Books: For Better or Hearst

A superb biography illuminates the media mogul's gift for creating empires and then ruining them

In 1935, Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote to a university president who had been accused by William Randolph Hearst's newspapers of harboring communists: "I sometimes think that Hearst has done more to harm Democracy and civilization in America than any three other contemporaries put together."

A bit strong perhaps, given the cast of public characters at the time, but it was not all that far from the truth. As David Nasaw's superb new biography, The Chief (Houghton Mifflin; 687 pages; $35), makes compellingly clear, Hearst was the most powerful, the most self-centered and the richest media baron in the world. He controlled...

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