What They Gave Us
AS THIS ISSUE WAS ABOUT TO GO TO PRESS, we were saddened to learn of the death, from cancer, of photographer Linda Svendsen, whose collaborations with authors Jane Powell and Paul Duchscherer produced a series of definitive books on the architecture, history, furnishing and preservation of the American bungalow in all its forms. She was 66, at the height of her career. Her passing is a profound loss to photojournalism, and to bungalow journalism, in particular.
A few days earlier, driving to complete an afternoon errand with the radio tuned to NPR, I listened as “All Things Considered” host Robert Siegel interrupted the broadcast to report that journalist David Halberstam had died that morning in a traffic collision in Menlo Park, California. Halberstam, 73, was in northern California to interview former New York Giants quarterback Y. A. Tittle for a book he was researching on the 1958 National Football League championship game between the Giants and the Baltimore Colts, a game many football historians regard as the greatest in NFL history. Earlier that morning, he had spoken to journalism students at UC Berkeley. He was on his way to Tittle’s home when the car in which he was a passenger was broadsided.
I have no idea what Halberstam was planning to write about that 1958 foot-ball game, but I’m confident it would have added zest, facts and insight to our national biography. That, after all, was his lifetime project. Through his meticulous reporting, and writing, he chronicled the American 20th century in a series of Magisterial books that included The Best and the Brightest, on what he found to be the nation’s misguided adventure in Vietnam, The Powers That Be, a group portrait of the titans who amassed the great media and communications empires, and The Fifties, a sprawling panorama of America at mid-century. He also wrote highly regarded books on the civil-rights movement in the South, the epic confrontation between the American and Japanese automobile industries, and amateur and professional sports.
In an author’s note at the end of his 2001 book War in a Time of. Peace, Halberstam wrote briefly about his approach to his work: “I like to take on ques-tions to which I do not know the answers and to use the four or five years I spend on one of my longer books as a kind of graduate school.” As a devoted reader of Halberstam’s work for more than 40 years, I have known that he practiced his craft in this way, as a kind of education, and that he felt a profound sense of responsi-bility to learn the truth and then tell it to readers in true stories. For journalists of my generation, his work was and is an enduring model— graceful, illuminating, entertaining and sound, as they used to say, as a dollar. It is the model I aspire to each day on this job.
Like Linda Svendsen in her sixties, David Halberstam in his seventies was still in his prime. Both were still giving us much that will go on meriting our attention, appreciation, respect and delight.
Looking forward to hearing from you,
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