Picks and Pans Review: The Imperial Post

updated 08/01/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/01/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Tom Kelly

Former Washington Daily News reporter Kelly opens his anecdotal history of the Washington Post with the 1963 suicide of publisher Philip Graham, setting the personality-centered tone for what turns into a snippy but absorbing book. The people who have owned the Post have been a fascinating crew—none more so than Eugene and Agnes Meyer, the parents of the paper's current proprietor, Katharine Meyer Graham (Philip's widow). Endowed with a passion for politics and a flair for making money, Eugene had turned the Post (which he bought when it couldn't even pay its newsprint bill) into a barely profitable but powerful instrument by 1945, when he turned it over to Philip Graham. Agnes, whose chief passions were for Chinese art and famous men, was a true eccentric as well as a Post feature writer. Eugene early on recognized that of all his children, Katharine was the one who most resembled him. She proved it when she took control after her husband's death. (Philip, though a manic-depressive, had increased both the paper's prestige and its profits.) In Kelly's view, the Post has become arrogant under her regime. He dwells gleefully on its gaffes—and skips as lightly as possible over the triumphs. For instance, the embarrassment of Janet Cooke's Pulitzer Prize fraud receives almost as much space as Watergate. Kelly's book is entertaining but shares many of the faults he finds in the Post—it is tendentious, at times superficial, often ungenerous. (Morrow, $14.95)

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