three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
12-Sept-Oct-2004
By: 
Tim Russert
user_rating: 
0

Father and Son—Lessons of Life

A-BigRuss"Little Russ," better known to the public as the probing host of NBC’s Meet the Press, evokes the past world of simpler values and virtues. The former altar boy grew up where women were "ma’am," no one locked their doors, and Dad worked two jobs while Mom stayed home with the kids. Russert takes us through his Irish-American 1950s childhood at Jesuit school to his recent years with Meet the Press. Along this successful journey, "Little Russ" learns life lessons from his father, dispensed through pithy nuggets over the kitchen table. "I feel so grateful to [Big Russ], that I wanted to write a book about the two of us," Russert writes with unabashed fondness.
Miramax. 352 pages. $22.95. ISBN: 1401352081.

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"It is a pleasant surprise to find that Mr. Russert’s first book is not a collection of television commentaries and anecdotes but a profoundly satisfying story of a father and his son, who just happened to grow up to become someone important. … My instinct after finishing Big Russ & Me was to pick up the phone, call my dear parents and reminisce about my old neighborhood and friends." Hamilton Jordan

Baltimore Sun 3.5 of 5 Stars
"There are two great strengths in the book: One is candor. … The other is the unwavering insistence that everything that is important rests on one firm foundation: the ethic of hard work and just reward …" Michael Pakenham

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"One comes to admire Russert for having the easy grace to report on his father’s consistent role in his life. The older Russert’s quietly eloquent message of hard work, discipline, preparation, and accountability is golden advice for anyone." Michael D. Langan

Weekly Standard 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Russert’s book is a wonderful tribute to his father, but it is also an eloquent reminder of why the Democratic party dominated American politics from 1932 until 1994, and did so partly on the strength of the Catholics within its ranks." Hugh Hewitt

Los Angeles Times 3 of 5 Stars
"Mostly, Russert’s memoir is sunny and sturdy. He challenges us to take Big Russ’ brief words of wisdom as our guides too. Who will deny he is right?" Anthony Day

Critical Summary

Russert tackles many issues and ideas in this memoir, including blue-collar ethics and the belief that success comes from hard work and discipline. Not only does Russert explore his relationship with his father, but he also discusses the workings of a tight Irish-American community back in the days when the Kennedys ruled Camelot. It’s hardly a surprise that The Weekly Standard called Big Russ & Me "part autobiography, part sociological study, [and] part political history." An added note: reviewers didn’t seem to mind Russert’s frank sentimentality. Perhaps that’s because the genuine thread underlying Russert’s memoir made at least one grown male reviewer cry.

Supplemental Reading

AS-MemoriesFatherMessages from My Father | Calvin Trillin (1996): Readers may remember an abbreviated version of Trillin’s ode to his father, a "second generation grocer," first appearing in The New Yorker.