With the nation hobbled by the COVID-19 pandemic and still riven by intractable political divisions, there’s never been a more tempting — or more dangerous — time to indulge in nostalgia. Compared to the horrors of the past few years, it’s natural to see everything that came before in sepia tones: simpler times when common decency reigned.
Henry Holt & Co.
But nostalgia lies and distorts, of course, and journalists, in particular, are routinely warned to steer clear of it. (To be sure, that doesn’t mean we always follow that advice.) It would have been easy for the legendary reporter Carl Bernstein to fall into the nostalgia trap with his new book, the memoir Chasing History, which chronicles his earliest years in the newspaper business. Happily, he doesn’t. While it’s a mostly fond look at the past, he deftly avoids all the “Things sure were better back then” pitfalls.
Bernstein’s memoir starts with his hiring as a copyboy — an errand runner, essentially — at one of his hometown newspapers, the now-defunct Evening Star of Washington, D.C. His father arranged an interview for his high school student son at the paper: “He rightly feared for my future — a concern that was based on hard facts, most of them having to do with the pool hall, my school report cards, and the Montgomery County Juvenile Court.”
Copyboy isn’t (well, wasn’t — the job doesn’t really exist anymore) a glamorous position, but Bernstein was hooked from the moment he set foot in the newsroom. “In my…