3 out of 4 stars
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My Memoirs, by Bernard Gwertzman, is the tale of a journalist who remembers the great changes of the world he witnessed over his career. The book primarily focuses on the Soviet Union from 1962 to its fall. In addition, it also talks about the various foreign affairs issues that the US was involved with in the latter half of the 20th Century.
The book has two intertwined aspects and proceeds chronologically. One aspect that is expected in a memoir is the details of the life of the author, Bernard Gwertzman. We follow him through his childhood as he decides that he wants to be a journalist. We get ringside seats to his early years working at the Washington Star and visiting Russia. We see him distinguish and rise through the ranks while he works at the New York Times, first as a reporter and later as the Foreign Editor. Finally, we see him pioneer the way for the New York Times to the 21st Century, by running the website for the Times when it was just starting out. By itself, the tale is dramatic and can fill a book. However, the instincts of the author kick in and he shows us the skills that made him a good reporter. As the book progresses and tells us about his life, he simultaneously tells the reader about the various events that he was reporting on. He talks about the various international incidents he was a part of, be it the Kissinger Shuttle Diplomacy, the invasion of Czechoslovakia or the Cuban Missile Crisis. The explanation consists of some context to the event followed by snippets from his own reporting. All in all, it makes for a very compelling narrative.
By far, my favourite aspect of this book was the styling of the narrative. The author manages to present information about some of the biggest events of the previous century with grace and keeps my interest the whole way. By adding clips from his own news reports, we really get the sense of witnessing history being written and the awe that comes with it. In keeping with the best traditions of reporting, the story is neatly split into clear, well-demarcated chapters. These serve to keep the reader from getting confused and overwhelmed by the sheer volume of material that is presented. Although I read and learnt about nearly 50 years of history in this book, it was served in small, easily digestible morsels.
However, that is not to say that this is simply a history book. What kept my interest and made it possible for me to devour this book in a matter of days was the human aspect of the story. The author, Bernard Gwertzman, has actually been a part of these momentous events. As we follow his life and his decisions, we get to see the choices he makes. This book is not just the story of the world, but also the story of the life of a man. He sprinkles the narrative of international events with personal tidbits, like news of his engagement or the birth of his children. This human element of the story provides an interesting contrast to the other part. They mesh together well and make an intertwined narrative for the reader.
There was only one issue that I had with this book. My problem was the fact that this book did not seem to be edited perfectly. There were many places where punctuation was incorrectly used, or where the capitalisation of words was incorrect. This was quite irritating, especially because it was not a one-off incident. Additionally, the editing issue surfaced in the repetitious elements of the story. At times, the author would introduce a point and write a paragraph about it. A chapter or so later, when the same point came up, the author ends up using almost exactly the same paragraph once again. While it is possible that the point is simply an important one that the author wished to stress on, the means left something to be desired. I would have preferred to see the whole paragraph rewritten to ensure that the reader doesn’t get bored or annoyed. At the very least, care should be taken to ensure that the wording is not similar, even if the content is the same.
Anyone who enjoys biographies would certainly like this. In addition, I would recommend this book to people who wish to read a primer on the international incidents in the world after the World Wars. I rate this book 3 out of 4 stars. I would love to give it 4 stars as I enjoyed it a lot, but the editing issues prevent me from doing so.
My Memoirs: Fifty Years of Journalism from Print to the Internet
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