Jeff Himmelman’s new biography on former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee will be hard to resist for most news addicts. It might have something to do with the suppressed envy many of us have for someone capable of responding to a disgruntled reader’s complaint with the salutation “Dear Asshole.” But it’s more likely that we all know Bradlee has had one of the most extraordinarily charmed lives of any late twentieth century journalist, who has magically showed up at in the right place at the right time for most of his adult life. And so there might be some minor satisfaction in reading Himmelman’s account that his luck didn’t always break his way. The book also contains more than a handful of Bradlee tales from JFK to Katherine Graham that makes it worth the candle.
And yet, Himmelman’s book might also comes across as surprisingly off-putting for many. While the author had the support and cooperation of Ben Bradlee and wife, Sally Quinn, in writing the book (and in many ways was considered part of the family after working with them and their son on a book of his health challenges a few years ago) the end result resembles at times the legendary betrayal of Babe Paley at the hands of her former best friend, Truman Capote, in his last novel, Answered Prayers. All too often, Himmelman shares cringe worthy anecdotes from a family’s private life, that seems to serve little purpose other than to embarrass Bradlee and his family. For example, his decision to document a strained telephone conversation between Bradlee and one of his adult children from a previous marriage about money troubles brings very little to the table except to highlight the author’s rather transparent contempt for his subject. Sadly, there are too many moments in the book to take this as serious biography. What a shame.
Yours in Truth: A Personal Portrait of Ben Bradlee by Jeff Himmelman