- The Washington Times - Friday, January 29, 2010

ALL THINGS AT ONCE

By Mika Brzezinski

Weinstein Books, $24.95, 288 pages

REVIEWED BY JAMES SRODES

At the outset, please know that I like the television personality Mika Brzezinski and am a regular viewer of the wake-up chatter show she co-hosts - “Morning Joe” - with former Congressman Joe Scarborough and their cast of jolly cronies. Mika’s program persona is that of the serious one of the team, the one who reads the hard-news bulletins and who regularly has to damp down the flights of craziness that the faux-folksy Mr. Scarborough lapses into. You get the feeling you would like to work with Mika, to be her next-door neighbor.

Except maybe you wouldn’t. The Mika Brzezinski portrayed by Mika Brzezinski in this memoir is a person almost totally consumed by ambition, but with a startling naivete about the real world of work. That personality is also layered with numerous sub-strata, including an incredible sense of entitlement, deep-rooted insecurity and compulsive behavior patterns that have led to poor career choices along the way.

Oh, and in 1998, she dropped her infant daughter down a flight of stairs breaking the tot’s leg.

So, is this book something more than just another celebrity “as told to” self-promotion that is scarcely worth the purchase price unless one’s own life is so empty that it needs some reflected contact with faces one sees on the television screen? Well, yes, with certain conditions.

One group of prospective readers who would find this book both instructive and readable - and it is well-written - is women of Ms. Brzezinski’s age (she’s 42) who find the struggle to balance both full-time career and constant family obligations a daunting one. And it is worth a read by any man of any age who is baffled when the woman in his life suddenly buckles under strains he considers to be just part of life.

What this book is not is just another self-promotional, pompous polemic like the 1996 sermon “It Takes a Village,” in which Hillary Rodham Clinton preached greater government involvement in child care and family life decisions and which earned her well-deserved raspberries, not only for the book’s pretentiousness, but also because she insisted that she had written the book all by herself even through Georgetown professor Barbara Feinman cranked it out.

Mika did not write this book, either; prolific ghost-writer Daniel Paisner (Denzel Washington, Serena Williams, Ed Koch, Anthony Quinn) did and gets deserved credit. His crafting of the opening scene where Mika, exhausted from her midnight-till-dawn work schedule and childbirth, drops the baby is one of the great openings of any memoir I’ve read recently. It really gets you into the book.

But this is Mika’s book, make no mistake. Indeed, one wonders whether she fully realizes just how much of herself she has put out there for all of us to examine. The title of the book, “All Things At Once,” and the book-jacket blurb tell us Mika is offering us “a compelling, candid guidepost for women of all ages seeking a patch of peace and fulfillment.” The trouble is that what she reveals really is a painful confession about how not be either at peace or successfully fulfilled.

Consider the basic triviality of her lifelong ambition. “I knew early on I wanted to be in television news,” she tells us at the start. Really? Is that all?

Mika, after all, was not some impressionable teenager from the urban ghetto or the rural wastes of the lower middle class. While the Brzezinskis were never wealthy, they were firmly in the American intellectual elite at the time of her birth, and she grew up as a young girl with an access to power, privilege, education and opportunity that was truly remarkable. Mika’s mother was a well-known sculptor and the grandniece of Czechoslovakian President Edvard Benes. Her father, Zbigniew, moved the family from Columbia University to McLean, Va., when he became Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser.

Thus surrounded by power and preferment, young Mika could have chosen to become almost anything in the world. The path to in front of the television camera took her through tony Madeira School to Williams College, some of the best education open to a young striver.

But from her earliest teens, she persisted in wanting to be on television, landing a succession of grunt-level internships at each of the major network local stations in the Washington area in addition to producing cable-access shows both in high school and college. Yet when she started out on her career at a tiny Vermont local station, she confessed she could not do even the simplest of broadcast news chore, such as doing voice-over narratives, editing tape or even calling the local police and fire stations.What had she been doing all those years, except preening in front of a camera?

Not surprisingly, the 20 years that followed until her breakthrough on “Morning Joe” hardly prove much of a guide to professional success or personal happiness. She was ambitious to the point of making enemies. At the same time, she was seemingly guileless and unaware of how to climb up the greasy pole of network broadcasting, so she ended up working night-shift jobs, missing opportunities and finally getting fired in traumatic fashion before fortune took pity on her and landed her in the fantasy job she holds today.

The clear message of this book is that, despite the title, one cannot have “all things at once.” There are prices to pay for each choice, and the goal ought to be worth the sacrifice for it will be paid. It is, in one sense, a guide of how not to go about a woman’s quest, and while Mika has created a likable persona that we enjoy watching, one cannot help wishing she had aimed a little higher, given her advantages.

James Srodes is a veteran Washington journalist and author. His e-mail address is: srodesnews@msn.com.

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