Thursday, April 5, 2007

Between You and Me

Between You and Me : A Memoir, by Mike Wallace
$7.99 at Amazon.com ISBN: 1401300294
American journalists are typically pretty unimpressive: stories about how to carve a halloween pumpkin, which diet is best for you. The truly extraordinary events are ignored while the trite and obnoxious are always in the headlines. Towering above all this is Mike Wallace: with unimpeachable integrity, incomparable resourcefulness, and a smile and posture that's almost too sexy for a man his age. In this book he recounts many of the famous interviews he's conducted over the years, since he was a young man during World War II to the present. The list of great personalities of the 20th Century is truly daunting: every US President since FDR, all the first ladies, Malcolm X, Anwar Sadat, the Ayatollah Khomeini, and a host of others.
In case you're not familiar, Mike is one of a few correspondents on a TV news show called 60 Minutes, on every Sunday night at 7PM since the 1950s. Each week they present three major news events of the past week, concluded with a short comedy piece by Andy Rooney (more on him another time). Often his interviews involve international affairs: naturally the war in Iraq comes up often these days. The environment, corporate greed, and political corruption are frequent subjects. Other times it's a little lighter: a famous celebrity or sports figure.
Mike has an amazing talent that so many US journalists lack: to make what is important interesting to read about. Even if you're not interested in politics you'll find something you like here. He's so down to earth that his writing is never sweeping or scholarly. Remarkably, he knows many of these people personally, and his private insights into their lives sheds more light than any public policy ever could. There's a touching chapter on Nancy Reagan as her husband is dying of Alzheimer's disease, and another on an interview conducted with Dr. Martin Luther King only days before his assassination. This is a perspective on world events no one else in the world is endowed to provide. Additionally, he's Jewish, so his interviews with the hostile Shah of Iran and the leader of the PLO bring a little tension into the mix.
The chapters are quite short: he never bogs you down with too many facts or details, so the book may sound heavy but it's not (only 304 pages). Artists, actors, thugs, con men, and world leaders have all gotten their chance to speak. Mr. Richard Nixon reveals a surprising softer side, while Mrs. Rosalynn Carter comes across as a bit icy. Take one last look at the century of change, the people who drove it, and the one sensitive, self-deprecating man who brought it into our homes each week.

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