Saturday, November 27, 2010

Book Review -- Edward R. Murrow, An American Ori

Edward R. Murrow: An American Original by Joseph Persico

I have great admiration for the movie "Good Night and Good Luck", and it made me curious about Edward R. Murrow (he started out with the moniker "Egbert", and I blame him not for dumping that one.) Joseph Persico's biography of Murrow gave me a lot more understanding not only of the man who was so instrumental in creating radio and television news, but of the period in which he lived and the influence he has still on how we perceive and receive information via broadcast media.

It has the feel of good research -- copious quotes from others who knew the man, historical background on events of the period (but not so much as to divert attention from the subject), and authorial insight and opinion that is carefully marked out as such, which gave the feel of good conversation. Far from a dry recitation of facts, Persico gives details that bring scenes to life and calls on enough people who witnessed what Murrow did and had opinions about him to give a very well rounded picture of this complex human being. The book was really enjoyable as much as informative. While Persico repeated certain items about Murrow -- his pride, his private nature, his pessimism, his conflicting drives -- each time it seemed those essential features were described interacting with a new situation and resulted in a new facet being revealed.

Although most people remember Murrow (if they recall him at all) because of the movie and the McCarthy exposing episode of "See It Now" which it featured, that particular important episode did not dominate or overshadow the book. Murrow did far more than that, and had more pivotal career moments and crucial events in his life. His work during WWII and Korea, his almost one man effort to create a true news service for CBS, his own activities to help European intellectuals excape fascism -- all of these form the bulk of the book and are equally if not more important. If not for them, the McCarthy episode would not have happened.

I can recommend this book as solid, engaging reading to those interested in either broadcast history, media history, or Murrow himself, as well as to those who'd like to round out their knowledge of the US in the first half of the 20th century.

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