An Espe­cial­ly Good View: Watch­ing His­to­ry Happen

  • Review
By – January 24, 2022

Peter Osnos must be a delight­ful din­ner guest. He’s worked with many celebri­ties, includ­ing sev­er­al pres­i­dents of the Unit­ed States. He tells beguil­ing, behind-the-scenes sto­ries from the worlds of jour­nal­ism and book pub­lish­ing. And he pos­sess­es a qui­et mod­esty, and a dis­arm­ing frank­ness as a racon­teur, which are imme­di­ate­ly appealing.

His mem­oir An Espe­cial­ly Good View begins dur­ing World War II in India, where he was born. His par­ents, Pol­ish Jews, escaped War­saw by way of Roma­nia, Turkey, and Iraq, and set­tled in Bom­bay until they were able to enter the Unit­ed States in 1944. Young Peter grew up on the Upper West Side of Man­hat­tan and then stud­ied at Bran­deis and the Colum­bia School of Journalism.

In col­lege, he had admired the inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ist I.F. Stone, whose week­ly newslet­ter was very influ­en­tial in the 1960s. As fate would have it, Stone hired him for a one-year stint short­ly after Osnos received his jour­nal­ism degree. Next, he looked for work in Lon­don, and light­ning struck again; he was offered a job on the spot at the Wash­ing­ton Posts Lon­don bureau. It was the start of an eigh­teen-year tenure at the Post in Wash­ing­ton, Viet­nam, Moscow, and London.

His sec­ond career took him to the pin­na­cle of book pub­lish­ing at Ran­dom House. As an edi­tor, he worked with an all-star list of authors, among them Jim­my Carter, Nan­cy Rea­gan, Bill Clin­ton, Don­ald Trump, Barack Oba­ma, Ver­non Jor­dan, for­mer House Speak­er Tip O’Neill, Mag­ic John­son, and Rab­bi Adin Stein­saltz. His rem­i­nis­cences of his time with these larg­er-than-life per­son­al­i­ties alone make this book worth reading.

Yet there’s much more. His rec­ol­lec­tions of his col­leagues at the Wash­ing­ton Post depict a great news­pa­per at the high-water mark of print jour­nal­ism. His anec­dotes about leg­endary edi­tors in book pub­lish­ing con­vey the excite­ment of that indus­try, edi­to­ri­al­ly and com­mer­cial­ly, in the pre-dig­i­tal era. He also offers his first-hand impres­sions of the doomed Viet­nam war, and he recounts the ways he avoid­ed being entrapped by the KGB in the Sovi­et Union, among many oth­er enter­tain­ing stories.

Osnos’s tales come alive thanks to his keen eye for detail and his per­cep­tive­ness about peo­ple. Whether the scene is an exec­u­tive con­fer­ence room, the Viet­nam jun­gle, or the trans-Siber­ian rail­road, you feel as though you’re there with him, and it’s a plea­sure to be in his com­pa­ny. He deeply appre­ci­ates his friends and col­leagues, and he’s just as can­did about the occa­sion­al set­backs as he is about his many successes.

He also writes affec­tion­ate­ly about his fam­i­ly. He paints a vivid pic­ture of his uproot­ed par­ents mak­ing a new life in New York. He fond­ly relates how he met his wife, and talks about his chil­dren with love and admi­ra­tion. Peter Osnos is clear­ly grate­ful for the oppor­tu­ni­ties he was giv­en and proud of what he made of them. An Espe­cial­ly Good View is a won­der­ful way to spend time with a tal­ent­ed and suc­cess­ful per­son who has lived a remark­able life.

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