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Katharine Graham: The Leadership Journey of an American Icon

Robin Gerber, Author, James C. Collins, Foreword by
Robin Gerber, Author, James C. Collins, Foreword by . Portfolio $24.95 (248p) ISBN 978-1-59184-104-3
Reviewed on: 08/29/2005
Release date: 10/01/2005
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The facts of Graham's life (1917– 2001)—how she took over the Washington Post in 1963 after her husband committed suicide, then guided the paper through the publication of the Pentagon Papers, the unfolding of the Watergate scandal and a potentially crippling printers' strike—were laid out extensively in her Pulitzer-winning memoir, Personal History (1997). Gerber's significantly slimmer biography is less interested in retelling the story than in interpreting it. Drawing upon leadership theories popularized by James MacGregor Burns and other scholars, Gerber presents Graham's career as a model for female corporate success. Yet despite recognizing the "ambition and drive for excellence" Graham inherited from her parents, the profile largely dwells on the negative qualities she needed to overcome. A domineering mother and an abusive marriage had both chipped away at her self-esteem before she took over the paper, and a slowness to empathize with other women hampered her response to feminist calls for reforms in the newspaper industry. Gerber suggests that the traumatic upheavals that inadvertently placed Graham at the helm also unlocked the leadership potential she'd possessed all along. The theory rings true, but in comparison to Graham's own account of the transformation, this volume feels more like a study guide than a biography. (Oct. 24)

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