The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst

by David Nasaw

Paperback, 2001





Mariner Books (2001), Edition: 1, 704 pages


"David Nasaw's biography of William Randolph Hearst is largely based on private and business papers and interviews that were unavailable to previous biographers. Newly released documentation of Hearst's interactions with Hitler, Mussolini, Churchill, and every American president from Grover Cleveland to Franklin Roosevelt, as well as with movie giants Louis B. Mayer, Jack Warner, and Irving Thalberg, completes the picture of this colossal American. Nasaw's portrait also addresses Hearst's relationships, including those with his mistress in his Harvard days and for years after; with his wife, Millicent, the mother of his five sons; and with Marion Davies, his companion until death. Correspondence with the architect of Hearst's California estate, San Simeon, is augmented by taped interviews with the people who worked there and witnessed Hearst's extravagant entertaining, shedding light on the private life of a very public man."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

Media reviews

Nasaw... is a meticulous researcher and a cool analyst. His Hearst is altogether a larger, more sympathetic figure than the vindictive, humorless crypto-fascist seen by the left. He does not exculpate Hearst, the propagandist who signed up Hitler and Mussolini and flayed Franklin D. Roosevelt as a Communist dupe. He explains him and makes him human.
1 more
Mr. Nasaw has given his biography an immediacy that almost makes the reader forget that the author himself was not there as the story unfolded.

User reviews

LibraryThing member NewsieQ
I’ve read several biographies of newspaper titans and they’ve all seemed to me to be case studies in nuttiness – and most of the subjects were phenomenally unlikable. After completing The Chief, I found myself actually liking William Randolph Hearst, aka The Chief.

It’s not that Hearst didn’t have his own brand of lunacy, But David Nasaw, without resorting to amateur psychoanalysis, points out some of the demons that haunted his subject and some possible motivations for his often self-destructive behavior.

After reading The Chief, I now want to go back to read the earlier biography by W.A. Swanberg, Citizen Hearst. Although Swanberg would have had interview access to Hearst’s contemporaries in the 1960s, I have a feeling that Nasaw’s research benefits from documents unavailable to Swanberg, and that this biography paints a more balanced picture of the man.

The Chief is a heavy tome – but I found myself looking forward spending time with it. I had read Going Out by David Nasaw and found some quirks in his writing that were a bit annoying. Either his writing has improved or he had a better editor for The Chief.
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LibraryThing member Schmerguls
Because on 23 Mar 1986 I read W. A. Swanberg's biography of Hearst when this biography came out in 2000 I figured I need not read it. But recently as I thought about Hearst's political effort culminating in seeking the Democratic nomination for President in 1904, I thought I would find this book of interest--and I was right. Some of my reaction was the same as when I read Swanberg's book--revulsion at his hopelessly extravagant spending and rejoicing at his near bankruptcy in 1937--but it was good to read the book and while reading about his acquisitions of art and such was not interest-holding much of the account as to his political activity and how he dictatorily ran his publishing empire was of high interest. And there were times when I laughed out loud, such as when I read that he returned to the USA from abroad on Nov. 2, 1936, and predicted publicly that Landon would be elected President. I was appalled at his living openly with his mistress, while holding himself out as a defender of morality. One can be glad that no other publisher was ever so dominant and it was indeed satisfying to read about his near financial collapse in 1937. The book was awarded a Bancroft Prize in 2000 and is the 36th such winner I have read. But since two Bancroft prizes have been awarded each year since 1948 one can see that there are lots of such winners which I have not (yet) read.… (more)
LibraryThing member EricCostello
On balance, just about the best and most balanced biography of Hearst of the many that are out there. Nasaw has the advantage of time, which has allowed the animosity directed against Hearst in his lifetime to die down, and offer a somewhat more objective view of the subject. I prefer this to Swanberg's biography. This particular biography has been liberally cribbed for other bios, as well.… (more)


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