Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Book Review of My Paper Chase: True Stories of Vanished Times by Harold Evans
Harold Evans' My Paper Chase: True Stories of Vanished Times appears a bit intimidating at first, if only because of the breadth, depth, and heft of it. But Harold Evans' writing flows, I found myself thoroughly engrossed. Born in 1928 from working class parents, Evans became a reporter at sixteen. His natural ability, drive, tenacity, and nose for a good story led him not just to excel in his field but to take on unrecognized and unpopular causes and to sway public opinion. One of the book's greatest strengths is the extent to which Evans gives us the background and context for each of the events or stories that he shares.
At the start, Evans delves into his own background. His father had little formal education but was a genius at numbers. For instance, if you named a date whether it was 25 years ago or just a few months, his father could unerringly identify which day of the week it was. He worked his way up at the railway, beginning as an engine cleaner to the position of driver. His ability to calculate how much a person's wages would be, taking into account the different wage scales, overtime, deductions, and irregular hours, was recognized in his company's accounting staff and won him the gratitude and affection of his colleagues at the railway. Evans points out that in England at that time, his father's mathematical abilities, even coupled with hard work, would not have afforded him better opportunities because of "the Geddes axe." Sir Eric Geddes, a.k.a. Lord Inchcape, a Minister of the Crown and the former manager of the North Eastern Railway Company, had a strong contempt for the abilities of the working class. In his committee's examination of the expenditure of public funds, he advised against giving secondary school education to poor children, "children whose mental capabilities do not justify it" - essentially consigning an entire generation to very limited prospects.
Evans' generation were given the opportunity to advance through a limited number of scholarships granted to ex-servicemen by the Ministry of Education, through the Butler Education Act in Great Britain. The Butler Act was a more restrictive version of the G.I. Bill but it paid for Evans' university education.
Evans shares what it was like to work in the early newsrooms, where typewriters, typesetters, scissors, spikes, and paste were critical tools of the trade. In the chapter Stop Press, Evans shares what it was like as a young "copy taster" managing the coverage of the unfolding of the Harrow-Wealdstone disaster - a train crash that quickly became a collision of three trains with 75 dead and 110 feared dead for Manchester Evening News. He managed, edited, revised, and published eight editions in six hours, without the help of computers.
Evans' projects range from battling air pollution to helping improve overseas newspapers, to beautifying Manchester to exposing the cause of the deadliest DC-10 air crash and uncovering one of the largest health scandals in the century.
I wish that I'd gotten this review out earlier to help people who might be looking for a good book whether for themselves or their loved ones. As I read My Paper Chase: True Stories of Vanished Times, I kept thinking of my uncle Eddy who would encourage me to read. It's the sort of book that he'd savor. I found it fascinating - it's a book that I'll enjoy rereading at leisure.
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (November 5, 2009), 592 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
About the Author, courtesy of the publisher:
Harold Evans, the author of The American Century and now They Made America, is a celebrated historian and journalist. He was the editor of the Sunday Times of London for fourteen years and then the Times of London before settling in 1984 in America, where he has been successively founding editor of CondéNast Traveler; president and publisher of Random House; editorial director and vice chairman of U.S. News & World Report, the Atlantic magazine, Fast Company, and the New York Daily News. In 2002 Britain's journalists voted Evans the greatest all-time British newspaper editor. He was knighted in Queen Elizabeth's 2004 New Year honors list. He lives in New York with his wife, Tina Brown, and their two children.
Watch an interview with Harold Evans. Visit Harold Evans' webpage.
Browse inside the book.
Thank you so much to Valerie and Hatchette Book Group for this review opportunity!
Labels: Hatchette Book Group, My Paper Chase: True Stories of Vanished Times by Harold Evans, nonfiction