With Washington, the illustrious longtime editorial page editor of The Washington Post wrote an instant classic, a sociology of Washington, D.C., that is as wise as it is wry. Greenfield, a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for commentary, wrote the book secretly in the final two years of her life. She told her literary executor, presidential historian Michael Beschloss, of her work and he has written an afterword telling the story of how the book came into being. Greenfield's close friend and employer, the late Katharine Graham, contributed a moving and personal foreword. Greenfield came to Washington in 1961, at the beginning of the Kennedy administration and joined The Washington Post in 1968. Her editorials at the Post and her columns in Newsweek, were universally admired in Washington for their insight and style. In this, her first book, Greenfield provides a portrait of the U.S. capital at the end of the American century. It is an eccentric, tribal, provincial place where the primary currency is power. For all the scandal and politics of Washington, its real culture is surprisingly little known. Meg Greenfield explains the place with an insider's knowledge and an observer's cool perspective.
Arriving in Washington on the Kennedy wave in 1961, Greenfield went on to journalistic renown as a Pulitzer Prize winning editorial writer at the Washington Post (taking over the page's editorship in 1979) and as a Newsweek columnist. In this wry analysis of Beltway moving and shaking, Greenfield (no relation to CNN's Jeff Greenfield) likens political life in the nation's capital to a "stunted, high-schoolish social structure" born out of isolation from the rest of the world and pervasive insecurities and dreads. In chapters on "Mavericks and Image-Makers," "Women and Children" and other players front- and backstage, Greenfield, who died of cancer in 1999 in her late 60s, brilliantly lays bare 40 years of the methods and foibles of the power elite and those who cover them. This is no tell-all scandal sheet (Washington's pervasive sexual affairs have a "biff-bam, backseat-of-your-father's Chevy quality") or the work of a "pop sociology scribe," but neither is it a lament for halcyon days. As the foreword from Post publisher Katharine Graham and afterword by historian and PBS commentator Michael Beschloss make clear, Greenfield, who wrote the book in secret and left it at her death, never lost her "principles, detachment or individual human qualities." Readers will find Greenfield's in-the-know frankness irresistible whatever their party affiliations the mark of great journalism.