The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst

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The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst

Author: David Nasaw
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Copyright: 2001
Pages: 736
Cover Price: $ 16.95

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The epic scope of historian David Nasaw's biography matches the titanic personality and achievements of William Randolph Hearst (1862-1951), who built "the nation's first media conglomerate" from a single San Francisco newspaper. Based on previously unavailable sources, including Hearst's personal papers, Nasaw's long but absorbing narrative gives a full-bodied account of the often contradictory mogul: "a huge man with a tiny voice; a shy man who was most comfortable in crowds ... an autocratic boss who could not fire people; a devoted husband who lived with his mistress."

Wife Millicent Hearst and actress-inamorata Marion Davies also emerge with more complexity than in previous portraits like Orson Welles's Citizen Kane, whose factual inaccuracies Nasaw dissects. The author tempers the usual simplistic account of Hearst's political evolution from fire-breathing leftist to red-baiting conservative, calling him "a classic liberal" who believed in less-is-more government and deplored fascism as much as communism. Fresh insights and elegantly turned phrases abound in Nasaw's depiction of Hearst's activities as newspaper publisher, movie producer, and politician, but what's even more intriguing is the poignant personal drama of a man born "in the city of great expectations on the edge of the continent" who was buried 89 years later in San Francisco, "the place he used to know." --Wendy Smith

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Background Information

William Randolph Hearst parlayed a family fortune built on silver mining into a media empire that spanned newspapers, magazines, movies, and more. Although devastated by the earthquake and fire of 1907, San Francisco kept its position as the West's leading city until overtaken by Los Angeles. The earliest papers in colonial times were single sheets, but newspapers developed into the primary mass local media before radio and television.