Peter Osnos must be a delightful dinner guest. He’s worked with many celebrities, including several presidents of the United States. He tells beguiling, behind-the-scenes stories from the worlds of journalism and book publishing. And he possesses a quiet modesty, and a disarming frankness as a raconteur, which are immediately appealing.
His memoir An Especially Good View begins during World War II in India, where he was born. His parents, Polish Jews, escaped Warsaw by way of Romania, Turkey, and Iraq, and settled in Bombay until they were able to enter the United States in 1944. Young Peter grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and then studied at Brandeis and the Columbia School of Journalism.
In college, he had admired the independent journalist I.F. Stone, whose weekly newsletter was very influential in the 1960s. As fate would have it, Stone hired him for a one-year stint shortly after Osnos received his journalism degree. Next, he looked for work in London, and lightning struck again; he was offered a job on the spot at the Washington Post’s London bureau. It was the start of an eighteen-year tenure at the Post in Washington, Vietnam, Moscow, and London.
His second career took him to the pinnacle of book publishing at Random House. As an editor, he worked with an all-star list of authors, among them Jimmy Carter, Nancy Reagan, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Vernon Jordan, former House Speaker Tip O’Neill, Magic Johnson, and Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. His reminiscences of his time with these larger-than-life personalities alone make this book worth reading.
Yet there’s much more. His recollections of his colleagues at the Washington Post depict a great newspaper at the high-water mark of print journalism. His anecdotes about legendary editors in book publishing convey the excitement of that industry, editorially and commercially, in the pre-digital era. He also offers his first-hand impressions of the doomed Vietnam war, and he recounts the ways he avoided being entrapped by the KGB in the Soviet Union, among many other entertaining stories.
Osnos’s tales come alive thanks to his keen eye for detail and his perceptiveness about people. Whether the scene is an executive conference room, the Vietnam jungle, or the trans-Siberian railroad, you feel as though you’re there with him, and it’s a pleasure to be in his company. He deeply appreciates his friends and colleagues, and he’s just as candid about the occasional setbacks as he is about his many successes.
He also writes affectionately about his family. He paints a vivid picture of his uprooted parents making a new life in New York. He fondly relates how he met his wife, and talks about his children with love and admiration. Peter Osnos is clearly grateful for the opportunities he was given and proud of what he made of them. An Especially Good View is a wonderful way to spend time with a talented and successful person who has lived a remarkable life.