Cover image for A conversational history of modern America
A conversational history of modern America
Heffner, Richard D.
Publication Information:
New York, N.Y. : Carroll & Graf, [2003]

Physical Description:
xvi, 541 pages ; 24 cm
General Note:
Interviews never before published collected over a 47 year career in broadcasting.
Geographic Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E839 .C66 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Richard D. Heffner started interviewing major newsmakers on television when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president and Charlie Rose a toddler. Heffner, whose illustrious career includes co-founding New York's WNET and serving as chairman of the motion picture ratings board, has hosted The Open Mind--the longest-running public-affairs program in television history--since 1955. Now he is drawing on forty-seven years of those televised conversations, as well as his own thoughtful perspective on the last half century, to mold As They Saw It. Drawing on the template established by last year's Conversations with Eli Wiesel (drawn from the twenty-two Open Mind programs he and Wiesel have done together), Heffner has woven nearly five decades of provocative and thoughtful discussions with everyone from Malcolm X to Donald Rumsfeld, Eleanor Roosevelt to Norman Mailer, into a unique and authoritative Terkelesque history covering the major stories of our time. As They Saw It is a conversational history of the past fifty years, as spoken by the figures who made and lived that history. It is a treasury of never-before-published material from a dazzling array of figures--both tremendous reading and a major new source of material for students and historians alike.

Author Notes

Richard Douglas Heffner was born on August 5, 1925 in New York City. The son of a transportation executive, Heffner earned his BA and MA degrees at Columbia University. Following further graduate work at the University of California, Heffner joined the faculty at Rutgers University as a history instructor. He later worked as a professor at Columbia University and Sarah Lawrence College.

In 1953, Heffner put his teaching career on hold to become a freelance writer, producer and broadcaster. As an author, his works include A Documentary History of the United States, which contains documents, speeches and letters that have forged American history; and Democracy in America, published by Mentor Books in 1954. Heffner has also contributed numerous reviews and articles to various periodicals, including the New York Times and the Saturday Review.

A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Association of Educational Broadcasters, Heffner has been president of Richard Heffner Associates, Inc., a communications consulting firm, since 1964.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

From nearly a half-century of interviews of guests on his high-minded public television program The Open Mind, Heffner transcribes the best badinage and assigns it to the standard slots of politics, law, media, feminism, and the like. One subject area conspicuously absent is science, which is curious for a volume that is a trend-tracker for the times. Nevertheless, television viewers weary of current-events shows that resemble arena wrestling more than sane public-policy discussion will appreciate Heffner's conduct of the format. He lets his guests talk--for 35 pages in the case of Malcolm X and others debating black separatism circa 1963--and, while rarely challenging them, Heffner has the knack of asking the question that keeps the conversation stoked. Loquacity may be the occupational trait of many of Heffner's author guests, but he keeps them focused and interesting, even in the case of Helen Gurley Brown flogging her Cosmo philosophy. For Heffner's core readership: PBS loyalists. --Ray Olson Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Mined from 47 years of Heffner's television show, The Open Mind, this collection of "conversations" shifts from thinker to thinker within large topical umbrellas ("Power & Politics"; "The Law"; "The Media"; etc.) through artful editing. A conversation with William F. Buckley Jr., in which he argues in favor of drug legalization, follows a conversation with Mario Cuomo, in which he calls for a reassessment of American values. An exchange with Gloria Steinem on Marilyn Monroe precedes a discourse with Naomi Wolf on the "beauty myth." The elegance of these arrangements is delightfully perplexing, for a reader can only wonder what material Heffner and Jaffe have excluded. But while this collection is definitely a mighty addition to the historical record, to call it a "history of modern America" is a gross inflation. One can read this simply (and fairly) as a diverse reflection of American thought over the last half-century, But a dearth of conversations with artists (novelists, musicians, poets, painters, architects, actors) is disturbing for a book that by its title claims to encompass so much of modern America. (In fairness, Heffner, who worked as chairman of the board of the motion picture industry's rating system, has avoided potential conflicts of interest throughout his interviewing career, which offers a partial explanation for these absences.) On a more practical note, placing transcript dates at the end of each interview rather than at the beginning means the reader has to wait to discover that much of the commentary is more often prophetic than it is dated. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Cofounder of New York's WNET, a longtime chair of the motion pictures ratings board, and the author of A Documentary History of the United States, Heffner has hosted the PBS public affairs program The Open Mind since 1956. This book is a collection of interviews drawn from that show, divided into seven topical sections, with eight to 11 interviews in each. Because of the long history of the series, the interviews, which range from eight to 15 pages in length, often give fascinating snapshots of past times, such as, for example, the interview with Martin Luther King from 1957 or the one with Malcolm X from 1963. Heffner allows his subjects plenty of time to make their points, and his open-ended questions are great examples of how best to conduct an interview. His introductions to each interview are also quite useful as they provide necessary context. Finally, the book is nicely formatted to allow for browsing instead of reading cover to cover. Recommended for larger libraries.-Joel W. Tscherne, Cleveland P.L. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.