A Long Way From Home: Growing Up in the American Heartland

by Tom Brokaw

Read an Excerpt

Just as my parents turned to Walter Cronkite to bring them the news
when I was growing up, I have turned to Tom Brokaw. Through
numerous presidential elections, world crises and the horrific days
surrounding 9/11, his coverage has been the one I tuned to. To me,
Brokaw has a way of delivering the news that makes it seem like a
conversation among friends --- with a tone that has feeling and
emotion, as well as authority.

A couple of years ago at an AOL Partners Conference, Brokaw was a
guest speaker. He had just finished covering the funerals of Lady
Di and Mother Teresa, traveling to both from his vacation at his
home in Montana. His stories about two long trips to report on
these high-profile events back-to-back gave new perspective on the
high price that being in the news spotlight carries. His talk was
personal as he referenced how the Internet has changed the way we
receive news and what it --- and cable --- have done to the
relevance of the kind of news he has delivered for the past couple
of decades --- network news. Later I heard him moderate a panel
about this same subject in the city with some leading journalists
from Time, CNN and He was the consumate host,
approaching the evening's discussion with one caveat. We would be
finished by 8:00 as the Yankees were playing in the Playoffs and he
was not going to miss the game on television. Sports, which brought
him such joy when he was growing up, continue to be a

While Brokaw is great to watch from the studio in New York, the
pieces that he has done in Montana and South Dakota have been some
of my favorites. He always seems more in his element there in the
Heartland than he does standing or sitting at an anchor desk in New
York. As he walks along a mountain ridge or a street in a small
midwestern town doing an interview or a color piece, it is clear
that his home and his history in South Dakota mean a lot to

Reading A LONG WAY FROM HOME: Growing Up in the American

I see why. It's a memoir of the days before Brokaw left South
Dakota to travel the country as a reporter, and then as a national
media personality. What shaped him was a childhood in this desolate
part of the country where success was measured on honest work and a
God-fearing life.

One interesting note --- while television was available in most
major cities by the mid-'40s, it did not find its way to South
Dakota until the early '50s. News in this part of the country came
from radio --- where the weather report led the news since it would
affect everyone's livelihood, farming. He would watch David
Garroway on the Today Show with his mom, not knowing that someday
he would have that same anchor seat. He writes how his mom would
comment on his broadcasts with the seasoned eye of someone who had
watched the show for years before her son took over.

With a gift of gab from the time he was a young boy, Brokaw gave
his first public speech at age four --- it began with "They said I
was too young to speak a piece tonight" --- a line he still
remembers. It was a harbinger of things to come.

Throughout the book he references friends from over the years, and
how they have influenced his life. For all his celebrity there were
a lot of stories about how he has woven his past and present lives
together, asking old childhood friends to join him at events like
the Olympics and other special athletic championships. This is a
man who has moved on, but still remains connected to the place that
raised him. He and his wife Meredith returned to South Dakota to
celebrate their 40th Anniversary last summer. As a man who could
afford to celebrate this event anywhere he chose, it is fitting
that he returned to his roots for this.

The basic values are referred to again and again. His mom taught
him and his brothers to handle household chores such as basic
cooking, ironing and shopping, as well as guiding him in building
self-confidence and getting a good education. At one point he
mentions how he often will iron his own clothes in a hotel, rather
than spend the time or money to call for valet service. His dad,
Red, named for his flaming red hair, taught him the value of a hard
day's work though he confesses he inherited none of his dad's
handyman talent.

Brokaw does not glorify his early days. He spends a fair number of
pages talking about his failures and what he did when his path went
awry. There's a lot here for people to learn about Brokaw. At the
same time there are some pretty strong lessons about mastering the
basics in life.

Reviewed by Carol Fitzgerald on January 22, 2011

A Long Way From Home: Growing Up in the American Heartland
by Tom Brokaw

  • Publication Date: September 30, 2003
  • Genres: Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0375759352
  • ISBN-13: 9780375759352