henry worried about him all the time. he would write letters from washington and take it begging for information about john. another son had a real problem with alcoholism. eventually straightened it out with the help of a good wife. what the clay sons did very well was to marry good women. and with no help from henry, actually. but three of them married really strong women who helped them to establish stability in their lives. >> if clay had become president of the united states, what effect do you think that would have had on his family? >> i think they would have lived with it. i think his wife would have gone
back to washington. she knew what was needed. she had shared duties with john quincy adams wife when clay was secretary of state. so she was not beyond the ability to do it. the sons, i don't know what might have happened. they were good businessmen. one of them served as a diplomat to portugal, so they had some experience as government as well. but i think equality interesting what henry clay would have done as president. how his health would have held up from the secretary of state and workload and how his temperament would have fit as
president of the united states. i will say that i think matthew kerry, an economist that said if clay had become president, the civil war would have postponeed. significantly. how can you say that, i don't know. you obviously can't prove it. but hi felt like his economic policies would have helped to weaken slavery and therefore taken away the major cause for a civil war. >> booktv was in frankfurt, kentucky as part of our cities tour where we visited several southern cities over the next few months. to bring you a taste of their literary history and culture. for more information on this and events from other cities, visit c-span.org/local content.
richard north patterson's newest novel "devil's light" discussed the possibility of a terrorists attack and another 9/11 in the u.s. he talked about this in san francisco. this is just over an hour. >> the program is presented in learningship and part of the commonwealth club under written by the bernard hoosier foundation. i'm jonathan curiel. i'm here to introduce mr.
patterson. he has written a new work "the devil's light" which explores the knew collar mission of al qaeda, what happens when they steal a bomb and try to detonate it on the anniversary of 9/11, including the u.s. intelligence failure named brooke chandler who may or may not save the day. mr. patterson was an lawyer before becoming a writer, he also worked as a lawyer with the security and exchain commission. he is in the chairman of the organization of common cause and has written for such publications as "the times of london" and "washington post" many of the works have been international best sellers and i dare say "the devil's light" will join that list. welcome richard north patterson. [applause] [applause] >> it's great to see you and to have read your book "the devil's
light" doesn't refer to osama bin laden's flashlight, but to the light emitted from a nuclear weapon. and this is a very serious subject and people who know your career will not be surprised that you've tackled this subject. your other books, for example, "eclipse" about human rights, africa, and the geopolitics of oil, and "exile" before that was about the israelly-palestinian conflict. you were known for tackling serious issues and presenting them in a thriller format. this novel is thrilling, but you have said that you didn't write that per se, although it is to entertain people, it's also to inform them. you took two years to research and went to high general officials in the middle east. you said want to let them known about the threat.
>> people worry about the iranians, they have a return address. if they were to start nuclear exchange, israel could annihilate them easily. the real threat is seems to me nonstate actors. people you can't find, people like al qaeda who are dedicated to jihad. so the question becomes at this point, how might they acquire a nuclear weapon. this is what keeps our national security and counterterrorism people up nights. you have to look at first what they could do. they try a variety of ways. osama bin laden with the pakistani nuclear engineer shortly before 9/11 drawing out specifications for a potential like al qaeda bomb, he's tried to get stolen soviet weapons. he tried to get enriched uranium in south africa. but pakistan has always been his focus, and there's a reason it's
the most dangerous place on earth. it's the 5th largest nuclear power, they have up to 110 nuclear weapons it's estimated. they have more terrorists groups per square mile than any other place you can find in that region. as we might suspect from the fact that bin laden hid there in plain sight for a number of years. their security service, the isi has close ties to former and current jihadist. they help fund and start the taliban to fight the russians back in iraq. they have funded and started l.e.t., the people that did the mumbai attacks in india has a counter to indian and military power. all of the groups have connections to each other now. experts believe they would be and they are inclined to plan operations against the west both at home and aboard.
so the question becomes then how vulnerable is the pakistani arsenal and how might someone get a nuclear bomb? there's several ways. you could have the rogue officer, clandestine materials, and aq khan, he could take over or my scenario, where a bomb in transit from the secured facility to the frontlines in the nuclear alert in india is stolen. that's where it's most vulnerable. you have a combination of weapons, a country which is hostile, the security service which has ties to jihadist, and a lot effigy -- a lot of jihadist established by the military security. you have something that's a worry. and in nuclear terrorism i would suggest is one the great national security fear that is
we have. >> and in your book, "the devil's light" you ha pronouncement that says to the united states we are going to bomb your country with this stolen weapon. there's a lot more to that. and a lot more. can you talk about putting osama bin laden in the book and why it was important to do that? >> yeah, i mean first of all, it's really sad when one of your characters die and all americans do is applaud. [laughter] >> imagine my surprise. [laughter] >> what i did, i have seen osama bin laden in 2009 and 2010, planning the nuclear operation with the operative, and it was really important, i thought, to have bin laden involved in this plot. because he would be. he was still as we know now in operational control or operational touch with other al
qaeda folks around the world. and one of his geniuses, if you will, there are roughly 60 country that is have al qaeda cells which he's built up and he was organizationally bringing it that way. he was also if you were of that peculiar mindset an inspires figure. in any event, he's the one that has been obsessed with nuclear weapons and calling for the use of nuclear weapon. he's pledged the death of four million americans. how do you do that? certainly not one at a time. it seemed to me he was essential to the plot and story. how do you depict somebody that is not well known and you can interview. what i did do i talked to peter bergon who was the last western
journalist who meet with bin laden, talk to numerous people and what it would be like to in his presence. that's as thick. everyone that i've talked to has done studies argue they are well educated for the most part and they are by the standards of mmpi not insane at all. that makes them more scary, they are rational people pursuing an irrational goal. if they were barking bad, it would be easier to deal with. >> they are not.
your book sets up polar opposites. and not the interest. for example, brooke chandler, the cia operative, i don't know what exactly that might be modeled after, any number of people. but he tries to go after or find the nuclear weapon and it may or may not be successful. when you talk about how much at the real life of the cia operatives are in the book and whether that played a part or you had to hollywoodize it. >> if i had to hollywoodize it, i wouldn't do it. i think the stuff is too important to be, you know, fooling around with things that way. so, you know, i interviewed cia under cover agents past and present to get a sense of their lives and how they think and
what they would do. i had hours and hours and hours and hours several meetings with two people who were remarkably helpful, one bobbear, the former cia field agent portrayed by george clooney and picturallized. and remarkably, harold hunt was the guy in the opening red wig. but harold is the most decorated man in the history of cia. he was the legendary field officer, he was stationed in iran and in most cue and berlin during the cold war. he ran the cia war against the russians in afghanistan. he was the one that was in charge of the smuggling in the arms. one of howard's most remark many stories was when she was in iraq
when he took over, the guard found him shortly after he was paying off a double agent in the secret police and started to stalk him to death. the two guys. they were well on the way when howard pulled out a gun and killed them both. he made his way back, didn't complain about his injuries, because he wanted to stay on the job. eventually got out and when he got out back to america, he looked at him and said the only time i've seen internal injuries this bad were in head on car wrecks and they were dead. he lives now in incredible amounts of pain. he's a very, very brave man. but in any event, involved in helping me get things right. >> among the people you credit, leon panetta, william cohen.
he took his time with me. and it was really quite wonderful. and, um, i always so enjoyed being with him whether we were doing something like this or just in a social situation. but in any event, i'm perfectly content with this, you know, day's work. i'm really feeling great. and i go home, and the next morning i'm sitting in front of, i'm sitting on my bed dictating my notes from the conversation with ted, and the tv's sort of in the background. and i look up, and there's a plane hitting the world trade center, you know, where i had taken my daughter for dinner not all that long before. and i just couldn't make sense of it. like a lot of americans, you know, i'm thinking, well, how in the world does an airline pilot fly into, you know, a plane -- it makes no sense to me at all. you think this background something's badly wrong and then, of course, the second plane. and washington was a gloas town, and i -- ghost town, and i
couldn't get out. and i was struck because, you know, the world really had changed, and i was not in new york, but they hit the pentagon, and that certainly had a profound effect. everything really stopped in washington. but the remarkable story getting back to ted for a moment, at the end of our meeting he said to me, um, you know, everyone knows how i feel about guns which is, it's poignant. he said, but, you know, you really should talk to john edwards because he has to deal with this in different parts of the country, and i think talking to him would really be useful. i said, i thought about it,, but i don't know his people. he said, don't worry, i'll talk to him. the time for make believe was over with, and i'm just sort of stuck here until, you know, they're running the planes again. that was -- tuesday morning was 9/11. thursday morning i'm in my hotel, the phone rings and it's john edwards. he says hear you're a friend of teddy's, and teddy wants me to talk to you, and i always try to do what teddy wants me to do, so
what do you want to know? [laughter] and i thought it was remarkable of ted that in the middle of a national emergency and a real crisis that he had remembered that he had made me a promise and that he'd follow through. his, to be his friend was to experience many, many acts of consideration like that. >> yeah. and, um, that's a great story. as one reads your book, "the devil's light," 9/11 is, of course, a central part of the book. and a relatively minor character in the book perishes that day, and it becomes the driving force for the characters, you know, next events in their lives. they do certain things related to 9/11. >> right. >> were you, when 9/11 happened, did you know right away, oh, i want to write about this in some context, or did you, in a sense, want to distance yourself? >> i think i experienced as any
american experienced, this is a shocking event, and you wonder what had happened and what presages and how america should react to such a thing. and then, of course, we got involved in the iraq war in particular, and the whole question about whether that was the inappropriate response to the terrorist threat or something else altogether. but i think when i thought about 9/11 and i thought about the generation of americans who were changed by that, and i learned sometime later that there'd been a great influx of young people wanting to go into the cia after 9/11 because of that very thing. and my character, brook chandler, is one of them. and there's a feeling generally that one of the aftereffects of 9/11 was an infuse of talent into the agency which wouldn't otherwise be there. eventually, it all came
together, al-qaeda, my interest in the intelligence world and, hence, "the devil's light." >> a reminder, you're listening to the commonwealth club of california radio program. we're talking with best-selling author richard north patterson about his book, "the definitely's light." -- "the devil's light." let's take a question from the audience, but before we do that, the characters say a lot of things that i don't think people, politicians and others could ordinarily say for public consumption. one of them, for example, is, um, you have people, cia intelligence people saying, you know, al-qaeda, they're a good organization, you know? tactic wise, you know? >> right. >> they're full of brilliant people. and, in fact, one of them -- i forget the name -- essentially called osama bin laden a genius. now, one question from the audience. if al-qaeda is so smart, how is it we were able to send in a few navy seals and take out their most famous leader?
>> well, it is a problem trying to hide, you know, even in pakistan. but on the other hand, um, look at where we are between 2001 and 2011, ten years after the fact. we have al-qaeda franchises, if you will, in over 60 countries. we have al-qaeda of the arabian peninsula being a real menace in lebanon. we have a continuing fear of al-qaeda striking. so bin laden may be dead, but think of the talent that it took to fund and build up from nothing of, you know, a bunch of different people a widespread, clandestine network over 60 countries with the, um, cia and the mossad and the intelligence outfits of various western
countries worrying about you. he's certainly overmatched, but he was no fool. and, indeed, one of the reasons that i think that al-qaeda has been so intent on acquiring nuclear materials is they're looking for an equalizer. they're looking for a game changer. because, and, you know, all they can do is try to pursue the ultimate act of asymmetric warfare. so, you know, that's why it's such a worry. now, how, you know, the death of bin laden effects them this long run, i don't know. i have bin laden's operative saying to him, you know, the years since 9/11 have not been kind to us in many ways, you know? and you do sense that to some extent, depending on what happens in the middle east, the world is moving on. i mean, the reform movements in egypt and tunisia, for example, who knows where and how they're going to end.
certainly those a more helpful alternative than jihad, and the fantasy of an islamic -- [inaudible] so i suppose the ultimate success of bin laden depends on how much hatred there is in the world, how much hatred there is in the middle east. and that has to do with lots of things which govern the lives of folks who live there. >> speaking of which, we have two questions from the audience related to israel. one of them relates to israel's influence on u.s. policy. um, one of the main characters in your book, um, is israeli, a woman who actually is involved with brook chandler. >> those were the fun scenes. i just want to point out they're there. [laughter] you know, this is not all grim. [laughter] >> no, in fact, it gets into quite a few scenes with them, but it also, like real life, goes over politics and so forth. and they talk about different
things, but the question from the audience is, um, how -- one of the questions is how influential israel is to u.s. foreign policy, and in terms of this book that you've written, you know, can you talk about that? because you do explore that issue this book. >> well, in terms of the proposition placed on the table by this book combating nuclear terrorism, they're both concerned about it, and they both ought to be. the destruction of tel aviv, i think, for example, would essentially be the destruction of israel given its geography and infrastructure and all the rest. and, certainly, the destruction of new york or washington would alter our view of our future as a democracy, our commitment to the middle east, our commitment to civil liberties and all the rest. so we both have a profound concern with nuclear terrorism. but they're concerned about them, we're concerned about us as the first proposition, and there is a history of distrust
between the cia and the mossad. you know, feeling on behalf of the u.s. that they sometimes try to manipulate us to our ends which would be a shocking thing for an intelligence agency to do. [laughter] more, you know, so we do have a cooperation with the mossad, but it's also edgy. the broader question of the israeli/u.s. connection this foreign policy is a very tricky one, and when you address this kind of thing as i have, you have to be really, really careful because you're going to make somebody mad. but, you know, there certainly has been an effort on behalf of support of israel here in the united states to make a -- confine the discussion of the u.s. national interest vis-a-vis israel under very narrow bounds because, um, you know, they are supporters of israel pure and
simple, and that's fine. i try to distinguish when i talk about this between our profound to commitment to israel's right to exist, you know, and to never forget what happened which is, i think, a moral commitment of the highest order. and the indulgence of the particular policy of any particular israeli government vis-a-vis our national interests. i certainly think we have a deep moral interest in israel. i do not always think that the policies of benjamin netanyahu, for example, are either in the national interests of israel or in the national interests of the united states. the degree to which, though, one is able to say that or feels able to say that in view of domestic u.s. politics is very limited. so i'll talk to people, you know, in the national security community who will say these things to me candidly, but they're very reluctant to say things publicly. so until we have a healthy
dialogue about what steps with the pal palestinians as case one really in the long term security interests of israel and the u.s. and have an open discussion of it, that's going to be a problem area in if u.s. foreign policy. to me what israel really needs, all you need to do is look at the map, is guarantees of border security among other things. they don't just need peace, they need security. and if you look at what's been discussed for the parameters of peace between israel and the palestinians, it involves a nato or international guarantee including american troops, um, to guarantee their borders which i think would be very helpful. netanyahu says that isn't enough, i want my troops stationed along the border. well, forget it. that's a nonstarter. and what he's also implying is that international troops, including u.n. troops, can't be trusted to protect israel. and at some point you have to worry that he is catering to a
coalition of folks who are among the very religious who believe that israel's not just the territory that they have now, but the west bank, that this is biblical, this is theological. and what everyone thinks of theology, it's not a basis for foreign policy. but that's kind of what we're with right now. in a way we've suffered on both sides of that question. arafat was hardly nelson mandela, to say the least. [laughter] and i, you know, i do regret the composition that netanyahu coalition, i probably ought to leave this one there. >> okay. [laughter] well, i mean, that is, that is, those issues are raise inside your book along with other issues that one doesn't often see in the american media when the, you know, muslim world is talked about. one of them, for example s the sunni/shia divide, but just how
deeply felt that is to the point where there's, you know, of course, blood, animosity in a lot of ways. for example, al-zarqawi who was killed, this jordanian -- >> right. >> -- terrorist who was kill inside iraq several years ago. he professed more hatred for shia than for jews you know? and the characters in the book talk about this, and that's one of the things that make the book a lively one. but can you talk about that? >> yeah. it really is remarkable for sa ca by to say what he said is going some because he didn't like jews much either. [laughter] but, i mean, you know, but he was about the business of killing shia in iraq. i mean, that was one of his priorities. and, indeed, there's a distinct antagonism between al-qaeda and the iranian regime in
hezbollah because they are primarily shia and not sunni. and that is deeply felt, and i sort of go into the genesis of it. but i can't begin to explain why it is that important, you know, some 1400 years later. i only know -- or 1500 years later. i only know that it is. so one of the strains that runs through my book is the calculation that if, um, al-qaeda on bin laden's part, if al-qaeda does something which causes a military reprisal, an indiscriminate military reprisal by the united states or israel, it's likely to fall on shia. so for them it's a win/win situation, you know? the they strike a blow against the west, and the west strikes a blow against iran, and all the better for them. and that really is intensely feltment -- felt. >> i want to get a little bit into your personal life, not too
personal, but a little bit personal. and that is the fact that you were a lawyer, you were trained to be a lawyer, and around age 29 you decided to write a novel. and so at that point you hadn't really written, you know, publicly anyway a novel. and lo and behold, you know, years later you're one of the world's best-selling novelists. your books are described as international best sellers, not just new york times best sellers, although certainly "the new york times" list has seen many of your books. but can you talk about what prompted you to want to write fiction after having worked as a lawyer, and a very successful lawyer at that, for several years? and this is the tail end of that, are you happy being a novelist and having given up those lawyers? >> oh, i'm sick. i'm going to back. [laughter] you know, there are people who
suggest unkindly that the march from lawyer to fiction writer is an extremely short one. [laughter] you know, i enjoyed my legal career a great deal, um, and i learned a lot from it that was very useful as a lawyer. i learned interviewing skills, i learned more about linear thinking which is plotting. i learned how to take a complex set of messy facts and make them coherent a narrative which might be persuasive to a judge or jury. i learned a lot about human psychology, and your clients will tell you the damnedest things. and i also learned to write. i mean, there's a theory that, you know, legal writing is latin nonsense with all sorts of dependent clauses that will put you to sleep. but the truth is as a lawyer you know you're writing for america's most tired and cynical audience, america's judges and their law clerks.
and you want to make it con cease and persuasive, and you want to grab them with the nub of your presentation on page 1. so it's all good. the difference is that, i mean, lawyer is kind of an inbox kind of job. you sit there, and in your inbox appears somebody's problem, and then you try to go about the interesting business of fixing it. but as a writer, you have self-assigned work. you get to decide what to care about, you get to decide how to spend your time. and the most wonderful thing about the writing career for me is that my interests have merged with my work. i've learned more from it, i've met great people from it, made good friends because of it. my life is entirely different because i was a writer and because i chose this maybe curious path of reaching out for different subjects rather than trying to sort of, you know,
replow familiar ground because it's commercially safe. so it's been, um, a great career for me. >> and one that has put you in the spotlight this a lot of ways. i know some of your books have been optioned for television. and this book -- >> i have all the horror stories. [laughter] >> yeah. right. and i think a lot of people here in listening and watching probably know or are familiar with those horror stories. but this book, you know, has a lot of basis for a screenplay, certainly. i mean, have you gotten offers already for -- >> well, i joke, i've had movie deals -- >> right. >> a lot more movie deals than movies which is difficult. i say that the movie deals are like sperm, many are called, but few are chosen. [laughter]
but, yeah, i mean, i expect i may get something. but hollywood's a funny place, you know? you know, a few years ago syrian that didn't do all that well, then the kingdom with whoever it was didn't do all that well. and, i mean, hollywood is filled with people who are profound analysts of the marketplace. so they say, well, there are arabs in it, and arabs don't work. i mean, i'm serious. there are arabs in it. sorry, you know? [laughter] you know? if i'd known, i would have put, like, italians in the middle east. [laughter] but maybe they'll do it for me. [laughter] you know, i do have a movie deal on xl with participant pictures which is a very good studio which tries to do, you know, serious film making. so, you know, there's a thought. but, i mean, the thing is that people always ask me, well, has your book been turned into a movie as if book is just this thing, but a movie's really what you're after. and i've never cared really because, um, the stuff they do
is frequently awful. i'd be happy to add the check to my kids' tuition fund, but, you know, the book is just what i made. i'm not constrained by budget, i don't have to ask anybody what to do in the book, i don't have, you know, a studio head saying, jeez, you know, shouldn't your male character be a female and so on and so forth, you know, or vice versa. so if it happens, it's like being hit by a moon rock. and if it doesn't, it's fine. >> well, speaking of female characters, brook chandler's girlfriend, israeli girlfriend in this book does resort to violence. i think i can say that without giving too much away. >> yep. >> and i can tell from the writing she's attractive, so, you know, that has everything going right there for a
hollywood -- angelina jolie maybe? >> well, you know, actually the scene was inspired at a dinner party once where we had a husband and wife over who had been field agents, and everybody was talking about their work. and she was talking about how it's possible to kill somebody with a number 2 pencil, and i sort of remembered that. [laughter] i also remembered never to sit next to her. [laughter] um, but, yeah. i mean, i am a romantic, i suppose, and i've never objected to relationships in real life or in books. and i do, in addition to dealing with whatever subject i'm dealing with, i really do like to give people a good story, and i also like to, um, create characters who are complicated, dimensional and in whom you have a real interest. you may not like all of them, but you want to read about them. so all of that's very important to me, you know?
otherwise i'm just writing a tome on nuclear terrorism, and that's not my intention. >> with your indulgence, then, let me read what you wrote about osama bin laden in the book. it's page 66 for those of you who have a copy. in the flesh the man radiated energy and purpose, yet he retained the aura of a poet with his pen trant gaze came an air of calm and stillness. and let me flash forward to the character, the militant in the book who at one point writes this, and this is poetry: the devil's light flashes golden in the black sky of doom, clothe inside a shroud of ashes. our fro vanishes into the past. so these are two passages that describe men who are prone to violence, of course, but yet have a poetic side to them. can you just -- >> yeah. that was a big part of bin laden's persona.
he wrote poetry, and he is, he was always described in personal dealings with him as, you know, rather gentle and considerate. al-zawahiri, on the other hand, i gather is not a pleasant person to be around at all. much more rigid and die damagetive. we're talking about characters who planned 9/11, so i don't want to push that one too far. but i think in portraying bin laden, it was important to get him right and see him as his act colite who was going to put his life on the line for this plot is going to see him as an inspirational figure. that only makes sense because you're not seeing him when you're the reader, you're not seeing him through the americans' point of view, you're seeing him through the point of
view of someone who's actually experiencing being in his presence and being inspired by him, and you want to understand how that could possibly be. >> one of the things your characters from the west or the middle east have in common is that they're having to use different identities. brook chandler -- >> yeah. >> -- has to change his name, iowa tee that -- anita also has her name changed, and the characters, the militants are also having to pose as different people. >> right. >> so in a sense there are these connections, whether people realize it or not, there are these connections. they're almost from the same family, but different -- >> there are certain psychological similarities between, you know, people on either side of the terrorism divide if you're working undercover. i mean, the ability to lie and to assimilate a whole alternative identity and be fine with that and to bring it off is not given to most of us. i dare say there's not a single
person in this audience who could do it. i know i certainly couldn't. so schoolly there are certain -- psychologically there are certain -- [inaudible] including an incredible commitment to an extremely inconvenient life. because to go undercover is to give up a lot. i have brook early on talking about the cost of that life which he's painfully aware. i was talking to a guy who was undercover who never did tell me his last name because that was not for me to know. but, you know, he's saying, you know, and i had brook say this more or less. i don't mind lying to foreigners. i mean, that's what they pay me for. but i, it is wearing when i lie to the guy in the next apartment or the woman i've just met or people who have known me for years. he says, you know, that's what really gets you down. in the case of somebody -- you've given up your whole life,
really. a big chunk of your life. >> now, your book came out, um, i guess two days after, two or three day after the announcement that osama bin laden had been killed. >> yeah. >> at that point there had been no images shown of bin laden, but subsequently we've seen images of him, and they show a person who, to use a boxing metaphor here, who's on the ropes in a way, physically on the ropes. and in another way is not quite the osama bin laden of the public imagination. did it surprise you after doing all your research, you know, where you're talking to people about who bin laden is, did it surprise you that, oh, wow, this is really the bin laden that is populating my book? >> well, what surprised the hell out of me was where he was. you know, i think with the exception of the people who had the very close hi-held secret of where he was, everybody thought
he was in, you know, western pakistan, everybody. i mean, few people voted for yemen, but, you know, when i thought about it, i thought pakistan had to be right for all sorts of reasons. i mean, and my book lays out some of the conditions in which it would be right; the close link between the isi and jihadist groups, the long-time associations between al-qaeda personnel and leaders in the isi and their associations between and among the isi and the other terrorist groups. he pretty much had to be in pakistan, and he couldn't not be there without the knowledge and indulgence, help of someone. i'm not saying, you know, the pakistani security establishment is a model, but i would certainly say some people -- and other people didn't want to know. i mean, you have to think that for pakistan, and this is sort of hard to get your mind around if you're american, you know, giving up bin laden's not all that popular a thing to do, you
know? is the united states is not beloved in pakistan. and so, um, turning over bin laden would not be an easy decision for the pakistani security establishment to make. which is why, of course, we didn't tell them that we were going in. because we were worried that the whole, they'd give up the game. >> a reminder to our audience, you're listening to the commonwealth club of california radio program. we're talking with best-selling author richard north patterson about his current novel, "the devil's light." there's a question from the audience about a previous novel of yours, "race," and the question is whether you knew obama was going to run when you wrote that book. >> no, i didn't, but i had a very interesting experience, and, in fact, i'll tell a story on myself which is why i'm not in the political consulting business. [laughter] in 2004 my wife nancy and i were
at the democratic convention in boston because i was doing research for the race. and obama had just given his electrifying convention speech, and his name was on everyone's lips. and i ran into someone i knew and who was with the obama campaign, and he said do you want to meet barack obama? barack obama would like to meet you. i said, well, that's very cool, sure. can i bring my then-friend nancy? yep, fine. so we sit down with then-state senator obama, remarkably enough, and can we have about a 40-minute conversation. and i wasn't surprised that he knew a lot about the things i was concerned about because they were the things that a politician would know about. but nancy who's an educational consultant and did a lot of work overseas, got into conversation with him about the problems of
education in the third world. he knew a lot about that. and what was most interesting was being in his presence because i've known the last four presidents, and i've known a lot of folks in politics. and what you really appreciate is that he listens. he really takes stuff in. you know, he turns around, and we were having an actual conversation. he wasn't doing an info dump of the five minutes he knew about this. you know, and you can understand why these folks have to sort of store up, you know, a lot of, um, knowledge that only goes so deep because they've got just so much stuff to think about and deal with. but he was remarkable, and his whole aura was so interesting. and i came out, i said to nancy, you know, that may be the sanest politician i've ever met. there's no way he's going to drink the kool-aid and run in 2008. [laughter] but, you know, obviously the business of race and race in america and race as a factor in politics was on my mind, and he
certainly raised that as a potential national figure. and whereas he wasn't the reason i wrote about the race, he certainly was somebody i thought about while i was writing it. >> any chance you'll do a follow-up novel as it were with obama as a character, or -- >> well, you know, the problem with doing that is you really are constrained by the facts. and as much as i do research, i really do like to make stuff up. [laughter] you know? so, you know, he's going to have to get along with having, like, one life rather than two. i think he's doing fine. >> well, were you tempted to put him in "the devil's light" because he's not really in the book. >> do you want to hear something terrible? >> sure. >> you know, and, um, i always worry with any american president about what's going to happen to them. i really do. and, you know, i tried to write
around the osama problem by showing him in 2009 and 2010, okay? the but there are a lot of guns out there, and it worries me deeply. and the influence of the gun lobby in protecting the rights of legitimate gun owners is one thing, but when people who are adjudicated felons or people who are convicted of domestic violence or people who are have been admitted into mental institutions are allowed to acquire guns, then there's something deeply wrong. so i, um, i thought about that. and my editor, in fact, asked me about that. i said, we're going to have a generic president here. it saddens me to say that, but this' why -- but that's why. >> okay.
you say you've known the last four presidents, and that includes obama, of course, but also, obviously, george w. bush. was there any, did you and he talk about literature, about, perhaps, you know, having his -- [laughter] political life thrown into the pages of fiction? >> yeah, well, i should say that i knew his dad rather better and knew the second president bush through him. you know, we -- there are enough differences and points of view on some issues that i don't know that it would have been very useful to sort of go there. he was always great fun to be around. you know, he's a lively guy, you know he's in the room. and you can why he succeeded -- you can see why he succeeded as a politician. but, no, we never talked about, we never talked about this stuff. you know, he and his dad are
notably different personalities, and they're both interesting in their own way. >> given your interests in the world, and i mentioned at the outset that you were former head, essentially, of common cause and the fact that, you know, you write about a lot of different subjects, do you have a, you know, after, for example, you know, researching subjects do you want to go out there and, essentially, tell people, i mean, i guess as you're doing with this book, listen, this is how the world really is, we need to, you know, get off our duffs and change, you know, this about the u.s. government, this about our foreign policy, this about this, or is it kind of exasperating to stay in that fiction world? the. >> well, you know, i do go out and give speeches, and, of course, i do hope my books will have some impact, and i do get letters. i mean, i got, oh, by a factor of ten to one more letters about xl than others and people telling me thank you for saying
it, you really caused me to look at this conflict, you know n a more nuanced way which i deeply appreciate. that said, i've written about a number of problems, and they've all gotten worse, i think. [laughter] so, you know, i do have some sense of my own limitations. i mean, i can't say the bitterness over abortion is over, i can't say that gun violence has gotten better, capital punishment is still a morass, you know? it's been four years since i wrote exile was published, middle east peace has yet to arrive. so, you know, i may be the literary e equivalent of what im to a friend who invites me to giants' games to sit in his box, and every time i do they lose. [laughter] but, yeah, maybe i have a passion for hard issues. >> and are you ever tempted, i know this is really something that's a no-no for writers, but are you ever tempted to revisit
your novels and say, you know what? i really didn't like that ending. let me sort of twist that a little bit and put out a kind of 2.0 version? >> you know, i have really i just sort of don't second guess myself. i make the book as strong a book as i can, i rewrite a lot, i rethink a lot, and then at some point you just have to let it go and move on. the one thing i did because i had, my first novel was publish inside '79, and then my first hit novel was 9'93. so they reissued the 1979 book. i went and looked at it, and i realized i was a different guy in '93 then i was in '79. i'll give you one cringe-making example. there's a sentence in there something like i was dating a couple of girls i didn't want to see. the girls thing really struck me wrong when i was sitting and
reading it in '93. i thought, my god, you know, that was lame. [laughter] and so i went back and excised a few things, but, i mean, i think, you know, having had a more or less fully-formed consciousness somewhere after that, i haven't committed similar errors. >> are there summits, i mean -- subjects, i mean, you've mentioned you've written about a lot of subjects, are there subjects that you'd love to tackle but you're afraid to go there because it's somehow too charged, too something you just want to stay clear of? maybe other novelists have done the deed already? >> you know, i think by the time you've written about partial-birth abortion in israel and palestine, you've done about as bad as you could do. i don't know if i could find anything worse than those. i mean, even if i tried. a book i thought about doing and i don't think i'm ever going to do, i was thinking about doing something related to afghanistan. but, i mean, i honestly thought other than the peril of booting around afghanistan in your late
middle age, um, that everything that could be said about afghanistan, you know, probably has been said and long ago. and unless i really thought i could bring something novel to it, probably best to do something else. but that was more a decision of feeling that i was superfluous. oddly enough, i didn't feel in the israeli/palestinian context that i was, and i don't think that i have been. um, i mean, people still ask me to speak about that. or to write about it. so, um, you just have to pick your spots. >> pick your spots, exactly. and the middle east and really the world at large after 9/11 is a big spot to pick. were there parts about this book that you actually had originally included, for example, i don't know, maybe something about u.s. politics? you ended up excising from the book or was there -- >> you know, there's a lot that i deal with in this book, and i
could have dealt with the impact of a threat of al-qaeda destroying a major western city which is one of the plot points in the book by how that affected the u.s. political, um, scene. and i chose not to do much of that because i really wanted to keep the focus on the story at hand. and keep it driving forward. you know, given the current recriminatory, dishonest, poisonous, utterly unhelpful political dialogue that we have in this country, you know, i can well imagine that if there's a potential act of nuclear terrorism that the finger pointing and potential scapegoating would pick up right away. i've got to say that even faced with all sorts of national peril, you know, like a deficit we obviously have to do something about the intellectual dishonesty and self-serving
quality of our political leaders really is quite special. [laughter] >> well, we'll break for the applause -- [laughter] from the audience. um, and, of course, you would know more than the average person because of your doings, personal doings with political figures who tell you perhaps offhandedly, off the record here's what i really think. >> i only hang out with the nice ones. [laughter] >> okay. um, but yet, you know, these conversations you have with politicians and others do find their way in the book in indirect ways perhaps, and let me read something to people that one of your characters says in "the devil's light." this is carter gray, a major u.s. intelligence figure who says early on, quote, america as a nation had no clue about what the hell this was about. most americans still don't. this is talking about the middle
east and post-9/11 world. >> right. >> do and brook chandler, the hero, shall we say, or perhaps not of the book says, as a nation we're addicted to wishful thinking, staggering from crisis to crisis with the foresight of a 2-year-old. after 9/11 we invaded the wrong country, killed the wrong madman and too often used the wrong interrogation techniques on the wrong people all because our leaders lost contact with the truth. so, yeah, you are spreading the word there through your characters. >> it seemed fair enough. [laughter] yeah. i mean, and certainly those are feelings held by many people in the body politic, but you don't have to be a member of the national security community or an elected official to feel that way. i know a lot of americans feel that way. and, you know, you don't know where to turn. i think i also have them say that the neo-cons sit around a room and tell each other things
until the room becomes the world, and they really believe what they're saying is true. and the democrats are like manic depressives, in any given day you don't know what wing they're going to be in. so -- and the tea party folks think the president's a worse threat than al-qaeda. [laughter] so, you know, there's a lot to choose from. [laughter] but it's unfortunate that at a time when we're facing problems so serious whether it's this one or the divisions in our society and the, um, decline of our middle class and all the rest that we don't have a more honest political dialogue among our leaders than i think we do. >> more applause. [applause] more applause. let's take a question from the audience. the question is what do you think will happen to al-qaeda after osama bin laden's death? are they more or less dangerous?
and you sort of answered that, but let's hear you -- >> i think in the short term they're more because they are going to be looking to establish their relevance, and whether it's directed bilal zawahiri or others, and they also seem to have a taste for the spectacular. you know, if they did what hamas did for a while in israel, they could be bombing shopping centers. but for some reason or another they have a passion for the big gesture. in a way, the quote, success, unquote, of 9/11 proved addictive to them. so i think certainly in terms of their danger as a terror i threat -- terrorist threat, it's continuing. it's worse than it was after 9/11 because of oh -- osama's success in organizing, and i
don't think you'll find anybody saying we can sort of relax now. the long run depends on a lot of things. it depends on whether we continue to support our counterterrorism efforts. when kerry was talking about that in 2004, he was dismissed by some of his critics. he was talking about police work. you can't invade terror. you have to detect and counteract terror. and it's very important that we have the capacity, we don't have enough arab speakers in the cia, we don't have enough lots of things. somebody told me, and it may be true, there are less cia agents than meter maids in new york city. i wouldn't be surprised if that were true. so there's that. there's also the broader question of the middle east, i mean, how good or bad are things? i really do think the israeli/palestinian thing has to be fixed. i mean, that's really job one. but more broadly there's questions for regional security for israel, there's what kind of societies we're going to have now in countries like egypt
which are going through a change. i mean, there's an old saying, somewhat cynical saying about these emerging democracies. one man, one vote, one time. so anybody can hold an election once, but the question is whether you build the institutions that are going to make the vote meaningful. and, indeed, something that happens again. the muslim brotherhood, obviously, is very strong and well organized in egypt. um, you just don't know how that's going to go. to the extent that there is, that the palestinians have a better life, to the extent that -- and this is a lot of ifs -- that hezbollah is absorbed into the body politic in lebanon rather than obsessing on israel or that syria, depending on what their government is like, eventually decides to cut off, um, arms from iran to hezbollah as part
of a land for security deal, all those things do bear ultimately on how potent al-qaeda is. because the more anger, the more unemployment, the more, um, frustration there is among people in the middle east generally, the better they do. the better the middle east does, the worse they do. and how that's going to play out, you know, who knows. >> we have time really just for one more question. you know, your career has taken you a long way. i mean, at one point in your career you were the sec's liaison to the watergate special prosecutor. you mentioned howard hunt earlier at at the start of this conversation, but you've seen a lot of things in your life that could be described as surreal. certainly nixon's time at watergate -- >> nixon himself was -- [laughter] >> nixon himself. well, that may lead to the final question then.
any similarities between nixon and bin laden? forget it. take that question back. >> well -- are we talking about charm? i mean -- [laughter] >> no, i mean, all joking aside, personality the way it takes to get to the top of one's profession, duplicitous -- >> i think nixon was really a remarkable figure because he was the most unnatural politician i've ever seen. you see natural politicians, i mean, bill clinton's amazing. i mean, he's just -- to watch him is just astounding. i mean, nixon had none of that. you could see the message from his brain the to his mouth, time to smile. [laughter] you know, he just was completely incomfortable in his own skin. so in a way the remarkable determination that he had to achieve the presidency in the face of not being a natural was really remarkable. i mean, the problem is that his demons and discomfort ate him
up. it's quite possibly -- it's quite possible, and, you know, i don't want to be juvenile. this could come off wrong. but it's quite possible in certain ways that bin laden, if you ignore what it is that he wanted was a better integrated human being. you know, just in terms of someone who had self-awareness and such. on the level of fanaticism as bad as watergate is, i mean, there's no way that it compares to really wanting to kill hundreds of thousands of people. but nixon was tragic as i think most people agree. he was a person of great gifts and great demons, and they ate him in the end. >> thank you very much, richard north patterson, best-selling author of soon to be the 19th novel, 19 novels. the most recent, "the devil's light." we also thank our audiences here
and on the internet, television and radio. tonight's program is presented in partnership with the lafayette library and is part of the commonwealth club's good lit series. i'm jonathan curiel, and now this meeting of the commonwealth club of california, the place where you're in the know, is adjourned. [applause] ..
>> this is poor richard's books, and where in the capital city of kentucky, which is frankfort, not louisville or lexington, and we have been in business for 33 years. which is pretty outstanding for a small bookstore. we have i think a community center. we do readings. we have music year. we exchange community information. so i think we are kind of the hub of downtown. and the hub of frankfort, in fact. we are right across from the old capitol building, so we have lots of tourists coming through. visitors that need to go to our capital government offices. so we have lots of folks of all different types coming to downtown. >> any particular kind of book that the kind of want, history books, political books?
>> this is a political down soviet quite a few people reading political blogs. and lincoln being born in kentucky. we sell a lot of lincoln material. but we also have a little press that is done historic images of old frankfort. those books have been really successful. >> people are reading differently nowadays. how is poor richard's books the keep up with that? >> people are still reading. and i think that there is a big difference in the way that things are going to end up, but i don't think we are there yet. there's some resistance to the new electronic readers. especially in this area where people are just a little bit older. and they don't travel as much. if i was in the metro area i would be on the metro line with my kindle, too.
but right now it's still kind of everybody trying to figure out it's going to go. authors are excited when the books come out in e-book form. that's great because people will be them but hopefully they will give them as a gift. in real book form. >> how has business been with a change in the economy? >> well, this is where mark twain said, if i die i want to die in kentucky because everything happens 20 years later. well, things happen a little bit later. there was a ripple. and so the first couple of years of the depression here have not been to bed. in state government started faltering, and that's kind of hit a bit harder. but everybody is hopeful and the bigger picture out there is looking better. with the change closing, the big box stores, we are hoping some of the trickles our way. i started this when i was like 27 years old. so yeah, so we've been at it for
quite some time here, 33 years. and it's still exciting everyday opening the boxes and pulling the books out. it's just like having christmas every day of the year. >> lizz taylor, co-owner of poor richard's books tour in frankfort, kentucky. to find out more about this and other images about c-span's city tours, go to c-span.org/localcontent. >> recently the daily these report on the books that president obama has read since he's been in office. the list which dates from may 2008 to the end of 2010.