…Lives and Lives Only

I love writing biographies. Especially of dead people. It’s so much easier when the narrative has a definitive end. And live people are prone do to things after you publish a book that make them maybe not so good a subject for the kids.

The Juice is Loose,

The Juice is Loose

(Can you say, O.J. Simpson? Bill Clinton before the second term?)

Kids, look up "fellatio" in the glossary!

Kids, look up "fellatio" in the handy glossary!

I’ve been fortunate to write a number of bios on pretty fascinating people. The research process has often led me to come to totally different views of my subjects. Or if not totally different, than more balanced. Barack Obama, for example, was even more bookish and socially isolated than you might think, even with the law-school professor demeanor. He is also, according to David Mendell, pretty impatient and wants his own way. I guess that would be true of anyone who thought he should be president. Or she – I got the same vibe researching my book on Hillary. A very smart woman with little patience for the people she relies on to get a lot done for her.

Getting the balanced view goes for figures from the past too. I always knew Alexander Hamilton was bright, but the guy was too Republican for my tastes: for the wealthy, against the common man. Toyed with the idea of a monarchy (or at least lusted for it in his heart, even if his head said it would never fly). But reading about him, I got the sense he truly believed his plans and actions would benefit the country as a whole. He valued talent and expected others to have a sense of morality in public life (uh, despite a little affair of his own…though he did risk personal opprobrium by admitting the affair, to prove he had not committed government malfeasance). I found him less of a dick.

Can’t say I came to that conclusion with Dubya. If anything, researching books on both him and his father led me to see the utter shallowness of the son,  the sense of arrogance and entitlement that has marked his life, and certainly his presidency. (And if you want to know where he gets his mean streak, look no farther than mama Bush.) I love how after finding God with Billy Graham, Dubya could still be a complete hostile asshole to the reporters covering his father’s ‘88 campaign. And the guy points out how many history books and bios he reads, but you get the sense none of it sinks it – it’s just so he can say he’s read them. Boy, it would have been fun to see Clinton debate him in a campaign.  Say what you will about that man’s sleaze factor, he’s sharp and can talk. Strangely, I have never done a bio of him, though he certainly got plenty of play in the one on Hillary.

Back to Dubya – his bio was the one I mentioned in a previous post, when the publisher went ballistic with my liberal treatment of the beloved pres. Who cares about that Karla Faye Tucker crap, the guy said. Yeah, how relevant could it be that the first time most of the nation hears of Dubya, it’s over the execution of a woman who has found God. And the gov so loved Jesus, he made sure Karla was fried. Nothing of import in that. The compassionate conservative, just upholding the law. And we never torture nobody either…

Then there are the interesting tidbits that emerge in the research: 17th-century English scientist Robert Hooke smoked pot! (Or ate it, or something.) George Washington Carver was gay! (Maybe…I didn’t really write that he was, but some have suggested it.) And Nikola Tesla had a strange relationship with pigeons! (Not strange in that way…) The list goes on and on. Feel free to check out some of these books and others at Amazon, for you or the curious child in your life. No, I don’t get royalties (and no, I did not really write that bio of Mario Molina; not sure how that one got in there…). But I’d like to hope others can be as fascinated by the lives of great people as much as I am (even if “it’s not made by great men“).

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~ by mburgan on October 27, 2008.

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