Monday, November 29, 2010

Shirley he will rest in peace

Sad to hear that Leslie Nielsen has passed away.I was 14 when Airplane! came out in 1980, and I thought it was the funniest movie ever made. And I still do. Leslie was a comic genius. He didn't even have to say anything. When you saw him, you laughed. We're going to miss you, Leslie.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

Thanks to our friends Phil and Jill for a great Thanksgiving in New York. And it was great to meet their baby Fia - finally, just a week shy of her first birthday!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Wrong Matt

Not sure if I've blogged about this before but... Last year I was promoting the Truman book. Had an appearance scheduled on a program on XM/Sirius satellite radio. I went to the studio in New York. Introduced myself to the receptionist. Took a seat in the lobby. A young woman came up to me a few minutes later. "Are you Matt?" "Yes, I am." She led me back to a studio. Everything was very fast paced. The producer was on the phone, the host was screaming at the producer, etc. Not the typical setting for an interview about a book about an obscure event in American history. ...

The host turned to me and said, "We're on in 90 seconds. First thing we're gonna talk about is Afghanistan." This struck me as odd. I wasn't often asked about Afghanistan while promoting a book about an obscure event in American history. I guess it showed on my face.

"You're Matt Taibbi, right?" the host asked me. No, I cofessed, I was not Rolling Stone's national political correspondent. I was hustled out of the studio, passing a breathless Matt Taibbi on my way back to my seat in the lobby.

Monday, November 08, 2010

I Found Harry's 1953 Chrysler!

Late breaking news... I sat in Harry Truman's 1953 Chrysler today! Yes, the very same one in which he and Bess had their "excellent adventure" in the summer of '53. The owners heard about my book and invited me to come see it. (Well, I sort of invited myself, but they were kind enough to say yes!) The documentation checks out - it's the car! It currently resides in a barn on a Kansas farm. I'm going to write all about it in a new afterword for the paperback version of the book coming out next spring... For now, here's a short video clip....


Saturday, November 06, 2010

In Their Own Words (Unless It’s Not)

As sure as the sun will rise, an ex-president will write his (and, eventually, her) memoir. George W. Bush gets his turn November 9 with the release of “Decision Points.” His publisher promises the book will be “strikingly candid,” but, if history is any guide, readers are likely to be disappointed.

James Buchanan wrote what is widely acknowledged as the first presidential memoir. Published a year after the Civil War ended, “Mr. Buchanan’s Administration on the Eve of the Rebellion” is a tedious defense of his largely indefensible administration. In it, Buchanan continued to insist that Congress had “no power over slavery in the States.”

Succeeding exes have invariably followed Buchanan’s self-serving model.

Ulysses S. Grant famously wrote his memoir while dying of throat cancer. He dictated to a stenographer until the tumor grew so large that it was impossible for him to speak. Then he wrote furiously in longhand, completing the project just days before he died. Grant’s memoir was a commercial and critical success, but it barely mentions his scandal-plagued presidency, focusing instead on his more heroic exploits in the Civil War.

Grover Cleveland, a towering figure of Gilded Age politics, pointedly declined to write a memoir. Known as the Honest President, Cleveland perhaps thought better of undertaking a project certain to be fraught with prevarication. As he explained to a friend, Cleveland preferred his autobiography to be “written on [the] hearts” of his wife and children.

Harry Truman had a penchant for colorful language, and his presidency encompassed some of the most momentous events of the twentieth century. His memoir should have been a page-turner. Instead it was a bore. A small army of ghostwriters rendered Truman’s prose a bland imitation of the pugnacious president Americans had come to know. And Truman knew it. Across one page of an early draft he scribbled, “Good God, what crap!”

Another president who relied on ghostwriters with disappointing results was Ronald Reagan. His autobiography, “An American Hero,” was widely panned as a tepid tome at best. Whenever Reagan was asked about the book, he liked to joke that he hadn’t gotten around to reading it yet.

Alas, it appears the ex-presidential ghostwriter is here to stay. To help him write “Decision Points,” George W. Bush enlisted the help of Christopher Michel, a friend of his daughter Barbara’s from Yale who also worked as his White House speechwriter.

It remains to be seen if Bush’s memoir will be as “strikingly candid” as his publisher claims. But we already know that it will be strikingly lucrative. Memoirs have turned into a gold mine for ex-presidents. Bush reportedly received a $7 million advance from Crown - about $5 million less than Bill Clinton received from Knopf, but still nothing to sneeze at.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Truman's Apartment Building

Last night I gave a talk to the residents of 4701 Connecticut Avenue in Washington. That's the building where Harry Truman lived when he was senator and vice president (and where he spent his first night as president. It was a very cool event!

Monday, November 01, 2010

Election Day Upsets

With Election Day almost here (thank goodness!), the Fiscal Times has a short feature on four elections where the polls were wrong. Featured prominently is Harry Truman's 1948 presidential election. Click here to read the article, for which yours truly was interviewed and is quoted therein.