A wide-ranging mix of stories from the longtime Washington Post journalist, who blends the political and personal, the uplifting and tragic.
Rare is the daily-newspaper reporter who can produce virtuoso long-form work on deadline, but Maraniss (Rome 1960: The Summer Olympics that Stirred the World, 2008, etc.) presents two exemplars of the form. His feature on 9/11 heartbreakingly recalls the events from multiple perspectives, deftly shifting among quotidian detail (such as a Britney Spears photo taped to the computer of a World Trade Center worker), graphic imagery and emotional dialogue. Also outstanding is his story on Seung Hui Cho’s mass murder on the campus of Virginia Tech in 2007, which helped earn the Post a Pulitzer Prize. None of the other pieces quite capture the intense, in-the-moment feel of those stories, but Maraniss drills deep into his subject matter. He’s also an astute judge of the most interesting angle from which to start his investigations. Focusing on the life of Barack Obama’s mother, for instance, reveals plenty about the president’s character. In 1992, Maraniss reported on Bill Clinton by telling the story of the rough-and-tumble Arkansas town where he grew up, presaging the demeanor and shortcomings of his presidency. The bulk of the collection comes from the author’s Post reporting, though excerpts from his books are included as well, including an expertly observed chapter on the famous 1967 “Ice Bowl” between the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys, drawn from his biography of Vince Lombardi, When Pride Still Mattered. The book also features three penetrating essays about the last days of his sister, his uncle and his father. In the last of them, “Dad and Ron Santo,” Maraniss merges his love of journalism and sports, focused on the image of his father listening to the former Cubs star call a game on the radio.
Regardless of the level of fame of his subjects, Maraniss’s reportage is always sharp and sympathetic.