How Investigative Reporters Are Changing the Craft of Biography
Email this review


 Not quite: half-untold, half-old is more like it, along with a ton of reprints and a pound of self-promotion, in this so-so look at investigative biography. According to Weinberg (Journalism/Univ. of Missouri; Armand Hammer, 1989), the biographical arts changed forever in 1975, when Robert Caro published his Pulitzer-winning The Power Broker. Until then, biography had belonged to scholars writing objective lives of dead subjects; suddenly, it fell into the hands of journalists muckraking about the living. After a brief history of the genre (earlier groundbreakers: Boswell and Strachey), Weinberg digs into The Power Broker, as well as the first volumes of Caro's LBJ bio, to show how a ruthless search for sources (e.g., tracking down every living grammar-school classmate of Johnson's) and a high-wire writing style revolutionized the field. In similar fashion, Weinberg pores over the work of Donald Barlett and James Steele (``the best team in the history of investigative reporting''), showing how their brilliant Philadelphia Inquirer exposÇs of the IRS, the FHA, and so on came through obsessive detective work. Perhaps to add the personal touch, Weinberg also describes his own methods in writing his biography of Armand Hammer. A look at magazine profiles follows, along with a litany of the obstacles, mostly legal, put in biographers' paths. Weinberg offers 11 guidelines to good biography; he also includes loads of reprints, including: ``A Note on Sources'' from each of the Caro works; a minibiography by Barlett and Steele from a nuclear-waste exposÇ; a New Yorker Calvin Trillin profile of a police reporter; a scathing Washington Post Magazine exposÇ of Kitty Kelley; and, without a blush, a Los Angeles Times piece that heaps praise on his own Hammer biography. Useful for biographer-wannabes. Otherwise, read Kelley for kicks, Caro for crack reporting, Boswell for brilliance.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-8262-0873-8
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Univ. of Missouri
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1992