Robert Gottlieb on ‘Garbo’ and ‘Babbitt’

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The writer and editor Robert Gottlieb does double duty on this week’s podcast. He talks about the life and career of Sinclair Lewis, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of “Babbitt,” Lewis’s best-selling novel about the narrow-mindedness and conformity of middle-class America in the first half of the 20th century. But first, he talks about his own new book, “Garbo,” a biography of the movie star Greta Garbo, whose impact on the culture was matched by the sense of mystery that surrounded her.

“I understood the power of the impact, but I didn’t really understand — because I hadn’t been seeing her movies, I was too young — I didn’t really understand what she was on the screen and how she got to the screen in the first place. So as usual, it was curiosity that led me to write about her,” Gottlieb says. “No one had ever seemed like her before, and no one has ever seemed like her since. So to trace what those qualities were became the subject of the book.”

Carl Bernstein visits the podcast to discuss his new memoir, “Chasing History.” The book is about a time before Bernstein and Bob Woodward became household names for their Watergate reporting. Subtitled “A Kid in the Newsroom,” Bernstein’s memoir focuses on the years 1960-65, when he worked at The Evening Star in Washington, then the chief rival of The Washington Post. He was first hired as a copyboy when he was only 16.

“I was spending a lot of time at the pool hall,” Bernstein says of his life before he got the job. “I was getting terrible grades in school. I was working Saturdays at a low-rent department store in a bad part of town.” At the newspaper, he saw a clearer future. “The greatest reporters of their time, many of them were in this newsroom. And I saw what they were doing, and I studied what they were doing and I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

Also on this week’s episode, Elizabeth Harris has news from the publishing world; and Jennifer Szalai and Molly Young talk about the books they’ve recently reviewed. Pamela Paul is the host.

Here are the books discussed by The Times’s critics this week:

  • Books about Stoicism

  • “How Civil Wars Start” by Barbara F. Walter

We would love to hear your thoughts about this episode, and about the Book Review’s podcast in general. You can send them to [email protected].

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