Katharine Graham's "Personal History" was a Pulitzer Prize-winning, No. 1 best seller in part because it was disarmingly honest. The legendary matriarch of The Washington Post Company (which owns NEWSWEEK) turned out to be a most unstuffy grande dame, by turns vulnerable, tough and funny. Before she died last year at the age of 84, Mrs. Graham put together a collection of more than 100 articles, essays and book excerpts about her hometown, Washington. Her fascination with the human side of the capital shines through, especially in her own comments and introductory essays. "I was always terrified of Jack Kennedy... I remember one day going to the White House for dinner and, as always, I felt terribly awkward and was sure that I was boring him--which was, of course, the first way to bore him," writes Graham, who knew or met through her parents an astonishing 17 presidents. She may have thought she was a bore in 1962, but she got over it. Her attitude toward Washington is revealed by her introduction to one piece, a memoir of FDR's cabinet: "I like it because it's gossipy in an elevated way."
This lively, affectionate anthology is rich with wise commentary (Washington is "urbanely dull," observes columnist Russell Baker) and quirky inside scenes. In "Memoirs of a Congressman's Daughter," Connie Casey asked her father, a congressman turned lawyer/lobbyist, why she couldn't go to Burning Tree Golf Club. "Because the men there were naked. Naked all the time," her father explained. He described Clark Clifford, a suave, elegant adviser to presidents, standing "in front of a mirror in the buff, slowly molding the crimps back into his damp hair."
Mrs. Graham loved Washington and was vexed by politicians who ran against it. But she understood the resentment of those who felt snubbed or patronized by Washington's permanent establishment, which was headquartered at Mrs. Graham's dining table in Georgetown. During the 1968 Washington riots, a presidential aide brought Lyndon Johnson a report that black militant leader Stokely Carmichael was organizing a group to march on Georgetown and burn it down. The president read the report, looked up and smiled. "Goddamn," he said, "I've waited 35 years for this day."