Tina Brown during her years transforming Vanity Fair magazine recorded her experiences nearly every day.
Brown's "Vanity Fair Diaries: 1983-1992" chronicle a vanished era of wealth and influence for American magazines. Not once does she mention the terms web page, online presence or page views. Brown's metrics at Vanity Fair are writers and stories, achieving the right editorial mix, and choosing the best cover to drive newsstand sales. Magazines amass piles of advertising dollars, rather than hemorrhaging money.
The diaries also record the era's crass excesses of wealth and power. After her days of magazine work, Brown plunges into the social whirl of New York City and Hollywood's gilded class. Her impressions of rich, famous and artistically gifted people cover intersecting circles of business, politics and culture. While traipsing to power lunches, gilded dinner parties and ritzy social events, she also strives to carry out her family responsibilities.
Brown came to New York City from more sedate London at age 29 after turning the nearly moribund Tattler into Britain's hottest sheet of glamour and celebrity scandal.
While Brown doesn't explain how such a young and obscure Holly Golightly enters New York City's elite circles, she's married to the much older Harold Evans, the distinguished former editor of the Sunday Times and Times, gaining the couple entry into the exalted realms.
As Harry takes a series of editing jobs below his stature, Brown gains notoriety and acclaim as the editor of Vanity Fair. Revived by Conde Nast owner Si Newhouse after years out of business, the magazine founders editorially and is losing gushers of money when she takes over. She obsessively details how her blending of serious foreign reporting, Hollywood gossip and celebrity scandal makes Vanity Fair a major cultural force. She also takes credit for bringing the magazine to dazzling profitability.
Idealistic journalists will cringe at her sucking up to characters like Henry Kissinger and Nancy Reagan. While she sees herself as a major transformative journalist, most of her Vanity Fair work now looks ephemeral, setting the stage for the Internet age of novelty and celebrity.
A leading character is Si Newhouse, for whom she swings from adulation to disparagement. She calls him a "gerbil" and a "hamster," and derides his erratic decisions such as firing longtime Vogue editor Grace Mirabella, who finds out about her ouster from watching TV. At other moments, she praises Newhouse as a model of wisdom and judgment.
Most of those she chronicles have disappeared from the scene, but others remain on the stage. Her sister Conde Nast superstar Anna Wintour, who took over Mirabella's job at Vogue, now is the chief editor of all Conde Nast publications. Brown's central villain, Rupert Murdoch, who ousted Evans from his exalted Times posts, still exerts enormous power as the owner of Fox News and the Wall Street Journal.
The most disturbing survivor is Donald Trump. Brown gives an appalling, untouched portrait of Trump's narcissism, dishonesty and crudeness, the same traits he displays as president. The diaries impart a vision of him as Yeats' rough beast, circling the establishment's gates, desperate for power.