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 Books to read

Here are a handful of the books related to journalism and writing that I've enjoyed over the years. I've had many on book lists for my courses, so they've been student-tested, too. You may find something here that you would like to try.

Try out the links. They'll take you to places where you can find more information about the subject or the author or a sidelight. Some are linked to "Booknotes," Brian Lamb's C-Span series of interviews with authors of important books.

Autobiographies and biographies of journalists

Book-length reporting

Collections of journalistic writing

Guides to research and writing

Journalism & mass communication history and criticism

Autobiographies and biographies of journalists:

Sam Adams

Miller, John C. Sam Adams: Pioneer in Propaganda. Boston, 1936. Still the best biography of the key figure in America's movement toward Independence.

Joseph and Stewart Alsop

Merry, Robert W. Taking on the World: Joseph and Stewart Alsop--Guardians of the American Century. New York, 1996. The Alsop brothers were national columnists in the mid-20th century. This fine book tells the story of how they (particularly Joe) wielded their considerable journalistic influence.

Peter Arnett

Arnett, Peter. Live From the Battlefield. New York, 1994. Arnett, one of the most celebrated war correspondents of our time, provides a colorful and compelling account of what it's like to cover war.

Fred Bonfils & Harry Tammen

Fowler, Gene. Timber Line: A Story of Bonfils and Tammen. Reprint ed. Garden City, NY, 1951. Fred Bonfils and Harry Tammen were rogue publishers of the Denver Post, whose wild and wooly journalism earned it the sobriquet "bucket of blood," and their story is told in a captivating manner by a reporter who worked for them.

Walter Cronkite

Cronkite, Walter. A Reporter's Life. New York, 1996. Cronkite celebrates himself a little too much for my taste. Nevertheless, he was a top-notch reporter for United Press and CBS, and his autobiography makes for good reading.

Theodore Dreiser

Dreiser, Theodore. Newspaper Days. Philadelphia, 1991. Dreiser, best known as a novelist, spent many years as a journalist in Chicago, St. Louis and New York, and he describes his adventures and the world of late 19th century journalism in this memoir.

Swanberg, W. A. Dreiser. New York, 1965. The best all-around biography of Theodore Dreiser, journalist, novelist and rake.

Benjamin Franklin

Van Doren, Carl. Benjamin Franklin. New York, 1938. A best seller when it was published 60 years ago, this work is still the definitive biography of Franklin, a poor printer who built what was, in effect, America's first newspaper chain and went on to establish for himself an honored place in the pantheon of American statesmen of the 18th century.

Hugh Gaine

Lorenz, Alfred Lawrence. Hugh Gaine: A Colonial Printer-Editor's Odyssey to Loyalism. Carbondale, Ill., 1972. I can recommend this because the royalties have long since stopped trickling in. It is the story of Gaine's struggle to maintain economic and political balance during the period leading up to the American Revolution and his ultimate capitulation to the British.

Katharine Graham

Graham, Katharine. Personal History. New York, 1997. The autobiography of the publisher of the Washington Post during much of the second half of the 20th century. The book won a Pulitzer Prize.

Pete Hamill

Hamill, Pete. A Drinking Life. New York, 1994. As the title implies, this is the story of the author's lifetime of drinking. Along the way, Hamill provides a fascinating glimpse of his early years in New York journalism.

William Randolph Hearst

Swanberg, W. A. Citizen Hearst. New York, 1961. William Randolph Hearst's story told by a master storyteller.

Ring Lardner

Yardley, Jonathan. Ring: A Biography of Ring Lardner. New York, 1977. A newspaperman's biography of a celebrated humorist who began his career as a sports writer.

A. J. Liebling

Sokolov, Raymond. Wayward Reporter: The Life of A. J. Liebling. New York, 1980. As a reporter for the New Yorker, Joe Liebling covered his own wide range of interests, from food to war and from boxing to politics.

Henry R. Luce

Swanberg, W. A. Luce and His Empire. New York, 1972. The life of Henry R. Luce, who founded Time, Life and Fortune magazines.

S. S. McClure

Lyon, Peter. Success Story: The Life and Times of S.S. McClure. New York, 1963. McClure was the founder of McClure's magazine, where muckraking began and flourished prior to World War I.

McClure, S.S. My Autobiography. New York, 1914. McClure's own story.

Edward R. Murrow

Kendrick, Alexander. Prime Time: The Life of Edward R. Murrow. Boston, 1969. A fine biography of the pioneering CBS journalist by one of his colleagues.

William Rockhill Nelson

Johnson, Icie. F. William Rockhill Nelson and the Kansas City Star. Kansas City, Mo., 1935. A not very substantial biography of the publisher who used the power of his newspaper to bring Kansas City up to date.

S. I. Newhouse

Meeker, Richard H. Newspaperman: S. I. Newhouse and the Business of News. New Haven, 1983. The story of an acquisitive publisher once characterized as a "journalistic chiffonier." Among his acquisitions: The Times-Picayune.

Joseph Pulitzer

Swanberg, W. A. Pulitzer. New York, 1967. A fine biography of Joseph Pulitzer, the foremost newspaper publisher of the 19th century.

James Reston

Reston, James. Deadline: A Memoir. New York, 1991. This is one of the best autobiographies written by a journalist by one of the best journalists of the 20th century.

Jacob Riis

Riis, Jacob. The Making of an American. New York, 1901. Riis's turn-of-the-century reporting, in both words and pictures, helped to influence Theodore Roosevelt to bring reforms to the tenements New York.

Harold Ross & William Shawn

Gill, Brendan. Here at the New Yorker. New York, 1975. An acerbic memoir of the writer's days working for editors Harold Ross and William Shawn.

Kahn, E. J., Jr. About the New Yorker & Me: A Sentimental Journal. New York, 1979. One of the better volumes in the shelf full of memoirs by New Yorker writers and editors.

Mehta, Ved. Remembering Mr. Shawn's New Yorker. New York, 1998. Mehta's memoir is as much about himself as it is about Shawn, who Harold Ross' successor as editor of The New Yorker. Nevertheless, he draws a revealing portrait of Shawn and provides insight into Shawn's editing techniques.

Thurber, James. The Years With Ross. Boston, 1957. A charming memoir of the founder of the New Yorker.

Eric Severeid

Schroth, Raymond A., S.J. The American Journey of Eric Severeid. South Royalton, Vt., 1995. Schroth, a former Loyola faculty member, tells the story of the CBS reporter and commentator with intelligence and grace.

Severeid, Eric. Not So Wild a Dream. New York, 1946. Severeid's memoir written on his return from covering WW II.

Red Smith

Berkow, Ira. Red: A Biography of Red Smith, The Life & Times of a Great American Writer. New York, 1986. As Berkow's subtitle says, Red Smith was a great American writer--though many might sniff at the notion that a sports columnist could be a great writer.

Howard K. Smith

Smith, Howard K. Events Leading Up to My Death.. New York, 1996. A wonderfully told autobiography by a former Tulane University track star who became a Rhodes Scholar and a CBS and ABC reporter and anchor.

Lincoln Steffens

Kaplan, Justin. Lincoln Steffens: A Biography. New York, 1974. Steffens was one of the most celebrated of the muckrakers.

Herbert Bayard Swope

Kahn, E. J., Jr. The World of Swope. New York, 1965. The biography of Herbert Bayard Swope, a hard-driving reporter who became executive editor of the New York World in its prime.


Book-length reporting:

Capote, Truman.In Cold Blood.. New York, 1965. Non-fiction but fictionalized, this work nevertheless demonstrates a masterful job of reporting.

Crouse, Timothy. The Boys on the Bus. New York, 1973. The bus of the title was the press bus following candidates during the 1972 presidential election. While the press covered the campaign, Crouse covered the press.

Garcia Marquez, Gabriel. News of a Kidnapping, The Story of a Shipwreck.. New York, 1997. Marquez, a Colombian novelist, began his career as a journlist and has continued to practice it off and on. This is a classic story.

Hersey, John. Hiroshima. New York, 1946. Hersey's account of the effect of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, first published in the New Yorker , still grips readers.Ring Lardner

Yardley, Jonathan. Ring: A Biography of Ring Lardner. New York, 1977. A newspaperman's biography of a celebrated humorist who began his career as a sports writer.

Liebling, A.J.The Earl of Louisiana.. New York, 1961. A journeyman reporter's story of Earl Long's last campaign for governor.

McPhee,John. It is difficult to recommend only one, or even a few, of McPhee's books, all of which began as reportage for the New Yorker. Two that stand out are his profiles of Arthur Ashe (Levels of the Game, 1969) and Bill Bradley (A Sense of Where You Are, 1965).

Miller, Webb. I Found No Peace. New York, 1936. The memoir of an impoverished Michigan farm boy who, with a United Press press card in one pocket and a copy of Walden in another, became one of the foremost foreign correspondents of the 20th century.

Mitchell, Joseph.Up in the Old Hotel.. New York, 1992. Mitchell was a long-time writer for the New Yorker whose skillfully told stories of life in the New York area are collected in this work.

Mitford, Jessica. The American Way of Death.. New York, 1963. Investigative reporting done with wit and style.

Plimpton, George. Paper Lion.. New York, 1966. Plimpton's story of how he trained and played with the Detroit Lions is great personal-involvement journalism.

Thompson, Hunter S. Hells Angels, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, The Great Shark Hunt. The original gonzo journalist, as he styled himself, Thompson breaks all the rules of objective journalism to provide readers with perceptive and entertaining views of his subjects. Read Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail along with Crouse's The Boys on the Bus.

Waugh, Evelyn. Scoop. London, 1938. This 1930s novel is an entertaining spoof of the work of the journalist that rings as true today as when it was first published.



Collections of journalistic writing:

A number of excellent collections of admirable writing have been published over the years. Among those I turn to most often are these. Their titles describe them well.

Best Newspaper Writing, American Society of Newspaper Editors. A collection published each year since 1979

Hohenberg, John (ed.) Foreign Correspondence: The Great Reporters and Their Times. New York, 1964.

Horgan, Paul. Tracings: A Book of Partial Portraits. New York, 1993. Profiles of 17 celebrated individuals with whom Horgan came in contact at various stages in his life. William Zinsser was so taken with the book ("the kind of writing I would still like to aspire to," he said) that he interviewed Horgan for a profile that he published in The American Scholar.

Kerrane, Kevin and Ben Yagoda (eds.).The Art of Fact: A Historical Anthology of Literary Journalism. New York, 1997.

Liebling, A. J. The Most of A. J. Liebling. New York, 1963.

Long, Howard Rusk. Main Street Militants: An Anthology from Grassroots Editor. Carbondale, Ill., 1977. Stories of weekly newspaper editors who stood up for what was right in the face of severe physical and economic danger. Long, chair of the Department of Journalism at Southern Illinois University when I was in graduate school there, was the founding editor of Grassroots Editor. I'm pleased to say that he included one of the pieces I wrote for the magazine in this anthology.

McPhee, John. The John McPhee Reader. New York, 1977.

Meyer, Karl E. Pundits, Poets, & Wits: An Omnibus of American Newspaper Columns. New York, 1990.

Sims, Norman (ed.). The Literary Journalists: The New Art of Personal Reportage. New York: 1984.

Smith, Red. The Best of Red Smith. New York, 1963. Sports columns from a master craftsman.

Snyder, Louis L. and Richard B. Morris. A Treasury of Great Reporting: Literature Under Pressure from the 16th Century to Our Own Time. New York, 1949.

White, E. B. The Essays of E. B. White. New York, 1977.

__________. One Man's Meat. New York, 1938. White was an extraordinarily fine stylist. These are collections of some of his best work (there are overlaps). If nothing else, read his moving "Once More to the Lake."

Whitman, Alden. Come to Judgment. New York, 1980. Whitman made an art of obituary writing at The New York Times. His introduction tells how he went about reporting on the lives of those whose obituaries he would write. The 34 obits that follow show clearly how he did his work. Communications students are alerted to those of gossip columnist Walter Winchell and publisher Bennett Cerf.


Guides to research and writing:

Barzun, Jacques and Henry B. Graff. The Modern Researcher (5th ed). New York, 1992. The best guide to research available, providing aid on everything from settling on a topic to manuscript preparation.

Bernstein, Theodore M. Headlines and Deadlines. New York, 1961. Bernstein was an editor for the New York Times who kept a careful eye on the writing that appeared in the newspaper, in the headlines and in the news columns, and he guided writers on good usage through an occasional newsletter he called "Winners and Sinners." This and the volumes that follow answer many questions about grammar and usage clearly and without the didactic manner of everybody's Miss Thistlebottom.

__________. Watch Your Language. New York, 1958.

__________. The Careful Writer. New York, 1965.

__________. Miss Thistlebottom's Hobgoblin's. New York, 1971.

Horgan, Paul. Approaches to Writing. Middletown, Conn., 1968. Horgan was one of this century's most prolific and finest writers of both fiction and non-fiction. In this little volume he offers well-tested suggestions (and his personal example) for other writers.

Strunk, William Jr. and E.B. White. The Elements of Style. New York, 1979. A tiny but powerful guide to good writing that includes tips on grammar, punctuation and syntax. Every writer should have a copy.

Walsh, Bill. Lapsing Into a Comma. Chicago, 2000. The subtitle says it all: A Curmudgeon's Guide to the Many Things That Can Go Wrong in Print--and How to Avoid Them.

Zinsser, William.On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction (6th ed.). New York, 1998. The subtitle accurately describes this book, in which the author practices what he preaches. The book is now in its 6th edition.


Journalism history and criticism:

Bernstein, Carl and Bob Woodward.All the President's Men.. New York, 1974. The two reporters tell how they broke the story of the Watergate scandal that resulted in Richard Nixon's resignation as president.

Barnouw, Erik. Tube of Plenty: The Evolution of American Television (2d rev. ed.). New York, 1990. Barnouw has condensed into one volume the material of his acclaimed three-volume History of Broadcasting in the United States. It is packed with information and readable.

Bovée, Warren G. Discovering Journalism. Westport, Conn.: 1999. A thoughtful and elegantly written examination of what journalism is.

Filler, Louis. The Muckrakers. A careful study, well told, of that group of early 20th century reporters who helped to reform corrupt business and political practices through their dogged investigative reporting, especially for magazines.

Friendly, Fred. Minnesota Rag. New York, 1981. Friendly, who was producer of Edward R. Murrow's "See It Now" program at CBS, tells the fascinating story of the long court battle that strengthened the First Amendment by putting it in the embrace of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Gordon, Gregory and Ronald E. Cohen. Down to the Wire: UPI's Fight for Survival. New York, 1990. The sad story of how a once vital news service disintegrated in the hands of a series of incompetent and venal owners.

Halberstam, David. The Powers that Be. An examination of the rise to influence of major American media: the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, The New York Times and CBS.

Levy, Leonard W. Emergence of a Free Press. New York, 1985. This is a rethought, revised and retitled version of Levy's Legacy of Suppression: Freedom of Speech and Press in Early American History, published in 1960. His theme is that the framers of the Constitution did not have the high-minded view of freedom of the press that we ascribe to them.

Lewis, Anthony. Make No Law. New York, 1991. The story of the case of New York Times v. Sullivan, which redefined the meaning of libel law in the U.S., told by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and columnist Anthony Lewis. I prize my copy, which Lewis autographed when he came here for a lecture on the occasion of the 250th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Jefferson.

Morris, Joe Alex, Jr. Deadline Every Minute: The Story of the United Press. Garden City, NY, 1957. A fascinating account of the wire service, from its birth in 1907 to the eve of its merger with Hearst's International News Service.

Powe, Lucas A., Jr. American Broadcasting and the First Amendment. Berkeley, 1987. Powe provides an excellent historical overview of the way federal regulation of broadcasting has (and has not) worked in the past coupled with a call for a "newer First Amendment" adapted to our own time that takes the new mass media of communication into consideration.

__________. The Fourth Estate and the Constitution. Freedom of the Press in America. Berkeley, 1991. An excellent study of how the press has operated under the First Amendment throughout our history. Levy and Powe are contrapuntal in many respects.

Prochnau, William. Once Upon a Distant War. New York, 1995. An excellent history of the work done by the journalists who covered the war in Vietnam for U.S. publications and networks.

Yagoda, Ben. About Town: The New Yorker and the World It Made. New York, 2000. A beautifully written history of the magazine based on Yagoda's reading of it and his research into its files. One delightful feature is Yagoda's use of brief quotes from letters between editors and between authors and editors to introduce sections of the text.

[ Personal sketch ] [ Courses ] [ Publications ] [ Books to read ]
[ Sites to visit ] [ Miscellany ] [ About journalism ] [ Newspaper mottoes ] [ Home ]