Reputation by Marjorie Williams


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“Someday the great Washington novel of power and scheming, of campaign hacks and backroom deals will be written. But until that day comes, my key to that world will be the collected journalism of Marjorie Williams.” — Jack Shafer, Slate

In 2005, The Woman at the Washington Zoo, a posthumous collection of essays and profiles by the journalist Marjorie Williams,was published to major critical acclaim. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Jennifer Senior observed that Williams’ “eyes and ears were attuned to a different, more subtle frequency than those of her peers.” In Slate, Meghan O’Rourke pronounced that the book’s contents “have the strengths of a great novel.”

Williams was best known for what New York Times columnist David Brooks called her “deep-drilling” political profiles for Vanity Fair and the Washington Post, which explored with “piercing perceptiveness …the messy human beings lying beneath the portentous personas of great Washington figures.” Reputation collects twelve of these expertly-drawn portraits, limning the personalities that dominated politics and the press during the final dozen years of the twentieth century.

In these pages, Clark Clifford grieves “in his laborious baritone” over a bank scandal’s blow to his re-pu-taaaaaay-shun. Lee Atwater likens himself to Ulysses and pleads, “Tah me to the mast!” Patricia Duff sheds “precipitous tears” over her divorce from Ronald Perelman, resembling afterwards “a garden refreshed by spring rain.” With brisk wit and a fearless independence of mind, Reputation ventures an early assessment of recent political history as refracted through thirteen representative American lives. It also demonstrates why the Nation’s Katha Pollitt calls Williams “not just the best Washington journalist of her generation” but “one of the best journalists, period.”