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New Book on the Block
March 2009 | Penny Abell, Serpentine


Peter Kaye’s new book, Contrarian, has something for everyone. Of course.

The man has lived 80 years with a skeptical outlook, intellectual independence, uninhibited curiosity, risky jobs, and a deeply satisfying family.

His stories are told and his opinions expressed with great style and good humor.

They range from memories of childhood freedom in prewar Laguna Beach to his post-retirement activities. Kaye’s career was primarily as a journalist, interrupted by press relations stints for the likes of Richard Nixon, Pete Wilson and Jerry Ford.

Kaye is justly proud of his reputation and awards in the newspaper and television business. He was responsible for successful programming in the early days of public television in San Diego and nationally. Among his legions of mentors, friends, colleagues and cronies were Herb Klein, Tom Pettit, Robert MacNeil, Jacob Bronowski, Marti Kaye, Margaret Warner and Bill Moyers. But he is not your tiresome name-dropper. Kaye provides both delightful direct observations and pithy assessments of the many characters and institutions that he has encountered.

The “Four Giants” [of California politics] chapter includes some especially tasty depictions. Of long-time California Democratic boss, Jesse Unruh, Kaye reports:
Accompanied by a retinue of legislators, lobbyists, and reporters, the Rabelaisian Unruh cut an imposing swath through downtown Sacramento, leaving a trail of empty glasses, animal bones, and reeling companions.

Contrast that with the Ronald Reagan personality up close: “. . . he was always the same. It was like eating an artichoke – pleasant and bland.“

One of the most fascinating chapters covers Kaye’s stint as an Senior Editor of the San Diego Union, starting in 1976 and ending with his retirement from the then merged Union-Tribune in 1993. His observations of the newspapers’ internal ideological stresses and varying editorial standards are particularly intriguing. Kaye was especially supportive of two enterprising reporters, Alex Drehsler and Jon Standefer, who in covering the border and beyond would sometimes disappear. As their editor, he had to fend off management complaints and questions. He was once asked by the efficiency auditors: “Why is it that obit writers can turn out several articles a day while investigative reporters take weeks just to produce one story?”
This book can easily be read straight through, but there are so many lively anecdotes and Kayesian zingers that it’s even more fun just to pick it up and revel in a chapter or two. I laughed out loud while reading this delightful book and imagined Peter chuckling as he wrote it.

Peter Kaye will talk about his book and sign copies at the Del Mar Library at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 26. Books are available now at the Earth Song Bookstore on Camino del Mar and at www.amazon.com


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