Good reporters are usually great storytellers because they have lots of stories to tell. Great reporters like Robert Novak can write great memoirs. I finished "The Prince of Darkness," his memoir of 50 years of collecting Washington stories, on the way to a barbecue where young and aspiring twenty- and thirtysomethings from the Hill, the White House and the Washington news bureaus were gathered to enjoy a summer's day and to engage in what all Washingtonians do most of the time -- talk shop. Bob Novak's book quickly became the buzz.
Bette Davis's famous line in "All About Eve," warning friend and foe to "fasten your seatbelt, it's going to be a bumpy night," could have been the theme of this memoir. Bob Novak has had lots of bumpy nights, and he made the nights of the people he wrote about even bumpier. Here are the nuts and bolts of how Washington works -- and sometimes doesn't.
That's why this is such a fascinating and instructive read for young and aspiring power players -- and for those who marry them. This is where they can get a little understanding of the patience and determination required to cover and live in the inner sanctums of power. As a reporter, columnist and television pundit, Novak illuminates the territory with a bright and often garish light. It's not pretty, but it's real enough. There's true smarts and true grit, and tales of making friends of enemies -- and sometimes of making enemies of friends -- in the frenzied pursuit of knowledge, the currency of power in Washington.
There's lots here drawn from the front pages, including details of how Valerie Plame achieved her 15 minutes of fame. He was at the heart of what he calls "a trivial incident exaggerated into a scandal by the Left and its outriders in the new media." Trivial or not, he shows it as a textbook illustration of how to make a lot out of not very much.
For all of his abrasiveness in settling scores, he shows an unexpected humility behind the scenes in his taking the private measure of public men. Policy-makers and his colleagues of print and tube will be most interested in his descriptions of the hot connections of domestic and foreign policy, but equally fascinating are his own shadowy fears and failures otherwise shrouded in darkness. These include his regrets that he wasn't around much for his young children because he didn't think they were very interesting. Now there's the understated pride in the accomplishments of his adult son and daughter. His daughter worked for Vice President Dan Quayle and later for her father, joining the family business of columny. He fantasized that she would return to work for him after she married, but after four babies, "I'm still waiting."