Robert E. Conot dies at 82; journalist wrote exhaustive study of the Watts riots

Valerie J. Nelson (Los Angeles Times) | November 27, 2011

To organize his research on the Watts riots, journalist Robert E. Conot sketched out the hour-by-hour progress of events in 1965 on a 25-foot-long stretch of paper, then dressed the diagram in the exhaustive detail for which he became known.

The timeline helped him write “Rivers of Blood, Years of Darkness,” a 1967 study of the smoldering unrest behind the riots. Based on his eyewitness account and extensive interviews, the book was called “brilliant” by Times reviewers. In 1969, one of them wrote: “With honesty and soul,” he revealed the “real, ordinary” people of the “ghetto.”

His other highly regarded books include “A Streak of Luck,” a 1979 biography of Thomas Edison widely praised for exposing the man behind the myth, and “Justice at Nuremberg,” an exhaustive 1983 account of the war crimes trials.

Conot, who retired in 2009 after two decades as an editor with the now-defunct Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service, died Nov. 16 at Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center in Thousand Oaks after a brief illness, said his daughter, Gigi. He was 82.

“He is not only a careful scholar but a powerful writer whose gift of evocation — character, mood, setting — is melded with a perception of the larger social, political and economic forces,” said a 1974 Times review of “American Odyssey,” Conot’s “penetrating” history of Detroit.

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