David Randall, author of The Universal Journalist, presents 13 in-depth profiles of the best journalists who ever lived - nine Americans and four Britons, ten men and three women, whose lives were full of adventure, wit and the ingenuity to bring the story home.

AJ Liebling
Reporter, New Yorker

Joe Liebling once said: “I can write better than anybody who can write faster, and I can write faster than anybody who can write better.” – the statement every journalist wishes he’d thought of first. Born the son of a rich and ruthless fur dealer, he graduated from a youth of privilege to at first struggle (at one time so desperate for a job he hired a man to walk up and down outside a paper’s offices with a sandwich board which read ‘Hire Joe Liebling’ – it didn’t work) to join the New Yorker and cover low-life as none have done before or since. There was Hymie Katz, ex-singing waiter and dodgy nightclub promoter: (“Hymie is unmarried at present. Wives, with Hymie, are symptoms of prosperity, like tailored shirts.”); circus clown Bluch Landof (“It is as hard to be an outstanding clown in an American circus as it is to be a distinguished artisan in an automobile factory.”); and Izzy Yereshevsky’s famous Broadway cigar store:

“Most of Izzy’s evening guests – their purchases are so infrequent it would be misleading to call them customers – wear white felt hats and overcoats of a style known to them as English Drape. Short men peer up from between the wide-flung shoulders of these coats as if they had been lowered into the garments on a rope and were now trying to climb out.…

His pen was also deployed as the best ever press critic (he once skewered the New York World-Telegram’s purple writing style by writing that it’s readers: “…had developed hallucinations from reading its prose and were dragged from subway trains slapping at adjectives they said they saw crawling over them.”). Liebling also covered wars, food, sport, and brought to all his stories an obsession with research and above all, unusually for the most quotable wit ever by-lined, he listened a much underestimated reporting virtue.

All text and logos copyright David Randall

Book cover images copyright Pluto Press