cover image The Rulebreaker: The Life and Times of Barbara Walters

The Rulebreaker: The Life and Times of Barbara Walters

Susan Page. Simon & Schuster, $30 (480p) ISBN 978-1-982197-92-6

Page (Madam Speaker), the Washington Bureau chief of USA Today, presents an authoritative biography of the broadcast news legend, who died in 2022. Offering astute psychological insight into Walters, Page credits the nonstop hustle her father displayed as a booking agent with stoking his daughter’s ambition but contends his frequent business failures left her with the sense that success is fleeting. Page pays careful attention to the relentless sexism Walters endured throughout her career, noting that her boss at CBS’s The Morning Show hired her as a writer in 1955 because, in his words, “she had a darling ass,” and that journalist Frank McGee only agreed to join Walters as cohost of NBC’s Today show in 1971 under the condition that he always speak first when interviewing guests. While Page rightly lauds Walters’s trailblazing accomplishments, she’s clear-eyed about her subject’s shortcomings, arguing that Walters sometimes asked inappropriate questions (as when she tried to out Ricky Martin as gay during a 2000 interview) and regarded women colleagues with ambivalence (Page suggests Walters was “resentful and dismissive of some of the women who followed her” and appeared to side with Donald Trump during his public spat with Walters’s View cohost Rosie O’Donnell in 2008). Incisive and evenhanded, this is a triumph. Agent: Matt Latimer, Javelin Literary. (Apr.)