David Halberstam was an American Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author known for his early work on the Vietnam War, his work on politics, history, business, media, American culture, and his later sports journalism.
Halberstam was of European-Jewish ancestry and was raised in the Bronx, New York, and in Winsted, Connecticut (he was a classmate of Ralph Nader). He graduated from Harvard University with a bachelor of arts in 1955, and also served as managing editor of the University's daily newspaper, The Harvard Crimson. He started his career writing for the Daily Times Leader in West Point, Mississippi. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, writing for The Tennessean in Nashville, Tennessee, he covered the beginnings of the American Civil Rights Movement.
In the mid-1960s, Halberstam covered the Civil Rights Movement for The New York Times. While there, he gathered material for his book The Making of a Quagmire: America and Vietnam during the Kennedy Era. In 1963, he received a George Polk Award for his reporting at The New York Times, including his eyewitness account of the self-immolation of Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Ðức. At the age of 30, he won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the war. He is interviewed in the 1968 documentary film on the Vietnam War entitled In the Year of the Pig.
Halberstam next wrote about President John F. Kennedy's foreign policy decisions about the Vietnam War in The Best and the Brightest. Synthesizing material from dozens of books and many dozens of interviews, Halberstam's thesis was that those who crafted the U.S. war effort in Vietnam were some of the most intelligent, well-connected and self-confident men in America—"the best and the brightest"—and yet those same men were unable to imagine and promote anything but a bloody and disastrous course in the Vietnam War.
After publication of The Best and the Brightest in 1972, Halberstam went to work on his next book, which became 1979's The Powers That Be, a book featuring profiles of media titans like William S. Paley of CBS, Henry Luce of Time magazine and Phil Graham of The Washington Post.
In 1980 his brother, cardiologist Michael J. Halberstam, was murdered during a burglary. Halberstam never commented publicly on his brother's murder.
In 1991, Halberstam wrote The Next Century, in which he argued that, after the end of the Cold War, the United States was likely to fall behind economically to other countries such as Japan and Germany.
Later in his career, Halberstam turned to the subjects of sports, publishing The Breaks of the Game, an inside look at Bill Walton and the 1979-80 Portland Trailblazers basketball team; an ambitious book on Michael Jordan in 1999 called Playing for Keeps; and on the baseball pennant race battle between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, called Summer of '49.
In 1997, Halberstam received the Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award as well as an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Colby College.
After publishing four books in the 1960s, including the novel "The Noblest Roman" as well as ""The Making of a Quagmire" and "The Unfinished Odyssey of Robert Kennedy," Halberstam published three books in the 1970s, four books in the 1980s, and six books in the 1990s. He published four books in the 2000s and was en route to completing at least two others before his death. In the wake of the 9/11, Halberstam wrote a book about that tragedy, Firehouse, which describes in detail Engine 40, Ladder 35 of the New York City Fire Department.
Halberstam was killed April 23, 2007 at about 10:30 a.m. PDT in a traffic accident in Menlo Park, California near the Dumbarton Bridge. He was a passenger in a Toyota Camry driven by a UC Berkeley Journalism School graduate student Kevin Jones. The accident was caused when the car allegedly made an illegal left turn and was broadsided on its passenger side by another car. Jones, who suffered only minor injuries, has been charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter in part because of a history of reckless driving.
Halberstam had been in the San Francisco Bay Area for an event at UC Berkeley on Saturday, April 21. At the time of his death, he was on his way to the Bay Area city of Mountain View to interview Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Y.A. Tittle for his next book, The Game, about the 1958 NFL Championship between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants. Halberstam had just finished a book about the Korean War called The Coldest Winter, due out later in 2007. Halberstam had also been scheduled to deliver the keynote address and receive an honorary degree at the 2007 commencement ceremonies at Brandeis University on May 20.
Halberstam lived in New York City. He was survived by his wife Jean and their daughter Julia, a school teacher.