A Top 20 Booksense Pick for December 2006!

Marjorie Williams
knew Washington from top to bottom. Beloved for her sharp analysis, elegant prose and exceptional ability to intuit character, Williams wrote political profiles for the Washington Post and Vanity Fair that came to be considered the final word on the capital's most powerful figures. Her accounts of playing ping-pong with Richard Darman, of Barbara Bush's stepmother quaking with fear at the mere thought of angering the First Lady, and of Bill Clinton angrily telling Al Gore why he failed to win the presidency — to name just three treasures collected here — open a window on a seldom-glimpsed human reality behind Washington's determinedly blank façade.

Williams also penned a weekly column for the Post's op-ed page and epistolary book reviews for the online magazine Slate. Her essays for these and other publications tackled subjects ranging from politics to parenthood. During the last years of her life, she wrote about her own mortality as she battled liver cancer, using this harrowing experience to illuminate larger points about the nature of power and the randomness of life.

Marjorie Williams was a woman in a man's town, an outsider reporting on the political elite. She was, like the narrator in Randall Jarrell's classic poem, "The Woman at the Washington Zoo," an observer of a strange and exotic culture. This splendid collection — at once insightful, funny and sad — digs into the psyche of the nation's capital, revealing not only the hidden selves of the people that run it, but the messy lives that the rest of us lead.


Author’s Note

In Washington...I've always felt right at home....Of course it's a hive of conformity and caution, but that's part of what I like about it–about covering it, anyway. The mixture of that brittle, conservative set of social conventions and all the messy human stuff that goes on inside and among the people who try to climb to the top of the heap makes for such rich material. A lot of my stories (chiefly, my work is writing long, intensive profiles of people in government and politics) are really about what Washington admires, and why, and what it says about the political culture....I love working this seam between the accepted narrative, usually hammered out between the Washington press corps and its sources, and the grubby human nature stuff that is nearly always as plain as the nose on your face. Washington's status codes are charmingly straightforward: An assistant secretary is better than a deputy assistant secretary, but sitting next to a deputy assistant secretary is better than sitting next to a Cabinet member's wife. As in a Jane Austen novel, it is this very hierarchical, preordained quality that throws the city's strivings into high relief.

 -- Marjorie Williams
 
   
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