bernstein had to share.
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