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Review: Woodward And Bernstein: Life In The Shadow Of Watergate

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Title: Woodward And Bernstein: Life In The Shadow Of Watergate
Author: Alicia Shepard
Publisher: John Wiley and Sons, Inc
ISBN: 0471737615

That Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein have contributed dramatically to changing the face of journalism is by now a matter of historical record.
However, very few of us were aware of their symbiotic relationship- what exactly made them tick before and after they became famous. That was until Alicia C. Shepard came along with her masterful narrative of the lives of these two icons, Woodward And Bernstein: Life In The Shadow Of Watergate.

Shepard has based much of her book on Woodward and Bernstein's Watergate archives, which was purchased by the University of Texas for five million dollars and made public in February of 2005. Incidentally, Shepard was the first person to have access to these documents. In addition to the archives, Shepard also interviewed nearly two hundred people to give a more rounded version of how two very young reporters unveiled the Watergate scandal that ultimately led to the resignation of Richard Nixon and how their own lives changed thereafter.

Woodward successfully parlayed his initial success into a lifelong career writing thirteen books and several stories earning him respect, fame and a great deal of money. Bernstein's career has been more sporadic than Woodward and not as successful, although he still has managed to earn respect as well as a descent living from his writings and speaking engagements. Quite interesting, Bernstein gained another persona, as a party animal, dating some of Hollywood's famous actresses as Shirley MacLaine, Elizabeth Taylor, Bianca Jagger and others. However, as Shepard points out in the Preface, "Today the men are cultural icons. What other journalists could sell the thirty-year old contents of their newsroom desks for $5 million?"

All of this was the result of two young reporters, different in many respects, who were willing to take on enormous risks in chasing a story that most editors were reluctant to deal with-the burglaries of the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate Hotel in 1972 and the ensuing results that culminated in the resignation of Richard Nixon in 1974. As Shepard recounts, it was at the time inconceivable to the well-entrenched media that a president of the USA could be a criminal, yet this did not deter Woodward and Bernstein from seeking out the truth, even though the burglaries were considered by many to be trivial. In fact, as Shepard indicates, the White House would never be the same, as it turned out to be a turning point in its relationship with the press.

In all probability, what most propelled Woodward and Bernstein into the limelight was the motion picture by Robert Redford of their book All the President's Men. Redford was very much captivated by the Watergate story and he was determined to turn this into a movie focusing on two punk reporters who in many respects were opposites, yet it was their symbiotic relationship that led to their success. On the one hand, as Shepard notes, Woodward is very meticulous and leaves very little to judgment, while Bernstein has a tendency to generalize. You can say one is the digger of information while the other can visualize the bigger picture. As pointed out in the book, Redford sums it up very well when he asserts: "These are two guys on the low end of the totem pole. They couldn't be more different. Bernstein was radical, Jewish, intellectually inclined, very liberal. Woodward was bland, boring, a Waspy Republican."
Nonetheless, as the book thoroughly exposes, these radical personality differences led to a unique rapport that had a profound impact on journalism.

They say timing is everything and perhaps this is quite valid when you read the final chapter of Woodward And Bernstein: Life In The Shadow Of Watergate, wherein Shepard dishes out some very interesting information pertaining to the infamous "Deep Throat" of Watergate fame. As she mentioned in an interview with the Washington Post, she had been most fortunate when "Deep Throat's" identification was revealed in 2005 as being W.Mark Felt, the number-two man in the FBI during Watergate and one of Woodward and Bernstein's top-secret sources. What better way to end her story of two of the most famous journalists in history.

This is an important and fascinating book written with an open and inquisitive mind. Shepard has found a narrative voice that cuts away the fat from the bone and her perceptions convey a rich portrait of two icons that succeeded, as she states, in entering the secret gardens of all levels of government that few other journalists ever visit.

The above review was contributed by Norm Goldman, Editor of Bookpleasures.com IMG1
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Norm Goldman is the Editor of the book reviewing and author interviewing site, bookpleasures.com. He is also the Editor of the travel site, sketchandtravel.com, where his artist wife, Lily and Norm meld words with art focusing on romantic (more...)
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