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Personal History summary

Katharine Graham

Uncover the remarkable story of America’s leading lady of letters

4.6 (15 ratings)
27 mins

Brief summary

Personal History by Katharine Graham is an autobiography of the former publisher of The Washington Post. From a privileged childhood to a career in journalism, she shares her challenges and achievements as a woman in a male-dominated industry.

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    Personal History
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    When she was young, Katharine Graham had a demanding mother and wanted nothing more than to fit in.

    Katharine Graham née Meyer was born into an affluent New York family in 1917. Although she enjoyed a privileged upbringing, Graham’s childhood was in many ways an ordinary one. The most remarkable influence on the young Graham was perhaps Lucy Madeira Wing, her high school principal and a woman of fiercely egalitarian views who claimed that God was female.

    But at that time in her life, Graham had other things on her mind; what she wanted most of all was to fit in with her classmates.

    Like many young women before her, she realized that one way of going about this was to win the attention of men at the parties and dances she regularly attended. Laughing at whatever they said was guaranteed to win their favor and, sure enough, they would find her attractive. She soon became popular among her peers.

    Graham didn’t only strive for social recognition – she was also an academic overachiever, which made her schedule a hectic one. On top of classes, she joined the basketball and hockey teams, and was a member of both the glee club and the school theatre group. And if that wasn’t demanding enough, she also took piano lessons on the side!

    So what drove her?

    In a word, her mother. An imposing and formidable woman, Graham’s mother Agnes Elizabeth Meyer set high standards for her daughter.

    Meyer’s own life had been an impressive one. An avid reader who had blazed a path into the journalistic profession long before women were widely accepted there, she was also a well-known socialite who had rubbed shoulders with some of the greatest figures of the age. Both the German author Thomas Mann and the twenty-sixth president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, were in her address book.

    Meyer was a loving mother who took pride in her children’s achievements, but she was also a strict taskmaster. She expected a lot from her children – too much, perhaps.

    Take Graham’s youthful enthusiasm for the novel The Three Musketeers. Her mother’s reply upon hearing her daughter express admiration for this classic historical drama? She’d never be able to appreciate it properly until she’d read it in the original French!

    That was an attitude which was applied to everything Graham did.

    She was expected to be both popular with her classmates and top of the class.

    With expectations set so high, Graham learned to be economical with the truth. She claimed to have more friends than she really did and went to great lengths to state this white lie whenever her parents visited the school.

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    What is Personal History about?

    Katharine Graham’s autobiography Personal History (1997) is the illuminating inside story of one of the United States’ most powerful media moguls. Beginning with her at times difficult childhood, which was shaped by her demanding and brilliant mother, this Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir sheds light on Graham’s rise through the ranks of the journalistic profession, all the way to the top of the Washington Post’s hierarchy.

    Personal History Review

    Personal History (1997) is a captivating memoir that takes readers on an extraordinary journey through the life of Katharine Graham, the legendary publisher of The Washington Post. Here's why this book is a must-read:

    • Raw and honest storytelling gives readers a firsthand account of Katharine Graham's personal and professional triumphs and struggles.
    • Insightful and thought-provoking, the book offers a unique perspective on power, gender, and the role of the media in society.
    • With its rich historical context and behind-the-scenes anecdotes, the book makes you feel like you're part of the fascinating world of journalism and politics.

    Best quote from Personal History

    Mother set impossibly high standards for us, undermining our ability to accomplish whatever modest aims we may have set for ourselves.

    —Katharine Graham
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    Who should read Personal History?

    • History buffs
    • Journalists
    • Anyone who loves inspiring true stories

    About the Author

    Katharine Graham was the publisher of the Washington Post from 1963 to 1979. As the first woman to preside over a major American media outlet, Graham oversaw the newspaper’s work in the turbulent years of the Nixon presidency and the Post’s uncovering of the Watergate scandal.

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    Personal History FAQs 

    What is the main message of Personal History?

    The main message of Personal History is the power of perseverance and leadership in the face of adversity.

    How long does it take to read Personal History?

    The reading time for Personal History varies depending on the reader's pace. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Personal History a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Personal History is a captivating and inspiring book. It offers a unique perspective on historical events and the inner workings of a prominent figure.

    Who is the author of Personal History?

    The author of Personal History is Katharine Graham.

    What to read after Personal History?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Personal History, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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