Friday, July 31, 2009

The Times of My Life and My Life with the Times by Max Frankel

I have never been a regular reader of the New York Times, though I might consider it now that the Chicago Tribune has mostly given up the news business to entertain. Being a Midwesterner who keeps up with news fairly well, I did not recognize the name Max Frankel, a reporter and editor for the NYT. So, I had no idea what I would hear on the audiobook version of The Times of My Life and My Life with the Times by Frankel. With a shortage of good nonfiction audiobooks, I often just take what I can find. I was mostly pleased.

On the first of six discs, read by the author, the author tells about his childhood in Germany as a "Polish Jew" and his escape to America at the beginning of World War II. The story of his family being exiled to Poland and his mother's dangerously venturing back into Germany to obtain their visas from U.S. officials is engrossing. Many problems arose with the transactions, and he and his mother got out just in time. His father, however, spent the war in the Soviet Union, including a stint in Siberia. I had to keep listening well into disc two before I could stop.

His account of becoming a student and trying to lead a very American life while his parents tried to preserve old ways follows. He barely made it through school until a teacher involved him in journalism. The only problem that I have with his story of his becoming a reporter and editor of the newspaper at Columbia University and getting a job as a reporter at the New York Times is that it all sounded too easy.

My favorite part of the book is his memories from his time as a foreign correspondent in Moscow and Cuba and as a Washington press corps member during the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon years. His comparison of Nikita Khrushchev and Lyndon Johnson is thought provoking, as is his explanation of how well kept the secret of John Kennedy's infirmities and affairs were. He also claims that Kennedy never really considered the loss of military and civilian lives as he dealt with the Cuban missile crisis and Vietnam. The Cold War was just a thrilling game for the young president. Frankel's account of how The Pentagon Papers were published in his newspaper is good listening.

The final discs tell about Frankel's time as editor of the New York Times. While the description of daily meetings to choose stories for page one was interesting, I did not find the account of office politics and newspaper business compelling. If I had a time machine, I'd go back and stop early on disc five, but I have no regrets. I enjoyed revisiting the middle years of the 20th century in this reportorial memoir.

Frankel, Max. The Times of My Life and My Life with the Times. Airplay, 2000. ISBN 1885608233

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