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News Epic

a biography of Roy W. Howard
Reviewed by Kevin T. McEneaney

Patricia Beard's aptly titled Newsmaker offers not only an exciting read about Roy Howard, the man who founded UPI and turned it into an empire, but a fresh inside look at what went on behind the scenes of American politics during the first half of the 20th century. Howard was not only a reporter, columnist, and media mogul, but a colorful bon vivant who never lost his bearings. Although presidents and world leaders sometimes felt intimidated by Howard's aggressive honesty, there was also "something sympathetic about him that even led people who were wary of the press to spend themselves unburdening themselves, or trying to impress him." Howard had the gift to get the backroom story as well as front page headlines.

Here is the first biography of this media giant. Beard has gained access to Howard's secret diaries. What do excerpts from these diaries reveal? They indicate that Howard attempted to be as honest with himself as he was with news, a trait that has mostly vanished from our current landscape. As writer, Howard's prose was as fierce and blunt as he was honest. His towering ambition remained to get the news first and to get it right the first time. Howard's comments of  Hoover, Willkie, FDR, Truman, Hitler, Stalin, and Eisenhower reveal characters layered beneath the politician.

While the biography retains its focus on the man behind his media empire, the scope of this book is panoramic. Beard's chapter on Asia is so interesting and compelling that a reader might want more. New Yorkers will be particularly interested on the material about mayors Jimmy Walker and Fiorello La Guardia. The biography is part chess game, backstage anecdote, headline sensation with "knock-out interviews." The rise and diminution of the Scripps-Howard media empire is itself an epic tale that has not been limned before. Beard is not only a masterly writer, but a footnote artist with asides that display wit and panache.

The book features a gracious Prologue by Pamela Howard, a granddaughter of Roy W. Howard that emulates the family photograph on fireplace mantel that is so often missing from a biography that seeks to probe the heights and depths of genius. The book also contains a fascinating collection of black-and-white photographs. If you are interested in journalism, the history of this country or the history of the world in the 20th century, the inner workings of a brilliant mind, an exciting narrative, or just a good colorful read, then this book might be the best three-hundred page-turner of the year.

Patricia Beard is the author of several acclaimed books and lives in our neighborhood. She recently launched Newsmaker at the Merritt Bookstore where the book is currently available.