Is Seymour Hersh America’s greatest living reporter? Hersh’s dispatches often lack the memorable phrasing you find in the work of, say, Hunter S Thompson or Tom Wolfe, or even the stylistic felicity that allowed I F Stone, the great radical journalist who served as both model and mentor to Hersh, to take the week’s news and make it sing. In terms of political consequence, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s feat of bringing down a sitting president is unlikely to be bettered. And it would be hard to point to any single Hersh story that had the impact of, say, Rachel Carson’s seminal environmental reporting in Silent Spring, W E B Du Bois’s incisive mapping of the colour line, John Hersey’s eyewitness account of the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing or Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed.
Yet one of the many revelations in the 81-year-old reporter’s memoir is the sheer number of important stories that Hersh either broke himself or forced into public consideration. His first big scoop – also his first byline in the New York Review of Books and the subject of