"My whole orientation is toward this place," the late Washington Post publisher writes in "Katharine Graham's Washington," published posthumously this fall. "It is a city whose industry - first and foremost politics - got into my blood early and stayed there."
The book is an anthology culled from the writings of a legion of Washington watchers whose observations and experiences and memories bracket her life and the administrations of presidents from Woodrow Wilson to Bill Clinton.
It can be read as a gathering of background material for her first book, "Personal History." That best-selling memoir won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998, three years before Graham's death. It followed her life as she unexpectedly became the Post's chief executive and steered the newspaper's Washington coverage through and beyond the Watergate crisis that toppled a president.
Wilson, who was president when Graham was born in 1917, once offered this definition of the capital: "The city of Washington is in some respects self-contained, and it is easy there to forget what the rest of the country is thinking about."
Graham found the city more elusive, and more interesting, than that and set out to prove it in her final book.
"All of my experience relating to this place ... leads me to the conclusion that there is no one 'fundamental fact' about Washington," she writes. "It's not just one thing - it's one
thing and its opposite at the same time."
"The contradictions inherent in this place are evident everywhere: it's formal and informal; it's public and private; it's social and political; it's a small town and the capital of the world. It's a city that's a symbol of democracy and yet thoroughly undemocratic, since it remains the only place in America where people are taxed without representation in the very bodies (Congress) that make the policies that govern them."
Graham's selections, and her own memories, are facets of a larger whole. Each of the writers she has chosen sees the city and its people from the slant of personal experience.
All in all, "Katharine Graham's Washington" is a love letter to a city. And when she says Washington's climate is just right for her she is not referring to the summer heat.
The climate of Washington, she writes, fits those "who like drama with all its figurative thunder and lighting."
"Washington is certainly the best city in the world for someone like me who thinks there is nothing more exciting than news," she writes.
"And even if the news doesn't originate here, it's often commented on here, or enlarged here, or explodes here."
By Lawrence L. Knutson