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Kay Graham's Story As Told by Herself

The woman who owned, then ran the Washington Post

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Personal History

By Katharine Graham

Alfred A. Knopf

642 pp., $29.95

Katharine Graham, the former publisher of The Washington Post, has given us easily some of the best reading of the year in her memoir, "Personal History." The use of power and fame by many of Washington's elite forms its backdrop.

Born of a Jewish investor father, Eugene Meyer, who made an early fortune on Wall Street, and a Lutheran intellectual mother, Agnes Ernst, whose absorption in art and travel left little space in her affections for "Katie," Graham grew up in Washington oddly unattuned to her family's wealth and influence. Money, sex, and "her father's" Jewishness were not discussed.

Eugene Meyer bought the Post at auction for $825,000 in 1934, five years after failing to buy it for $5 million. Meyer had had a second successful career as a Republican government official and, now in his late 50s, wanted to extend his influence in national governance through ownership of a newspaper.

He struggled to nourish the impoverished paper with infusions of high ideals and cash, before turning its management over to Phil Graham, Kay's young husband.

Phil Graham had been a top scholar at Harvard Law School and a clerk for Felix Frankfurter at the Supreme Court. Clever, with a prodigious memory, chum of the bright young stars in Washington circles, Phil took the Post through some early acquisitions - in broadcasting and of Newsweek magazine.

The son-in-law ably accomplished the transition from the Meyer generation to the Kennedy generation, before tragically spinning out of control and taking his life. Graham treats this section of her story with courage, candor, and fairness.


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