Never give up A prairie family's story

Tom Brokaw

Book - 2023

In this heartfelt story of his own family's greatest generation: his parents, the legendary broadcast journalist relates his mother's can-do spirit and his father's philosophy of 'never give up,' which enabled them to survive the Great Depression and WWII and help build the American century.

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New York : Random House [2023]
Main Author
Tom Brokaw (author)
First edition
Physical Description
xii, 136 pages : illustrations, map ; 22 cm
  • Preface
  • Chapter 1. Bristol, South Dakota
  • Chapter 2. Anthony Orville Brokaw-"Red"
  • Chapter 3. The Brokaw House
  • Chapter 4. Oscar and Red
  • Chapter 5. Winter Journeys and Hard Days
  • Chapter 6. A Pair of Sorrels
  • Chapter 7. A Perfect Match-Man and Machine
  • Chapter 8. The Conleys
  • Chapter 9. Courtship, the Depression, and World War II
  • Chapter 10. The Black Hills Ordnance Depot
  • Chapter 11. Building the Fort Randall Dam
  • Chapter 12. Yankton and Meredith
  • Chapter 13. Atlanta and NBC
  • Chapter 14. Saddle Up for the Trip Ahead
  • Epilogue
  • Acknowledgments
  • Photo Credits
Review by Booklist Review

After The Fall of Richard Nixon (2019), renowned newsman Brokaw returns to personal history in the latest of his autobiographical works, paying loving homage to two of the Greatest Generation he has famously celebrated, his parents, Red and Jean. With an economy of words but a wealth of emotion, Brokaw evokes his parents' hardscrabble childhoods, their solid and storied marriage, and their struggles to create a secure home for a growing family while confronting the challenges of the Great Depression and WWII. But for Brokaw, his parents' quintessentially Midwestern work ethic didn't seem to be borne of insurmountable strife. Instead, he learned there was nothing that couldn't be mastered by his father's enduring philosophy that inspired the book's title. Such a "can do, must do" attitude informed not only Brokaw's illustrious career but, he argues, is foundational to the country's success. As the U.S. now faces existential challenges to its national character, Brokaw's candid and heartfelt memoir offers a timely reflection infused with his trademark sincerity and unabashed appreciation for the bedrock inspirational values that always deserve attention.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Brokaw's deep and affirming perspective make him a reader favorite.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In this affable memoir, former NBC Nightly News anchor Brokaw (The Fall of Richard Nixon) draws a line from his parents' perseverance through world wars and the Great Depression through to his own values. "I thank God for their enduring legacy of quiet courage and common persistence," he writes, focusing especially on the latter. Brokaw recounts Red and Jean's courtship and reflects on the work ethic he gleaned from them, masterfully bringing them to life through fond recollections--he writes of his mother excitedly waking him the morning after Harry Truman won the 1948 presidential election (to which he attributes his "lifelong journalistic passion for politics") as if it happened yesterday, and touchingly recalls a radio tribute to his father on the day of his funeral, effectively giving the talkative Red "the last word" on his own life. Photographs woven throughout the text, including an image of Red's watch with a small picture of Jean on the face, further enhance the sense of tenderness. Brokaw constructs this memorable family history with all the concision and color of a good journalistic profile. It's hard not to be moved. (June)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

The venerable news anchor narrows the Greatest Generation to the folks back home. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota at the end of the Depression, Brokaw recounts values learned in farm fields and at the kitchen table, all distilled into the admonition of his title. The Brokaw family, erstwhile French Huguenots converted to Catholicism out on the prairie, made do with what they had. Emblematic of their grit was Brokaw's father, known as Red for his fiery hair, who began to work as a frontier factotum at the age of 8 and, on the side, did a little bare-knuckle fighting. "It was the beginning of an adventurous working-class life," writes the author, "that lifted Red to heights he could not have imagined as a youngster working on difficult prairie projects." He moved on from descending into crumbling holes to clear wells to helping build one of the country's largest dams. "His unspoken guide to life," Brokaw reiterates, "was never give up, never complain." It was the kind of regime guaranteed to send a person to an early grave, but it afforded Brokaw the wherewithal to get an education and start out on a journalism career that would eventually land him at the top of his profession. With no false sentimentality, the author also celebrates his mother, who seemed able to do just about anything around the home but also "taught her sons to do laundry and ironing" and was a whirlwind of an organizer for the Democratic Party. With his customary evenhanded tone, Brokaw voices a few regrets, including not quite understanding at the time how the anti--Vietnam War movement, mostly populated by people who had deferments and weren't going to fight anyway, alienated old-school liberals such as Brokaw's dad and "played right into the fury of working-class Americans." Brokaw pays homage to the sacrifices of his parents' generation--and finds their successors wanting by comparison. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Chapter 1 Bristol, South Dakota In the late nineteenth century, in the Great Plains of Middle America, the American savanna, the land rush was on. It was a vast swath of real estate that was low on water and rich in challenges--from brutal winter seasons to scorching summers. Until recently it had been the home of enormous herds of antelope and American bison, the magnificent beast prized for its rich pelts and thick cuts of red meat. After the Civil War and during the great migration of immigrants from northern Europe and Scandinavia to America, that part of the United States was also prized for two irresistible qualities: Land was dirt cheap (or free), and there was lots of it. America's flourishing railroad industry saw fresh opportunity for new business, so it pushed into that harsh but promising prairie. My great-grandfather, R. P. Brokaw, left his Upstate New York home after the Civil War and headed west seeking security as a farmer or innkeeper. The Brokaws were Huguenots, enterprising Protestants who had fled France and taken up residence in Holland before coming to America, where many flourished in New York and New Jersey real estate, the arts, and civic affairs. But R. P. Brokaw took another route, not nearly as rewarding. R.P. went north, into the New York wilderness, where he opened a small market in the Finger Lakes region. He was a quartermaster and clerk for the North in the Civil War, emerging with a modest pension to finance his trip to the new territories in the American West. He rode the rails and farmed along the way until he reached what was to become the state of South Dakota. Founders of the Milwaukee Road railroad saw opportunity in the eagerness of the new immigrants to take advantage of land bargains. R.P. stopped in a new village of wooden shanties and primitive homes because it had a promising feature: a rail line north and south and one east and west. A Milwaukee Road railroad developer had given these new villages British city names and this one was called Bristol. R.P. decided it needed overnight accommodations. He started with a tented commissary and then began constructing the first substantial building in town and called it The Brokaw House. R.P., his son William, and his daughter-in-law, Elizabeth, ran The Brokaw House as a hotel, boardinghouse, and center of civic activity. By 1889, South Dakota, with statehood, began to attract more settlers, but it remained a frontier. William would meet incoming Milwaukee Road trains as they arrived on that stretch of the prairie. He would greet the passengers with a pitch for Elizabeth's home cooking at the hotel, saying, "If you don't get enough to eat, it won't cost you a dime." The Brokaw House was famous for its dining room, which featured lace tablecloths and an elaborate Sunday menu of oyster stew, roast turkey, duck, roast beef, lamb, tongue salad, mashed potatoes, suet pudding, apple, mince, custard and blueberry pies, ice cream, and assorted cakes, all prepared by Elizabeth in a kitchen with an enormous woodburning stove, while her ingredients were kept fresh by great blocks of ice packed in wood shavings in an icehouse. Somewhere along the way, a Roman Catholic priest converted Elizabeth and she became a devout Catholic, rejecting the Huguenot connection. Nine of her children followed suit, and to this day my cousins, aunts, and uncles on that side of the family are devout Catholics. In the fall of 1912, William and Elizabeth were expecting their tenth child. That was my father, and somehow the Catholic priest missed him in the conversion crusade. That's where this Brokaw prairie saga really begins. Excerpted from Never Give Up: A Prairie Family's Story by Tom Brokaw All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.