Pulitzer Prize winner Halberstam killed in car accident

Jewish author and journalist won a Pulitzer Prize by the time he was 30 for his aggressive coverage of the Vietnam War.

By JOE ESKENAZI / JTA
April 26, 2007 09:50
2 minute read.

It may not be a mark of career success when the president of the United States himself advocates for your dismissal. But it was for David Halberstam. The author and journalist won a Pulitzer Prize by the time he was 30 for his aggressive coverage of the early years of the Vietnam War. He went on to write 21 books on such varying topics as war, politics, civil rights and sports. Halberstam died April 23 in a car crash in Menlo Park. He was 73 and lived in New York. Halberstam was born in New York City during the height of the Depression, the grandson of Eastern European Jewish immigrants who fled persecution in Poland and Lithuania. Both sets of Halberstam's grandparents staked their hopes on one child in their respective large families, and these turned out to be Halberstam's parents - Blanche Levy was the only member of her family to attend college and became a teacher, while Charles Halberstam worked his way through medical school and served as a military doctor in both world wars. Charles Halberstam died in 1950, leaving his financially strapped wife in the difficult position of putting their sons, David and Michael, through Harvard. But that's exactly what she did. As a poor New York Jew in the 1950s, Halberstam found that Harvard was not a warm and comforting place. He later remarked that the school "had accepted us academically but was not yet ready to accept us socially." So he threw himself into his work at the Harvard Crimson, and graduated to a $46-a-week reporter's job in the Deep South. By his mid-20s he was hired by The New York Times. Not long afterward he was in the Belgian Congo, and then Vietnam. Halberstam's questioning of the official line in the Vietnam War simultaneously made him enemies in the White House - both Presidents Kennedy and Johnson pressured the Times to have him reassigned - and made a name for him. He grew increasingly disillusioned with the war and later quit the Times to investigate why the United States became involved in the first place. The result was his 1972 book, "The Best and the Brightest." He continued to write prolifically, though in later years his chosen subject was often sports. Halberstam wrote incisive books about the baseball pennant battles of his youth, "Summer of '49," and his chronicle of the 1979-80 Portland Trail Blazers, "Breaks of the Game," is still considered by many the best book about pro basketball. Halberstam had been in the Bay Area to speak last Saturday at the University of California Berkeley's School of Journalism. He is survived by his wife, Jean, a consultant to the New York Harbor Conservancy, and their daughter, Julia, a schoolteacher in New York.


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