My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Chasing History with Carl Bernstein is a remarkable journey back to the early 60s–the election and assassination of JFK, the civil rights movement and the optimistic beginnings of the Vietnam War — a time when newspapers were the trusted tellers of the tale. Long before Bernstein and his Washington Post co-worker Bob Woodward became famous for exposing the Watergate scandal, Carl was a cheeky teenage copy boy at the Washington Star, with phenomenal powers of observation, a note-taking obsession, and determination to be one of the last of the era to rise from copy boy to page one bylines without the benefit of a college degree.
I have to admit I am biased toward this story. Carl is just four years older than me and much of the business he describes is the world I remember in my early newspaper career. Smelly jars of rubber cement to slather on torn chunks of cheap copy paper when making additions or insertions in pre-computer editing. Linotype machines stamping out pieces of lead type, teletype machines chattering in the corner and dinging with news alerts. And a caring family of devoted reporters and editors working all hours for the stories, most of them idealistic to a fault.
Bernstein’s talent as a storyteller is unmatched. His telling of the assassination of JFK from the point of view of the reporters covering events swept me up so I could imagine being there instead of hearing the report in my high school choir class. He had me crying as if I were hearing about the tragedy for the first time.
Bernstein grew up in DC so he describes the city more as a hometown of friends and relatives instead of a bureaucratic, impersonal political capital. His perspective adds a dimension of soul to every event.
The main part of the book covers the years from 1960-1966 when Bernstein was working at the Washington Star while going to high school and college. It closes as he sells his car and heads off to a new job in New Jersey. In the postscript he tells about working in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, for a couple years before returning to D.C. to join the staff of Washington Post. He also updates the reader on the careers of several Washington Star co-workers who form the family of characters during his six years at The Star. The postscript gets a little tedious but it does answer a lot of potential I-wonder-what-happened-to questions.