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The Literature
of Journalism:
Text and Context

R. Thomas Berner
The Pennsylvania State University


"Various experts have attempted to describe the basis of the literature of journalism, but Berner's book goes these books a huge step better: It captures its evolving spirit. The examples, drawn from both the classic and the obscure, trace how journalism's best writing in the present grows from its best, and most heroic, efforts in the past. The accompanying analysis by the author, invariably incisive and intelligent, highlights the meaning of what's being read. This makes for a lively, provocative and (most important) immensely readable collection, both for the classroom and for the bedside stand. It will surely confirm Berner's place as one of our leading scholars on the literature of journalism."
Jon Franklin
The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.
Former journalism professor, University of Oregon
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner


This unique critical anthology focuses on eighteen significant works that, collectively, represent the evolution of journalism in the twentieth century. From George Orwell's early works on poverty to Tracy Kidder's tale of designing a new computer, from Lillian Ross's controversial profiles and Truman Capote's controversial "nonfiction novel" to Gabriel García Márquez's subversive Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor and Tom Wolfe's "New Journalism," the works excerpted in this volume represent a wide range of voices and journalistic approaches.

More than an anthology, The Literature of Journalism: Text and Context shows these works in their historical, social, journalistic, and critical contexts. The commentary on each work describes the events and social conditions that inspired it, how the writer came to the subject, how the work was researched and written, how it has been received critically, and how the writer influenced and was influenced by other writers.


"The selections include some of the standards of our time, important voices in several historical and literary respects.... In particular, the concept is strong. Among unique points stand Mr. Berner's reflective counter-point essays-rich, well written, and accessible. "
John Gaterud
Mankato State University

"[T]he strengths are in the selections, the discussions of how one writer learned from another, and in Professor Berner's experience and ability to put together a first-rate book."
Paul Ashdown
The University of Tennessee

"The major strengths of The Literature of Journalism... are the quality of the selections and the historical context and publishing history offered by the author."
Carolyn B. Matalene
University of South Carolina

"The strength of this collection and the element that most defines it are the critical analyses that explore certain issues raised by the selections."
Thomas Connery
University of St. Thomas

"The author's comments provide an approach different from some other anthologies or analyses in that they come more from a journalistic perspective."
Patsy G. Watkins
University of Arkansas

"The strength of the book is the organization and compilation of short, readable essays."
Jan Whitt
University of Colorado at Boulder

"The analyses are cogent, historically rigorous and notably on-point."
David Abrahamson
Northwestern University




1: George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier

2: James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

3: John Hersey, Hiroshima

4: Lillian Ross, Reporting

5: Gabriel García Márquez, The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor

6: A. J. Liebling, The Earl of Louisiana

7: Alex Haley, The Autobiography of Malcolm X

8: Jean Stafford, A Mother in History

9: Truman Capote, In Cold Blood

10: Hunter Thompson, Hell's Angels

11: Joan Didion, Slouching towards Bethlehem

12: Joseph Wambaugh, The Onion Field

13: Susan Sheehan, A Welfare Mother

14: C. D. B. Bryan, Friendly Fire

15: Michael Herr, Dispatches

16: Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff

17: Tracy Kidder, The Soul of a New Machine

18: Qian Gang, The Great China Earthquake

About the Author

copyright © 1999 by R. Thomas Berner

To read the preface, please click on this text line.

To read the introduction, please click on this text line.


R. Thomas Berner is a professor of journalism and American studies at the Pennsylvania State University. He has written several textbooks on contemporary newspaper editing and writing, including an examination of how journalists use rhetorical devices in writing literary feature stories. Berner has worked on newspapers in Pennsylvania and has degrees in English and journalism. His essays on various contributors to the literature of journalism have appeared in A Sourcebook of American Literary Journalism, the Dictionary of Literary Biography, and American Journalism.


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