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Jessica Mitford was a member of one of England’s most legendary families (among her sisters were the novelist Nancy Mitford and the current Duchess of Devonshire) and one of the great muckraking journalists of modern times. Leaving England for America, she pursued a career as an investigative reporter and unrepentant gadfly, publicizing not only the misdeeds of, most famously, the funeral business (The American Way of Death, a bestseller) and the prison business (Kind and Usual Punishment), but also of writing schools and weight-loss programs. Mitford’s diligence, unfailing skepticism, and acid pen made her one of the great chroniclers of the mischief people get up to in the pursuit of profit and the name of good. Poison Penmanship collects seventeen of Mitford’s finest pieces–about everything from crummy spas to network-TV censorship–and fills them out with the story of how she got the scoop and, no less fascinating, how the story developed after publication. The book is a delight to read: few journalists have ever been as funny as Mitford, or as gifted at getting around in those dark, cobwebbed corners where modern America fashions its shiny promises. It’s also an unequaled and necessary manual of the fine art of investigative reporting.
“Mitford is an author who has a talent for getting to the root of things, and to the dirt surrounding the roots.” -New York Times
“An excellent how-to manual for all aspiring investigative journalists.” -Los Angeles Times
“Mitford demystifies what should be a simple process and takes us back to the basics. Reporting, she knows, is the best obtainable version of the truth. Then she shows us how to get there with grace, wit, cunning, style, imagination, and-above all-a sense of enjoying the journey.” -Carl Bernstein
“Her introduction should be required reading in every journalism school in the country…In a couple of dozen words Mitford sets forth a catechism of good sense for would be muckrakers.” -Columbia Journalism Review