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David Halberstam

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Title: David Halberstam  
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Subject: Double Seven Day scuffle, Buddhist crisis, National Book Award for Nonfiction, The Powers That Be (book), The Reckoning (1986 book)
Collection: 1934 Births, 2007 Deaths, American Historians, American Jews, American Journalists of Jewish Descent, American Male Writers, American Military Writers, American People of the Vietnam War, American Political Writers, American Sportswriters, American War Correspondents, Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award Recipients, Harvard University Alumni, Jewish American Historians, Jewish American Writers, Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting Winners, Road Accident Deaths in California, The Harvard Crimson People, The New York Times Writers, Vietnam War Historians, War Correspondents of the Vietnam War, Writers from New York City
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David Halberstam

David Halberstam
Halberstam in 1978
Born (1934-04-10)April 10, 1934
New York City, U.S.
Died April 23, 2007(2007-04-23) (aged 73)
Menlo Park, California, U.S.
Occupation Journalist, historian, writer
Nationality American
Education Harvard University
Genre Non-fiction
Spouse Elżbieta Czyżewska (1965–1977; divorced)
Jean Sandness Butler (1979-2007; his death; 1 child)

David Halberstam (April 10, 1934 – April 23, 2007) was an American journalist and historian, known for his work on the Vietnam War, politics, history, the Civil Rights Movement, business, media, American culture, and later, sports journalism.[1] He won a Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting in 1964. In 2007, while doing research for a book, Halberstam was killed in a car crash.[2][3]


  • Early life and education 1
  • Career 2
    • Vietnam 2.1
    • Civil Rights Movement and Poland 2.2
    • Foreign policy, media works 2.3
    • Sports writing 2.4
    • Later years 2.5
  • Death 3
  • Mentor to other authors 4
  • Criticism 5
  • Awards and honors 6
  • Books 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Early life and education

Halberstam was born in New York City and raised in Winsted, Connecticut, where he was a classmate of Ralph Nader, moving to Yonkers, New York and graduating from Roosevelt High School in 1951.[4] In 1955 he graduated from Harvard College in the bottom third of his class[5] with a BA after serving as managing editor of The Harvard Crimson.


Halberstam's journalism career began at the Daily Times Leader, the smallest daily newspaper in Mississippi. He covered the beginnings of the American Civil Rights Movement for The Tennessean in Nashville.


Halberstam arrived in Vietnam in the middle of 1962, to be a full-time Vietnam specialist for The New York Times.[6] Halberstam, like many other US journalists covering Vietnam, relied heavily for information on Phạm Xuân Ẩn, who was later revealed to be a secret North Vietnamese agent.[7]

In 1963, Halberstam received a self-immolation of Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức.[8] During the Buddhist crisis, he and Neil Sheehan debunked the claim by the Diệm regime that the Army of the Republic of Vietnam regular forces had perpetrated the brutal raids on Buddhist temples, which the American authorities had initially believed, but that the Special Forces, loyal to Diệm's brother and strategist Nhu, had done so to frame the army generals. He was also involved in a scuffle with Nhu's secret police after they punched fellow journalist Peter Arnett while the pressmen were covering a Buddhist protest. Halberstam left Vietnam in 1964, at age 30, and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting that year.[2] He is interviewed in the 1968 documentary film on the Vietnam War entitled In the Year of the Pig.

Civil Rights Movement and Poland

In the mid-1960s, Halberstam covered the Civil Rights Movement for The New York Times. He was sent on assignment to Poland, where he soon became 'an attraction from behind the Iron Curtain' to the artistic boheme in Warsaw. The result of that fascination was a 12-year marriage to one of the most popular young actresses of that time, Elżbieta Czyżewska, on June 13, 1965. Initially well received by the communist regime, two years later he was expelled from the country as persona non grata for publishing an article in The New York Times, criticizing the Polish government. Czyżewska followed him, becoming an outcast herself; that decision disrupted her career in the country where she was a big star, adored by millions. In the spring of 1967, Halberstam traveled with Martin Luther King Jr. from New York City to Cleveland and then to Berkeley, California for a Harper's article, "The Second Coming of Martin Luther King". While at the Times, he gathered material for his book The Making of a Quagmire: America and Vietnam during the Kennedy Era.

Foreign policy, media works

Halberstam next wrote about President John F. Kennedy's foreign policy decisions on the Vietnam War in The Best and the Brightest. In 1972, Halberstam went to work on his next book, The Powers That Be, published in 1979 and featuring profiles of media titans like William S. Paley of CBS, Henry Luce of Time magazine, and Phil Graham of The Washington Post.

In 1980 his brother, cardiologist Michael J. Halberstam, was murdered during a burglary.[9] Halberstam made his only public comment related to his brother's murder when he and Michael's widow castigated Life magazine, then published monthly, for paying Michael's killer $9,000 to pose in jail for color photographs that appeared on inside pages of the February 1981 edition of Life.[10]

In 1991, Halberstam wrote The Next Century, in which he argued that, after the end of the Cold War, the United States was likely to fall behind economically to other countries such as Japan and Germany.[11]

Sports writing

Later in his career, Halberstam turned to sports, publishing The Breaks of the Game, an inside look at Bill Walton and the 1979-80 Portland Trail Blazers basketball team; Playing for Keeps, an ambitious book on Michael Jordan in 1999; Summer of '49, on the baseball pennant race battle between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox; and The Education of a Coach, about New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. Much of his sports writing, particularly his baseball books, focuses on the personalities of the players and the times they lived in as much as on the games themselves. In particular, Halberstam depicted the 1949 Yankees and Boston Red Sox as symbols of a nobler era, when blue-collar athletes modestly strove to succeed and enter the middle class, rather than making millions and defying their owners and talking back to the press. In 1997, Halberstam received the Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award as well as an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Colby College.

Later years

After publishing four books in the 1960s, including the novel The Noblest Roman, The Making of a Quagmire, and The Unfinished Odyssey of Robert Kennedy, he wrote three books in the 1970s, four books in the 1980s, and six books in the 1990s, including his 1999 The Children which chronicled the 1959–1962 Nashville Student Movement. He wrote four more books in the 2000s and was working on at least two others at the time of his death. In the wake of 9/11, Halberstam wrote a book about the events in New York City, Firehouse, which describes the life of the men from Engine 40, Ladder 35 of the New York City Fire Department.

The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War, the last book Halberstam completed, was published posthumously in September 2007.


Halberstam died on April 23, 2007 at 10:30 a.m. in a traffic accident in Menlo Park, California near the Dumbarton Bridge.[12] He was in the area to give a talk at an event at UC Berkeley[13][14] and was en route to Mountain View to interview Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Y.A. Tittle for a book about the 1958 NFL Championship Game. Kevin Jones, a graduate student at the UC Berkeley Journalism School who was given the opportunity to drive Halberstam to the interview by the department, proceeded from a controlled left turn lane on California State Route 84 against opposing traffic and a red light, and his vehicle was then hit broadside on the front passenger side, with fatal consequences for Halberstam. Jones pleaded no contest to misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter charges.[15][16][17]

Jones was subsequently sentenced to five days in jail (with the sentencing judge recommending that the sentence be served in the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office's work program rather than actually behind bars), to 200 hours of community service, and to two years of probation.[18] The judge also ordered Jones to complete a driving course.[18] The California Department of Motor Vehicles suspended Jones's driver's license for a period of one to three years.[18]

After Halberstam's death, the book project was taken over by Frank Gifford, who played for the losing New York Giants in the 1958 game, and was titled The Glory Game, published by HarperCollins in October 2008 with an introduction dedicated to David Halberstam.[19][20][21]

Mentor to other authors

Halberstam was generous with his time and advice to other authors. To cite just one instance, author Howard Bryant in the Acknowledgments section of Juicing the Game, his 2005 book about steroids in baseball, said of Halberstam's assistance: "He provided me with a succinct road map and the proper mind-set." Bryant went on to quote Halberstam on how to tackle a controversial non-fiction subject: "Think about three or four moments that you believe to be the most important during your time frame. Then think about what the leadership did about it. It doesn't have to be complicated. What happened, and what did the leaders do about it? That's your book."


Pulitzer Prize-winning Korean War correspondent Marguerite Higgins was the staunchest pro-Diệm journalist in the Saigon press corps, frequently clashing with her younger male colleagues such as Neil Sheehan, Peter Arnett, and Halberstam. She claimed they had ulterior motives, saying "reporters here would like to see us lose the war to prove they're right."[22]

Conservative military and diplomatic historian Mark Moyar[23] claimed that Halberstam, along with fellow Vietnam journalists Neil Sheehan and Stanley Karnow helped to bring about the 1963 South Vietnamese coup against President Diệm by sending negative information on Diệm to the U.S. government in news articles and in private, all because they decided Diệm was unhelpful in the war effort. Moyar claims that much of this information was false or misleading.[24] Sheehan, Karnow, and Halberstam all won Pulitzer Prizes for their work on the war.

Newspaper opinion editor Michael Young says Halberstam saw Vietnam as a moralistic tragedy, with America's pride deterministically bringing about its downfall. Young writes that Halberstam reduced everything to human will, turning his subjects into agents of broader historical forces and coming off like a Hollywood movie with a fated and formulaic climax.[25]

Awards and honors


  • The Noblest Roman. Houghton Mifflin. 1961. ASIN: B0007DSNRM.  (novel)
  • The Making of a Quagmire: America and Vietnam During the Kennedy Era. McGraw-Hill. 1965. [26] 
  • One Very Hot Day. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin. 1967. (novel)  
  • The Unfinished Odyssey of Robert Kennedy. Random House. 1968.  
  • Ho. McGraw-Hill. 1971.  
  • The Amateurs: The Story of Four Young Men and Their Quest for an Olympic Gold Medal. Ballantine Books. 1985. rowing — about the sport of  
  • Summer of '49. Harper Perennial Modern Classics. 1989.  
  • The Next Century. Random House. 1991.  
  • October 1964. Ballantine Books. 1994.  
  • The Children. Ballantine Books. 1999.  
  • Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World He Made. Broadway Books. 1999.  
  • Firehouse. 2002.  
  • The Teammates: A Portrait of a Friendship. Hyperion. 2003.  
  • The Education of a Coach. Hyperion. 2005.  
  • Frank Gifford — in progress at Halberstam's death; completed by  

See also


  1. ^ Academy of Achievement biography [3] Retrieved 2014-02-26
  2. ^ a b c "International Reporting". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2013-11-01.
  3. ^
  4. ^ George Packer (May 7, 2007). "Postscript: David Halberstam". The New Yorker.
  5. ^
  6. ^ New York Times obituary [4] Retrieved 2014-02-26
  7. ^ Obituary New York Times 2006
  8. ^ Self-immolation of Buddhist monk.
  9. ^ Lyons, Richard D. (December 8, 1980). Slaying Suspect A Puzzle to Neighbors; House Was Toured Periods Away From Home Control of Handguns Sought. The New York Times.
  10. ^ Weiser, Benjamin (January 16, 1981). "Slain Halberstam's Kin Attack Deal by Life". The Washington Post. Page B1.
  11. ^ Christopher Lehmann-Haupt (February 11, 1991). "The Next Century". The New York Times.
  12. ^ Coté, John (April 23, 2007). "Author David Halberstam killed in Menlo Park".  
  13. ^ Leff, Lisa (April 23, 2007). "Author David Halberstam dies in crash".  
  14. ^ "UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism event page". Archived from the original on 2007-06-09. Retrieved 2007-04-23. 
  15. ^ Coté, John (May 12, 2007). "Lawyer for Halberstam's widow calls student driver negligent". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-05-12. 
  16. ^ Coté, John; Stannard, Matthew B. (April 24, 2007). "David Halberstam: 1934-2007". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-11-20. 
  17. ^ Walsh, Diana (April 24, 2007). "Driver recalls Halberstam's last conversation before fatal accident". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-11-20. 
  18. ^ a b c John Coté (February 15, 2008). "Driver in Halberstam crash gets 5 days in jail". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2012-08-02.
  19. ^ In Memory of David Halberstam by
  20. ^ Laura Smith (June 25, 2007). "Student Charged in Death of Pulitzer Winner". Blogger News Network. Retrieved 2007-06-25. 
  21. ^ John Coté (November 20, 2007). "Halberstam's widow to motorist in fatal crash: Learn how to drive". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-11-20. 
  22. ^ Schafer, Michael (1990). The Legacy: The Vietnam War in the American Imagination. Boston, MA: Beacon Press. p. 134.  
  23. ^ Gary Shapiro (April 30, 2007). "Mark Moyar, Historian of Vietnam, Finds Academe Hostile to a Hawk". The New York Sun.
  24. ^ Moyar, Mark (5 July 2007). "Halberstam’s History". The National Review. Retrieved 26 August 2015. 
  25. ^ Young, M. (April 26, 2007). "A Man of Sharp Angles and Firm Truths". Reason Online.
  26. ^

External links

  • "The History Boys", Vanity Fair, August 2007 — Halberstam's final essay, "debunks the Bush administration's wild distortion of history"
  • "Turning Journalism Into History" Audio and transcript of Halberstam's last public event
  • "Letter to My Daughter" by David Halberstam
  • The Economist: Obituary
  • Blast Magazine: Obituary
  • Writing on Air interview
  • David Halberstam's Hit Streak Continues interview
  • David Halberstam at the Internet Movie Database
  • A film clip "Power In America (1986)" is available for free download at the Internet Archive
  • Appearances on C-SPAN
  • Spring 2000 Commencement Address at the University of Michigan
  • Spring 2003 Commencement Address at Tulane University
  • New York TimesObituary,
  • The New York TimesAppreciations: Halberstam on Journalism,
  • The Tennessean"Nashville Was My Graduate School" — a 2001 reminiscence by Halberstam of his early career at
  • Shafer, Jack (April 24, 2007). "David Halberstam (1934–2007)". Slate. Retrieved 2007-04-26. 
  • Packer, George (May 7, 2007). "Postscript: David Halberstam".  
  • Book Review of Everything They Had at Letters On Pages
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