For decades, Walter Cronkite was known as “the most trusted man in America.” Millions across the nation welcomed him into their homes, first as a print reporter for the United Press on the front lines of World War II, and later, in the emerging medium of television, as a host of numerous documentary programs and as anchor of the CBS Evening News, from 1962 until his retirement in 1981. Yet this very public figure, undoubtedly the twentieth century’s most revered journalist, was a remarkably private man; few know the full story of his life. Drawing on unprecedented access to Cronkite’s private papers as well as interviews with his family and friends, Douglas Brinkley now brings this American icon into focus as never before.
Brinkley traces Cronkite’s story from his roots in Missouri and Texas through the Great Depression, during which he began his career, to World War II, when he gained notice reporting with Allied troops from North Africa, D-day, and the Battle of the Bulge. In 1950, Edward R. Murrow recruited him to work for CBS, where he covered presidential elections, the space program, Vietnam, and the first televised broadcasts of the Olympic Games, as both a reporter and later as an anchor for the evening news. Cronkite was also witness to—and the nation’s voice for—many of the most profound moments in modern American history, including the Kennedy assassination, Apollos 11 and 13, Watergate, the Vietnam War, and the Iran hostage crisis.
Epic, intimate, and masterfully written, Cronkite is the much-anticipated biography of an extraordinary American life, told by one of our most brilliant and respected historians.
About Douglas Brinkley
Douglas Brinkley is a professor of history at Rice University and a contributing editor to Vanity Fair. His most recent books are The Quiet World, The Wilderness Warrior, and The Great Deluge. Six of his books have been selected asNew York Times Notable Books of the Year. He lives in Texas.
As Vanity Fair contributor Brinkley (History/Rice Univ.; The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America, 2009, etc.) writes, Walter Cronkite (1916–2009) was an indifferent student but a constant reader, attuned in childhood to what we would call the news, if at a different pace and intensity. It wasn’t an easy childhood: Cronkite’s father was an alcoholic, his parents divorced when he was young, and he grew up in the alien confines of coastal Texas, far from his prized Missouri. Nonetheless, he more than rose to the occasion, learning how to speak in a “radio voice” while still a teenager: “In true Lowell Thomas fashion, he interviewed anyone who would stand still and speak into whatever faux microphone prop he held.” He also apprenticed at the Houston Post, learning how to write a lean news story, and he had a forward-looking habit, sensing that wire stories were going to be replaced by man-on-the-ground coverage and that television, when it arrived, would surpass radio and other media. Brinkley is very good on Cronkite’s early distinction as a war correspondent in World War II under the influence of Edward R. Murrow. The author also gives Cronkite credit for being out ahead on certain stories, such as gay rights, the collapse of the Vietnam War and Watergate. He hints that Cronkite could be a touch prickly and sensitive—for one thing, about his lack of a college degree—but the author doesn’t press that far enough; one wants to know more about the enmity between Cronkite and Dan Rather, for example. For all the book’s weight, Brinkley, a dutiful and plodding writer, skimps here and there where he should not. The great correspondent and Cronkite-colleague Richard Threlkeld, for instance, gets but a single passing mention. – Kirkus Reviews
Review: ‘Cronkite’ by Douglas Brinkley is occasionally critical
The Chicago Tribune Book Review – June 24, 2012 (Excerpt)
Walter Cronkite was not inclined to introspection, and historian Douglas Brinkley emulates his subject in this thorough biography of the news broadcaster who in 1972 was declared “The Most Trusted Man in America.”
Brinkley’s lengthy narrative spends as much time on Cronkite’s stints as a paperboy as on his father’s alcoholism and his parents’ divorce. The author seems more interested in the ins and outs of Cronkite’s strained professional relationship with Dan Rather than in his 65-year marriage — though smart, sardonic Betsy Cronkite gets her due as the woman who could cut Walter down to size.
Some years after he retired from “The CBS Evening News,” as her spouse was holding forth “with anchorman-like authority,” Brinkley notes, Betsy remarked tartly, “Walter, you don’t have to be the most trusted man in America anymore!”
It was difficult for Cronkite to give up that role. He had worked hard and waited a long time to be named anchor of the nightly news broadcast at age 45 in 1962. He had proved himself a corporate team player by acting as straight man to a puppet on “The Morning Show” and covering the 1960 Winter Olympics along with weightier responsibilities reporting on political conventions and space flights. Cronkite wasn’t one of “the Murrow Boys,” the newsmen who worked with Edward R. Murrow for CBS Radio during World War II and went on to espouse his brand of unafraid-to-editorialize journalism at CBS Television. Indeed, Cronkite turned down a job offer from Murrow in 1943, preferring to remain a United Press correspondent and a member of the “Murrow-Ain’t-God Club.” [Read the full article...]
And That’s the Way It Was - ‘Cronkite,’ a Biography by Douglas Brinkley
The New York Times Book Review – July 6, 2012 (Excerpt)
“From Dallas, Texas. . . . ” The haggard newsman has just been handed wire copy. He removes his glasses. He looks into the camera and gives us the first hard news that our young president will never grow old. He marks the time of death on the newsroom clock and holds a moment of silence.
This was Walter Cronkite on Nov. 22, 1963, announcing the death of John F. Kennedy.
It was consummate Cronkite — unscripted, authentic and heartfelt. For 19 years, the anchor of “The CBS Evening News” shared in our public grief and celebration. He was one of us, and Douglas Brinkley’s “Cronkite” is a majestic biography of America’s greatest and most beloved broadcast journalist.
“He was reassuringly permanent when so much was in flux,” writes Brinkley, a historian and contributing editor at Vanity Fair. “Even when he was announcing tragic news, he was himself a reminder that America would persevere.”
Perseverance was the hallmark of Cronkite’s surprisingly choppy career. He was buoyed by his ability to connect with an audience, a connection never more apparent than during CBS’s marathon coverage of the Kennedy assassination. Seventy million Americans and viewers in 23 countries tuned in. “CBS News became the meeting hall, the cathedral, the corner bar and the town square — wherever people went when they wanted the healing comfort of a group,” Brinkley writes, and Cronkite was the “impresario” of mourning, the unofficial national grief counselor. [Read the full article...]
“Cronkite” by Douglas Brinkley
The Washington Post Book Review – September 7, 2012 (Excerpt)
For anyone interested in the evolution and power of broadcast news, this book is a tremendous read, minutely documenting TV journalism’s most remarkable phenomenon,Walter Cronkite.
As a junior competitor in the profession and later a casual friend of Cronkite’s, I thought I understood the dimensions of his legend — until I read this book. Douglas Brinkley reveals a surprisingly Odysseus-like figure of twists and turns; a man physically and morally courageous, but full of fears; a bold risk-taker, but innately self-protective; ambitious for fame, fiercely jealous of rivals; easily shamed, swift to turn on his detractors; a most genial companion with a glass of bourbon in hand and a brilliant raconteur, but “brutal” to some colleagues as managing editor of the “CBS Evening News”; a man with a bold eye for a fetching female but intensely loyal to Betsy, his wife of 65 years. What a piece of work! Brinkley’s book brings this man intimately to light, in all his petty maneuvers and all his grandeur. I gobbled up every page. [Read the full article...]
THE BLEEDING HILLS A Novel by Wilfried F. Voss
I have fought a good fight,
I have finished my course,
I have kept the faith. - 2 Timothy iv. 7
The Irish War is officially a part of history, but not for Finnean Whelan, an IRA veteran of almost 40 years. British Intelligence has produced evidence that he is the mastermind behind a conspiracy to assassinate the First Minister of Northern Ireland. For Whelan this is not only a mission of revenge, but marks the beginning of a journey into the past and the return to the one true love: Ireland. [More...]
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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