EVENTS LEADING UP TO MY DEATH: The Life of a Twentieth-Century Reporter by Howard K. Smith
Kirkus Star

EVENTS LEADING UP TO MY DEATH: The Life of a Twentieth-Century Reporter

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

From eminent journalist Smith, an intimate, wistful, eloquently narrated, and wry look back at the 20th century, and at his own extraordinary life. Raised in genteel poverty in the Louisiana backwoods and in New Orleans by parents trapped in a loveless marriage, Smith entered the wider world when he won a Rhodes scholarship. His time in England became a springboard to a job reporting for the United Press in Germany. Smith witnessed firsthand Berlin during the heady last months before the onset of war, the invasion of Poland, and the fall of France. Impoverished on his UP salary and determined to distinguish himself as a journalist, Smith joined CBS as a broadcaster and tried to tell the American people about Nazi Germany, despite relentless censorship by the German authorities. Eventually, he was forbidden to broadcast and barred from leaving the country. Through a subterfuge by CBS, he was able to enter Switzerland on December 6, 1941. In two years there, the reporter became a national figure and authored an important book (Last Train from Berlin). After the war, Smith became chief European correspondent for CBS, later an anchor for ABC, and covered the Nuremberg trial, the Kennedy-Nixon debates, and the civil rights movement. While reflecting on great events, Smith never forgets that this is primarily a personal memoir; in particular, he tells of his full bachelor's life in wartime Berlin, which culminated in his meeting Benedicte (Bennie) Traberg, a beautiful Dane who became his wife. Considering the tumultuous changes in his 78 years and America's remarkable constancy of purpose in foreign policy throughout the Cold War era, Smith concludes that ""Americans by and large will do what needs to be done and make the sacrifice entailed."" In his text, as in his life, Smith proves his adeptness at ""the first rough drafting of history."" Among the recent plethora of commentaries and reminiscences about the American century, Smith's is a standout.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1996
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's