I’m an enthusiastic fan of all the Osnos family, and am so pleased to welcome them back to Nantucket. Peter Osnos and his son Evan Osnos are both returning NBF crowd favorites, and also in attendance this year are Peter’s wife Susan Osnos -- a lifelong passionate advocate for Human Rights currently serving as chair of Civilians in Conflict -- and Evan’s wife Sarabeth Berman, former head of Teach for All, who is now the CEO of the American Journalism Project, the first venture philanthropy organization dedicated to local news.
Each clearly has a story to tell! In this space though, I am especially here for Peter Osnos’s An Especially Good View: Watching History Happen. This page-turner of an autobiography chronicles one of the more fascinating careers imaginable in journalism and publishing. The title is a characteristically witty understatement, as Osnos has had a front row seat for modern history, and has worked with the most wide-ranging Who’s Who cast of public figure characters as possible.
Peter begins the book by chronicling his parents' flight from Nazi horrors in Poland, through India where he was born, and finally to New York City. He goes on in rapid fashion to describe his early years in the mid-1960s working for I.F. Stone’s independent journalism newsletter, then as a reporter for The Washington Post in Vietnam, and on to his years as bureau chief for that newspaper in both Moscow and London. Upon returning to the States, he served as the Post’s foreign and national editor during the storied Katharine Graham and Ben Bradlee years. From there, he headed up the Times Books division at Random House from 1984-1996, then founded PublicAffairs publishing house, whose mission is "to publish good books about things that matter”.
Along the way Peter worked personally with a fascinating range of personalities, from Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, Bill Clinton, George Soros, Muhammad Yunus, Nancy Reagan, Paul Farmer, Magic Johnson, Molly Ivins, Wendy Kopp, Peggy Noonan, Kareem Abdul Jabar… the list could go on and on. Notably, Mr. Osnos was also responsible for the publication of The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump, and Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama… incredible! He talks about it all, and what a treat it is for us readers to peek behind those curtains. (Most recently, Peter has completed another book about George Soros titled George Soros: A Life in Full just published in March 2022.)
Details about the publishing industry itself are also included, as well as the economic and personal challenges inherent to such high stakes work. This calls to mind a line he quotes in the book from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, a prominent Jewish scholar, who said “Sometimes when a person knows too much, it causes him to do nothing…. It seems it’s better sometimes for a man, as for humanity, not to know much about the difficulties and believe more in the possibilities.” How lucky we are that Peter is an eternal optimist with an unwavering moral compass and sense of duty, who along with Susan, has spent his life using his intellect, charm, and quest for important stories well told to serve the reading public, believing more in possibility than difficulty at every turn.