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If you like David Halberstam's story, you might also like:
Tom Clancy,
Sam Donaldson,
Doris Kearns Goodwin,
Nicholas Kristof,
David McCullough,
Ralph Nader,
Colin Powell,
Dan Rather,
Norman Schwarzkopf,
Neil Sheehan,
James Stockdale,
Michael Thornton
and Bob Woodward

David Halberstam's recommended reading: The Reason Why

David Halberstam also appears in the video:
Risk-Taking: An Ingredient for Success

Related Links:
Harvard Crimson
PBS: Reporting America at War
The New Yorker

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David Halberstam
David Halberstam
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David Halberstam Interview

Pulitzer Prize for Journalism

June 18, 1994
Las Vegas, Nevada

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  David Halberstam

When did you first know that you wanted to be a journalist?

David Halberstam: When my father was in the Army in World War II and I was about eight or nine years old, I started a family newspaper. You could buy something in those days -- we're really talking about the early 1940's -- there was sort of a -- like a gelatin, and you wrote something on a purple pen, and you put it on the gelatin, and then you could roll other pieces of paper on and make copies. So I guess it was an early Xerox machine, and I did a family newspaper, reporting on what my father was writing from overseas and also how many fish my brother and I caught. So I suppose that's the first early sign of it, but I think it was always there. When I grew up, it seemed to me to be -- and I suppose the kind of home you grow up in, it reinforces this -- but it seemed to be an interesting and exciting profession where you could do valuable things and be a part of history and also have some measure of social conscience. It seemed to be at the cutting edge of a free society.

I don't think 15, 16 and 17-year-old kids think of the cutting edge of a free society, but they do get a sense of excitement.

I can remember hearing my parents, who were not journalists at all, talk about men like John Gunther and Vincent Sheean and Quentin Reynolds. I mean that there was sort of a respect for what this profession was -- the elder Hodding Carter. So there a value in it. I knew bylines before I really read the paper. They would talk about Harrison Salisbury, the great New York Times reporter, and it was one of the wonderful things later in my life that I became a friend of John Gunther and Harrison Salisbury, these men who had at one time been my heroes.

What books were important to you when you were a kid?

David Halberstam: Well, my mother was a school teacher. She was a great second-grade school teacher. So she was a believer in reading. She had given up teaching for a time when my brother and I were born, although she went back to it after my father's death.

When we were young, we had books, I think, that fired the imagination. They didn't have as many then as now, but you had Mary Poppins, Dr. Doolittle, books like that which were books of the imagination. I think it teaches you that there is something more out there than the humdrum that is in front of you. The idea of books, from day one books were important. I remember when my daughter was growing up. The greatest pleasure I ever had in my life was reading to her and reading with her and picking out books, and it was a great sort of sad moment in my life when she -- probably when she was about 9 or 10 -- decided she didn't need the assistance anymore. I think it is a wonderful world. Books are the first vehicle -- particularly in an age like the one I grew up in which had no television -- which can transport you and take you from where you are and give you a sense that there is something more out there.

Obviously, as I went on to college, other books began to have greater impact.

There's a wonderful book by a writer named Cecil Woodham-Smith called The Reason Why, and it is a story of why the Light Brigade charged into the Valley of Death, the Battle of Balaclava, and every child in America in my generation knows, "Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do or die." Well it's a great book, and instead of this heroic portrait of these poor dear young men charging off into the death, it is a portrait of the utter incompetence of the British military system, Lord Raglan and Lord Cardigan who sent them into this, into their death, and it's a brilliant book, and it's written as if it's a novel. It's breathtaking, and I thought, "God, I'd really like to write a book like that, I'd like to write a non-fiction book that is like a novel."

Then Theodore White was writing his early books, including a book called Fire in the Ashes, which was a book on the recreation and regeneration of Europe after World War II. Later there was a book that he did, The Making of the President, in 1960, which took an event that we all knew the answer to -- who had won the 1960 Presidential election -- and made it read like a detective novel. I thought, "God, I'd like to do that."

So there were always books out there that touched me. I think one of the good things about our house -- my father was a doctor, my mother was a school teacher -- but it was a house in which books were important, and we saw them reading. We heard them talking about books, and we knew that they discussed them, and we knew that they valued it. So I think both my brother and I thought this was an important thing.

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