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RIP David Halberstam
April 23, 2007 5:02 PM   Subscribe

David Halbertstam dead in tragic car accident. Experienced, eloquent, and always observant (his dim view of Patrick Ewing being a notable exception), David Halberstam was a journalistic jack-of-all-trades who was probably best known for his stinging indictment of Vietnam warrior Robert McNamara, JFK and LBJ's secretary of defense, in the classic The Best and the Brightest. A superior war correspondent before the era of CNN-televised revolutions , Halberstam was also an excellent historian and sports writer. Halberstam's dense but illuminating The Fifties is an informative and tightly written study on the Eisenhower era. And The Children offers a compelling look at eight young leaders of the Civil Rights Revolution. Moreover, Halberstam's many writings on basketball (The Breaks of the Game, Playing for Keeps) and baseball (Summer of '49, October 1964) rank among the upper echelon of sports books.
posted by psmealey (54 comments total)

 
Text and links via.
posted by psmealey at 5:04 PM on April 23, 2007


A few links borked here. Apologies. Not sure what happened.
posted by psmealey at 5:06 PM on April 23, 2007


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posted by kalimotxero at 5:10 PM on April 23, 2007


The driver, an unnamed student at the University of California, Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, was taken to Stanford Medical Center.

I think you should probably get an F for any semester in which you kill David Halberstam.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:12 PM on April 23, 2007 [4 favorites]


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posted by amberglow at 5:15 PM on April 23, 2007


What a lovely mind.
I'm sorry for his family and for all of us.
posted by Dizzy at 5:19 PM on April 23, 2007


An interview with him by Powell's books: ... Dave: In The Next Century, you wrote: "As the network news format trivializes political debate, the political system adapts to it. Serious discussion of serious issues is too complicated." That statement could be applied any number of recent events, including the most recent presidential election.

Halberstam: And very much to our political system now. It's really very trivialized.

Dave: Where does that leave us?

Halberstam: We're an entertainment society. We want to be entertained more than we want to think. It's a serious problem. We're the most powerful nation in the world, but our network broadcast is increasingly about celebrity, sex, and scandal. It's less about substance than it used to be. It's not as good as it should be. And it makes us a more volatile society.

We pay very little attention to the rest of the world, then when the rest of the world doesn't act in concert with us and salute us, we're very angry. We think, How could this happen? Why don't they like us more? We're not paying very much attention.

Dave: In War in a Time of Peace, you discuss George Bush Sr.'s reluctance to celebrate too much in public when the Berlin Wall came down because he didn't want to show up Gorbachev. Contrast that to George W.'s photo op on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln after the war in Iraq. It's night and day.

Halberstam: The father was from a different generation. He'd worked in partnership with the then-Soviet leader, and he didn't want to embarrass him. He possibly even paid a little bit of a price politically for not being exploitive. Then his son flies in to an aircraft carrier right after the war.

It's sort of puzzling to me. I don't want to get too political now, but it seems to me that it was the wrong message. People know that we're powerful. Having the President of the United States come in like a jet jockey on a carrier is not the kind of signal I think you want to give to the rest of the world. They know we're powerful. They know we have a lot of airpower. I was very uneasy with that, and I thought it was sort of exploitive of those who had actually gone to Iraq on the part of someone who had not served, unlike his father who went into the service as the youngest naval pilot. I thought it was, on the part of the President's handlers, a significant overreach. ...

posted by amberglow at 5:21 PM on April 23, 2007


I absolutely loved David Halberstam. The Best and the Brightest was a book that got me into reading other epic political and war books. I had wanted to read it for so long then decided to take it on a trip overseas because it was a paperback and I figured it would last the whole two weeks. I devoured it long before the trip was over and wondered why I had waited so long to read it. He was such a talent, and his baseball books were first rate, especially Teammates. I will very much miss him. Godspeed Mr. Halberstam.
posted by vito90 at 5:21 PM on April 23, 2007


Very sad that he was lost when he was still vital and active, writing in 2002 a great, introspective book about the influence of the ghosts of the Cold War and Vietnam, War in a Time of Peace. He was cogent as a journalist in the middle of a convoluted war, and as a historian, going back and analyzing it without any illusions.

Paula Zahn is now chattering away on the TV behind me. You couldn't find a more stark contrast between journalist and smarm merchant.
posted by planetkyoto at 5:22 PM on April 23, 2007


"The Reckoning", on manufacturing in the US and Japan during and after WW2, is one of my favorite books.

I know, weird, but it was a really, really good book.
posted by dglynn at 5:23 PM on April 23, 2007


Playin for Keeps
The Children

Apologies again for the other broken links.
posted by psmealey at 5:26 PM on April 23, 2007


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(Robert S. McNamara, that living cautionary tale, still lives.)
posted by orthogonality at 5:37 PM on April 23, 2007


His Amateurs was an inspiration (note my nick).

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posted by tarheelcoxn at 5:40 PM on April 23, 2007


The Fifties is a great book and October 1964 is a good read as well. He was a great writer. The only solace in losing him right now is that he lived to be 73 and left a lot of wonderful works, if that's any solace at all.
posted by sleepy pete at 5:45 PM on April 23, 2007


Very sad that he was lost when he was still vital and active, writing in 2002 a great, introspective book about the influence of the ghosts of the Cold War and Vietnam, War in a Time of Peace.

I was just thinking about that book, I had stopped reading it and was going to get back into tonight, before I heard this news. What I had read was excellent.
posted by bobo123 at 5:47 PM on April 23, 2007


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And his criticism of Ewing was dead on.
posted by Sphinx at 5:51 PM on April 23, 2007


Goddamn it. What a great journalist, what a great writer, and what a great loss. War in a Time of Peace was my introduction to Halberstam, and it still holds a place on my "Best of Non-Fiction" shelf. The unnamed j-school student owes the world a remarkable career. Don't fuck it up, kid.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 5:56 PM on April 23, 2007


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posted by Tommy Gnosis at 5:57 PM on April 23, 2007


The first Halberstam book I read was The Fifties. It was so good I sought out a copy of The Best and The Brightest, which was even better.

A great journalist from an age of great journalism. R.I.P.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 6:05 PM on April 23, 2007


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posted by cerebus19 at 6:12 PM on April 23, 2007


oh, how awful. A sad loss.

Information about David Halberstam at Wikipedia.

Apparently he died near the Dumbarton Bridge, the San Mateo County. Not an easy death: "the force of the crash caused a 2-foot indentation on Halberstam's side of the car, pinning his legs. As firefighters tried to free him, the car's engine began to smoke, then caught fire.

Rescuers extricated Halberstam, who was wearing a seat belt, then tried to rescusitate him, but they could not find a pulse..."

Loving wishes to his family and my condolences. May he rest in peace.
posted by nickyskye at 6:40 PM on April 23, 2007


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posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:06 PM on April 23, 2007


The unnamed j-school student owes the world a remarkable career. Don't fuck it up, kid.

He's not unnamed.

The car's driver, Kevin Jones, 26, a first-year journalism student, was also injured with Halberstam in the accident.

"We were talking about sports and Vietnam and having kids," Jones said in an interview from his hospital bed. "He seemed generally interested in what I had to say, just some random student chaperoning him around."


The article doesn't say who was at fault.
posted by waitingtoderail at 7:15 PM on April 23, 2007


Oh, and

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posted by waitingtoderail at 7:15 PM on April 23, 2007


NPR said he was sideswiped by another car. So the j-student is off the hook.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 7:20 PM on April 23, 2007


A second thumbs up for "The Reckoning". A very good book on the auto industry in particular, industry in general, labor, international business, and a number of other topics. Events, mainly the tech boom of the 90s, cut into its urgency about the industrial and trade tensions between the US and Japan during the 80's, but it was a terrific read.

I guess you could say the same about "The Powers That Be". The media giants of the mid-20th century that it covered have either been swallowed up by others (Paley's CBS and the Chandler's L.A. Times) or are gasping for breath (the Sulzburger's N.Y. Times and the Graham's WaPo).

The guy certainly knew how to cover big subjects. Garry Trudeau had a few good strips about him back in early 80's. He didn't write books, he wrote "tomes".
posted by hwestiii at 7:21 PM on April 23, 2007


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posted by sacre_bleu at 8:17 PM on April 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Goddammit. As a journalist and journalism student, this pains me to no end. In a profession that seems increasingly adrift and occasionally irrelevant, it was good to know that there were still giants like Halberstam doing the Lord's work. And now there's one fewer.
posted by Rangeboy at 8:20 PM on April 23, 2007


Damn.

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posted by intermod at 8:24 PM on April 23, 2007


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posted by scody at 9:18 PM on April 23, 2007


Thanks for the heads-up, waitingtoderail and Saucy Intruder. Sometimes you just desperately need a scapegoat. :(
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:33 PM on April 23, 2007


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So sad. Part of a great tradition of journalism & pubic history.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 10:15 PM on April 23, 2007


Brilliant writer and journalist. May he rest in peace.

That area -- Bayfront Expressway, or pretty much anywhere around Highway 101 and Willow Road in Menlo Park -- is notorious for horrific auto accidents, day and night. It's a really heavily trafficked area on roads that were designed for 1940s traffic patterns, and it's not been safe for years. Not assigning or deflecting blame here -- just mentioning the facts of the roadway in question.
posted by blucevalo at 10:18 PM on April 23, 2007


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posted by oxonium at 10:25 PM on April 23, 2007


And also: the networks right now are talking about phil spector's hair, did the nebulous "media" harass the kids at va tech too much (yes, you did), blah blah blah.

Show some respect for your better. I could spit.
posted by oxonium at 10:30 PM on April 23, 2007


I worked on the TV documentary series that was made out of his book "The Fifties." It was wonderful to get to watch all the source footage of his interviews. He was a tremendously gracious interview subject, and he had a headful of wonderful asides and anecdotes.

rest in peace, sir.
posted by I, Credulous at 10:36 PM on April 23, 2007


I only knew him for his baseball books, which is sad considering that it was just one facet of his massive collective work.

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posted by dw at 11:50 PM on April 23, 2007



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posted by From Bklyn at 12:29 AM on April 24, 2007


Guess sacrebleu's the only other newspaper writer here...

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posted by jackbrown at 2:16 AM on April 24, 2007


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The Fifties is an excellent book. I always meant to read more of his work. This is a loss.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:04 AM on April 24, 2007


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posted by OmieWise at 5:21 AM on April 24, 2007


He will be missed. (Unfortunately, his journalistic sense has been missing from much of the business for years.)

I hate it when great talents are lost for stupid reasons.
posted by pmurray63 at 5:28 AM on April 24, 2007


Halberstram's The Amateurs is the most compelling book about sports I have ever read. Even if you don't care about rowing (the book focuses on four rowers competing for a spot on the U.S. National Team in the '84 Olympic games), you will be moved by this book.

Great writer, great journalist. RIP.
posted by theknacker at 5:58 AM on April 24, 2007


What a damn shame.

My first thought, upon reading the hed here, was, "Had he gotten on to any seriously damaging information about Bush?" (But I guess they'd have to take out a lot of writers at this point. Even if the MSM is still barely scratching the surface of our problems, other longform print authors are pulling no punches.)

And WRT the Halberstam quote from above:
We're an entertainment society. We want to be entertained more than we want to think. ...

We pay very little attention to the rest of the world, then when the rest of the world doesn't act in concert with us and salute us, we're very angry. We think, How could this happen? Why don't they like us more?


For years I haven't been able to shake the image that the US is like a nation of spoiled adolescents.

Also, I'll skip the pound signs/-30- and I never even do the following, but for him -
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posted by NorthernLite at 7:08 AM on April 24, 2007


The Powers That Be changed my outlook on US media. I strongly recommend that you read it, and hold its memory in your mind when watching histories of the era it covers.

The Children
hit me like a punch in the chest. Our society is doing everything it can to make the civil-rights-era heroes look like kooks instead of the astoundingly brave citizens they are.

War in a Time of Peace cogently explained the entire Balkan crisis in a way that no newspaper had been able to do for me yet. I have The Best and the Brightest here on my shelf, unread.

Halberstam has acted as a role model to me, raising my consciousness and making me hold myself to higher political standards. His voice in America's ongoing dialogue with itself will be sorely missed, and we are all the worse for his loss.
posted by popechunk at 7:31 AM on April 24, 2007


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posted by languagehat at 8:19 AM on April 24, 2007


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posted by joseph_elmhurst at 9:27 AM on April 24, 2007


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posted by Smedleyman at 11:17 AM on April 24, 2007


Thirty-five years ago, I was a journalism student with the great good fortune to escort Halberstam during a day-long visit to my university. He was then, and remained one of my professional heroes. This is a great loss.
posted by Sassenach at 1:07 PM on April 24, 2007


First Vonnegut and now this, not a very good month for the culture.
posted by archaic at 7:45 PM on April 24, 2007


NPR's Fresh Air had a nice show about him featuring several enjoyable segments with him
posted by archaic at 7:53 PM on April 24, 2007


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posted by Adam White at 5:17 AM on April 25, 2007


The patriotism debate now going on has unusual resonance for me, because I was one of the first to have his patriotism challenged for raising questions about Vietnam. Very early on I became a target of the war's supporters in the White House, in the Pentagon (which had lots of powerful publicity machinery to use against wayward reporters), and among hawkish journalists, because of my pessimistic reporting. . . .
posted by amberglow at 4:09 PM on April 25, 2007


This link will take you to his final speech (further link on the bottom).
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:26 AM on April 26, 2007


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