Russell Baker is one of America’s most distinguished and best-loved journalists and commentators, famous not only for his long-running, wryly humorous syndicated column reflecting on national issues but for Growing Up, his memoir of his early years in rural Virginia. Baker has been observing American politics and culture for decades, and his years of experience shine through in these commentaries on legendary twentieth-century figures.
In these eleven essays, all originally published in The New York Review of Books, Baker brings a profound, even elegaic sensibility to bear on a gallery of heroes and rascals who have, for better or for worse, stirred the American imagination and become essential parts of our history. Included here are appreciative pieces on the great journalists Murray Kempton and Joseph Mitchell, as well as a sober, almost head-shaking review of overheated memoirs of The New Yorker. Another discusses the newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. One essay takes up the near-tragic contrast between the myth and the life of Joe DiMaggio. The others focus on politicians: Eugene V. Debs, the epic feud between Lyndon Johnson and Robert F. Kennedy over the legacy of JFK, Martin Luther King and the passions of the civil rights...