cover image PULITZER: A Life


Denis Brian, . . Wiley, $30 (448pp) ISBN 978-0-471-33200-8

Without question, newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer lived a notable life. Born in 1847 in Hungary, he traveled to the U.S. as a teenager to fight for pay in the Civil War. He learned English, became a lawyer, got involved in politics and later in journalism. He bought the struggling St. Louis Post-Dispatch, then turned the New York World into a superb daily newspaper by upholding the following fool-proof tenet: "cater to the masses and earn their trust." By the time of his death in 1911, Pulitzer had achieved global fame. Unfortunately, Brian delivers a largely warmed-over version of Pulitzer's life. In the acknowledgments, Brian (biographer of J.B. Rhine, Ernest Hemingway and Albert Einstein) thanks previous chroniclers of Pulitzer's life. If Brian's study contains anything of significance missed by those biographers, it is well hidden. The endnotes only occasionally mention primary documents (such as the many extant letters to and from Pulitzer), citing instead, over and over, earlier books about the publisher. Brian details Pulitzer's big newspaper stories, such as "A Dastard's Deed: Cold-Blooded Treachery at Last Conquers Jesse James," concerning the official price on James's head and the confidante who betrayed him. Though interesting, the rehashed news stories don't make for a meaty biography. In 1994, Brian published a book about the life-writing craft that is relentlessly critical of prominent biographers; the title was Fair Game: What Biographers Don't Tell You. Here, Brian fails to tell readers why they should read this highly derivative biography. (Oct.)