THE CHIEF by David Nasaw


The Life of William Randolph Hearst
Email this review


A comprehensive biography of the man who built the nation's first great media empire and saw its potential for shaping political discourse, influencing elections, and setting the national agenda.

Nasaw (Going Out, 1993, etc.) was allowed access to previously unavailable personal and business papers by Hearst family members and the Hearst Corporation in the course of his research. He has compiled an exhaustive portrait of the larger-than-life Hearst from his nomadic childhood—he was the son of a self-made millionaire miner and a doting, peripatetic mother—to his final illness at the home of his mistress Marion Davies. A social success but an academic failure at Harvard, Hearst was 24 when he was given control of the San Francisco Examiner by his father in 1887. Nasaw recounts how Hearst built his newspaper empire and how he used his position as editor and publisher to influence American politics in the early decades of the 20th century. Occupying center stage are Hearst's political ambitions: his battles against trusts, political corruption, internationalism, and Communism; his relations with the Democratic Party and with presidents and would-be presidents (as well as with Churchill, Mussolini, and Hitler). But Nasaw also focuses on the energetic Hearst as an art collector, a film producer, a family man, a lover of women, and a big spender. With his empire built on borrowed money—at first from his mother (his father had left her everything) and later from banks—Hearst, the great builder and accumulator, eventually found himself in severe financial difficulties and was forced into virtual bankruptcy. Nasaw's story is a big one, full of American and world history, characters famous and infamous, entertaining trivia that may or may not be revealing, and (unfortunately) a good measure of tedious detail.

A full-length portrait that effectively corrects the Citizen Kane caricature. (50 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: June 16th, 2000
ISBN: 0-395-82759-0
Page count: 688pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2000


NonfictionTHE PATRIARCH by David Nasaw
by David Nasaw
NonfictionGOING OUT by David Nasaw
by David Nasaw


NonfictionTHE TRUE FLAG by Stephen Kinzer
by Stephen Kinzer
NonfictionA CURIOUS MAN by Neal Thompson
by Neal Thompson