January 13, 1997 12:00 PM

by Walter Cronkite

From 1961 to 1981, Walter Cronkite delivered the evening news on CBS without an editorializing eyebrow. To America, Uncle Walter’s signature sign-off, “And that’s the way it is…” meant that’s the way it was. Now, at 80, Cronkite has forsaken all pretense of objectivity in a spirited memoir about covering the tragicomic 20th Century.

Although history is safe from revisionism in Cronkite’s hands—his insights about Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War-era counterculture, for example, are disappointingly banal—he squeezes enough juice from his far-flung experiences to sustain the narrative. Cronkite didn’t pander to Presidents or other powers that be. When John Kennedy demanded to redo an unflattering interview during the 1960 campaign, wanting to revise some answers, Cronkite angrily protested, citing “lousy sportsmanship,” and JFK backed off.

In fact, the anchorman turns into Cujo whenever a newsman’s turf is threatened. He finds Van Gordon Sauter, the onetime head of CBS News, guilty of fluffy infotainment; and he flogs recent CBS czar Larry Tisch for scaling down the news operation to fatten stockholders’ wallets.

Cronkite rarely misses the opportunity to balance the breast-beating with humorous storytelling. There’s Cronkite in Hyannisport, straining to overhear as Jackie Kennedy recalls sex with JFK in various rooms of the White House. There’s the veteran anchorman calling the National Enquirer reporter who claimed Cronkite had been communing with UFOs. National institutions aren’t supposed to have such fun—or produce such an entertaining book. (Knopf, $26.95)

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