One of the great editors of our era chronicles his life in news reporting and book publishing.
As editor of the London Sunday Times and The Times, and later as president and publisher of Random House, Evans (War Stories: Reporting in the Time of Conflict from the Crimea to Iraq, 2003, etc.) not only told the stories that changed the social and political world, he often was part of them. He began life as the son of working-class parents in 1930s Manchester, England. Early on he became aware of two things: the seemingly magical way in which newspapers would deliver a torrent of information, and the demarcations of success that were “ordained by the hierarchies of class.” Yet rise Evans did. The author is at his best recounting daily life in war-torn England and his early efforts to become a newspaper man. He lovingly describes the smells (“lead, antimony, and tin…hot metal marinated with printer’s ink” in the typesetting room) and noise (a cacophony of manual typewriters and animated phone calls) of his chosen profession. More important, Evans presents a narrative of stories and their consequences: the failure of the British health system to provide women with simple screening for cervical cancer; the official ignorance of the pollution that was literally choking the life out of Northern England; the willful failure to recognize and act on the struggles of children born without limbs after their mothers took Thalidomide. In these and many other cases, Evans exposed the “vast official carelessness” that permeated British political life. Of his life in America, which began in the ’80s, Evans says relatively little, outside of a few anecdotes of signing book contracts with such luminaries as Marlon Brando, Richard Nixon and a then-unknown politician, Barack Obama. A second volume, covering these years, would be most welcome.
Despite the title, Evans’s memoir is more than relevant in the age of computer news; good reporting still demands what Evans exemplifies here—honesty, courage and dogged determination.