In some ways Edward R. Murrow represents the highest American ideals. His Quaker ancestors defended the civil rights of their neighbors; his father-- one of the army of exploited Washington State lumbermen--and mother--a former school teacher and a pious and industrious housewife--reared three sons in the poverty of the rural, working-class American Northwest; and Murrow, his high school’s valedictorian, worked his way through college. Graduating on the eve of the Great Depression, he was immediately elected president of the National Student Federation of America: a first step toward the exalted role of national spokesman which Murrow eventually assumed.
Murrow was a compulsive worker whose education, particularly in public speaking, provided the means for his success as a broadcast correspondent. His background gave his career its substance; always aware of injustice, always fighting to preserve the rights of humanity, he had a vision of broadcast media as the most powerful means of education and enlightenment ever devised. He was also acutely sensitive to its weaknesses. Addressing the Radio-Television News Directors Association in 1958, he attacked sharply: “unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television . . . is being used to distract, delude, amuse and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.” In twenty-two years, he reported on all the major events and issues, from his famous radio broadcasts during the World War II Nazi bombing of London to his confrontation with Senator Joseph R. McCarthy on “See It Now.”
A.M. Sperber has been tireless in her research for this voluminous work. No stone is left unturned, and while her investigation lacks a close analysis of Murrow’s positions, it provides a thorough account of every incident in his life from his relationship with his great-grandfather to Murrow’s own death from lung cancer at the age of fifty-seven. The book is a full and often engaging history of a man and an era.