Mary McGrory: The Trailblazing Columnist Who Stood Washington on Its Head

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A wildly entertaining biography of the trailblazing Washington columnist and the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for commentary
Before there was Maureen Dowd or Gail Collins or Molly Ivins, there was Mary McGrory. She was a trailblazing columnist who achieved national syndication and reported from the front lines of American politics for five decades. From her first assignment reporting on the Army–McCarthy hearings to her Pulitzer-winning coverage of Watergate and controversial observations of President Bush after September 11, McGrory humanized the players on the great national stage while establishing herself as a uniquely influential voice. Behind the scenes she flirted, drank, cajoled, and jousted with the most important figures in American life, breaking all the rules in the journalism textbook. Her writing was admired and feared by such notables as Lyndon Johnson (who also tried to seduce her) and her friend Bobby Kennedy who observed, “Mary is so gentle—until she gets behind a typewriter.” Her soirees, filled with Supreme Court justices, senators, interns, and copy boys alike, were legendary. Writing about Donald Trump's first divorce in 19990, she said, "Watching the Trumps, Washington thinks of itself as wholesome.’”

As the red-hot center of the Beltway in a time when the newsrooms were dominated by men, McGrory makes for a powerfully engrossing subject. Laced with juicy gossip and McGrory’s own acerbic wit, John Norris’s colorful biography reads like an insider’s view of latter-day American history—and one of its most enduring characters. 

From the Hardcover edition.
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About the author

John Norris is the executive director of the Sustainable Security and Peacebuilding Initiative at American Progress. Previously, he served as the Washington chief of staff for the International Crisis Group and the director of communications for U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott. He has written for Politico, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and The Wall Street Journal.

From the Hardcover edition.
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Published on
Sep 22, 2015
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Biography & Autobiography / Editors, Journalists, Publishers
Biography & Autobiography / Political
Biography & Autobiography / Women
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John Norris
Chatting with notorious war criminal Charles Taylor on the lawn of his presidential mansion as ostriches and armed teenagers strut in the background. Landing in snow-covered Afghanistan weeks after the fall of the Taliban and trying to make sense of a country shattered by years of war. Being held at gunpoint by young soldiers amid the tragedy of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Standing in the middle of a violent riot in the streets of Kathmandu. Having hushed conversations with the widows of Europe's largest massacre since World War II. These are all scenes from The Disaster Gypsies, a compelling personal memoir by a relief worker and conflict specialist who has worked on the ground in a host of war-torn countries.

Initially deployed as part of a humanitarian relief team in Rwanda almost by accident, Norris has experienced the tragedies of Rwanda, Bosnia, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, and Liberia over a span of ten years. Rich with poignant human stories, The Disaster Gypsies captures the reality of modern war with an immediacy and compassion that puts the reader in the front seat for some of the most wrenching events of our times.

Norris approaches his story with a unique and dynamic perspective, having worked both in the upper echelons of the U.S. government and in some of the world's most dangerous places. Moving from face-to-face encounters with powerful warlords to quiet moments with the victims of horrific violence, Norris gives readers a behind-the-scenes tour of a world most of them can barely imagine. He makes a compelling argument that these nasty civil wars were often dismissed as tribal, ethnic, or regional disputes by most Americans, when in reality such violence is fundamentally part of the human condition. That may sound simple or even self-evident, but Norris contends that most people in the United States and Europe continue to view war as something that is outside of themselves and profoundly foreign in its nature, even as their own troops continue to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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