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Under Pressure

Mike Wallace: A Life by Peter Rader (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, $25.99, 309 pages)

“Day by day, Mike was losing his bearings – slipping inexorably into a darkness that would soon envelop him.”

Like the news anchor in Don Henley’s song “Dirty Laundry”, Mike Wallace could have been an actor but instead he wound up as the attack dog on CBS-TVs vaunted and often over-praised show 60 Minutes.   As clarified by biographer Peter Rader, Wallace was in fact an actor, a performer and not an actual investigative reporter.   That’s because he did not do his own research, his own homework – he relied on others to do the dirty work and write his material for him (including two supposed autobiographies)…  And yet, Wallace was very good at what he did.

To this reader and TV watcher, Wallace always seemed one-dimensional – the type of character so easily satirized on Saturday Night Live.   Tick, tock, tick, tock…  To Rader’s credit, this is a bio that presents Wallace as an actual three-dimensional man; a gifted and seemingly fearless performer who was actually very fearful of a lot in life.   He very much feared the notion of retirement and the prospect of trying to survive out of the public’s eye.   Rather managed to stay on past CBS’s mandatory retirement age (receiving an exemption that had not been granted to Walter Cronkite), and continued doing interviews for 60 Minutes until he turned 90!   This meant that he outlived his co-workers and friends, and led Wallace to admit:  “I think I’ve lived too long.   But I don’t feel sorry for myself.”

“Beneath the brash, unnerving persona, the master of the jugular…  lies a more hidden man, a man of scars and storms and deep black melancholies.”   Eve Berliner on Mike Wallace

As detailed in this frank account, Wallace may not have felt sorry for himself but he constantly dealt with depression.   Wallace was to make multiple suicide attempts, he divorced three wives before marrying a fourth, and he was generally – even close to the very end of his life – estranged from his children.   On the small screen, Mike Wallace was a tiger – but in his own life, in his own skin, he was often afraid of the shadows of the night.

This is one of those biographies which does not ask you to change or revise your opinion on the subject.   If you were not a fan of Wallace (and this reader/viewer was not), this book will not make you an admirer.   If you were a fan of Wallace, this book will not require you to dislike the man that he was.   Like a great political compromise, it provides enough for those on both sides of the argument to feel both vindicated and not quite pleased.

In Mike Wallace: A Life, Rader has met his self-stated goal of producing a comprehensive bio of a public figure which “sheds light on our understanding of both the world in which we live and also on what it means to be human.”   It seems that for the legendary, on-stage performer Mike Wallace, living the day-to-day existence of a normal human being – away from the stage lights, without makeup – was the toughest of all his assignments.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Mike Wallace: A Life is also available as a Nook Book and Kindle Edition e-book.


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Mike Wallace (400)

A review of Mike Wallace: A Life by Peter Rader.

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September 24, 2012 · 2:24 pm


MethlandThis might have been a straightforward account of the effects of methamphetamine on the small town of Oelwein, Iowa.   Instead, it comes off as an overly ambitious and unfocused sociologically-based overview.   There are problems with the way this true story is narrated.

First, the book reads like a series of articles written for different publications.   Thus, there is a lot of repetition about particular persons and events, as if no prior content existed.   There are a number of human interest stories, some of which are far removed from the topic at hand.   And, Reding seems to get so caught up on using law enforcement terms – like DTOs (drug trafficking organizations) and SACs (special agents in charge) – that the reader begins to wonder when he audited a DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) class in Quantico.

Furthermore, there’s far too much time spent on detailing the international drug trade; a macro story when the reader’s been promised a micro detailing of the impacts of drug abuse on a small farming community.   At one point, the author references a 60 Minutes piece, and this book clearly reads as such – a lot of moving camera angles, but without a lot of real content or questions answered.

In picking up this book about a community with a population of just over 6,000 residents, I thought I would experience the feeling of an extended stay with the people who live there.   Sadly, it read like a fly-over.

Bloomsbury USA, $25.00, 255 pages

Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.

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