- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 19, 2007

THE PRINCE OF DARKNESS: 50 YEARS REPORTING

IN WASHINGTON

By Robert D. Novak

Crown Forum, $29.95,


672 pages, illus.

REVIEWED BY STEPHEN GOODE

On the next-to-last page of his page-turning and very readable autobiography, “The Prince of Darkness,” Robert D. Novak writes that his original manuscript for the memoir would have become a 1,400-page book.

That’s too big for any book these days, of course, so Mr. Novak, with the aid of a few friendly editors, cut it down by more than half to its present 672 pages. But so informative is the book, and so rich its story of Washington, D.C., over the past half-century, that many readers no doubt will long for more, and more than a few would probably have put up with 1,400 pages.

It’s not just that Mr. Novak had (and still has) great sources who provided him with the stories that made him one of the most reliable, and at the same time controversial, reporters in the nation’s capital. It’s also that he came to know well so many of the figures that have dominated our recent political history, from LBJ and Nelson Rockefeller right down to the two Bush presidents.

But this book is about more than political Washington and its vagaries. It’s the story of Mr. Novak’s move from being a centrist Republican (an Eisenhower man in the 1950s, rather than Taft supporter, he writes) into what he now calls a “hard” conservatism, believing in “limited government, economic freedom, and a strong, prudent America.”

It’s also about his family life: Growing up the only child of a close-knit Jewish family, his long and successful second marriage, and his daughter and son. And it’s about Mr. Novak’s late-in-life conversion to Roman Catholicism, a step that has meant much to him and which, he writes, “has put into perspective any petty personal deficiencies.”

Mr. Novak was born in 1931 in Joliet, Ill. His famous pugnacity (in this memoir, he records a couple of times where in anger he made use of his fists) may derive from an immigrant grandfather, who, Mr. Novak writes, died “of a heart attack after getting into a fight in a … tavern in 1946.”

That granddad was a Democrat, but Mr. Novak’s father, Maurice, was a Republican, “a low-level corporate executive and respected officer of local civic organizations.”

“As a small boy, I never heard a good word abut FDR over the dinner table,” Mr. Novak recalls.

At the University of Illinois, Mr. Novak received a strong grounding in the humanities, developing a fondness for the poetry of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound (in later years, he would meet Pound in the office of Rep. August Johansen, Michigan Republican, in Washington), and for the novels of William Faulkner.

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