Looking Back cover
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Publication date:
May 1, 2002
New York Review Books
Essays & Criticism, History, Politics & Current Affairs

From his youthful days as a delivery boy for William Randolph Hearst’s Baltimore newspapers through his many years as a journalist and commentator, Russell Baker has been a keen observer of American politics and culture. Now, in these eleven essays, all originally published in The New York Review of Books, he looks back on a group of iconic public figures from his own past.

Here are presidents—Lyndon Johnson feuding with Robert F. Kennedy, and Richard Nixon in his grasping, spectral exile. Here are would-be presidents—Eugene V. Debs and Barry Goldwater, “gentlemen fallen among brutes,” and Hearst himself. Here too are those who set their sights on something besides the presidency: Martin Luther King, Joe DiMaggio, and the disputatious memoirists of The New Yorker‘s glory days.

Undeluded by the roar of what he calls “our national engines of ballyhoo, bushwah, and baloney,” Russell Baker reflects on the strange fascination that these larger-than-life characters have held for the American imagination. With an elegiac yet shrewd sense of their accomplishments both enduring and ephemeral, he traces the impressions they left on twentieth-century America and on him.


A refresher course in American politics and culture.— Tampa Tribune & Times

[Baker displays] an unflinching desire to observe lives as they were actually lived, not as they were created by Hollywood.— The Boston Globe

Baker wrote wonderfully, with perfect, witty sentences that could make you stop and read them again.— The Boston Globe

[Baker has] scholarly erudition, stylistic flair, and an ability to sweep through all manner of culture high and low that recalls writers like Edmund Wilson and George Orwell.— Boston Phoenix