Skip to main content

tv   Q A  CSPAN  August 10, 2014 8:00pm-8:59pm EDT

8:00 pm
speaking in denver. then discussing the prospect of hillary clinton running for president in 2016, followed by the latest on the conflict in the middle east. [captioning performed by national captioning institute] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2014] >> this week on "q&a" our guest is pulitzer-prize-winning author edmund morris. he talks about his most recent work, "this living hand and other essays," and his upcoming book on thomas edison and his other works as a biographer of presidents and other notable historical figures. >> edmund morris, in your book, "this living hand and other essays," i notice you are writing a book about edison. >> that's right the >> why edison? >> it's this mysterious
8:01 pm
attraction of subject to biography which i've never been able to explain, but it happens. after i finished my last book, which was the third of a trilogy -- on theodore roosevelt i was looking around for another subject. my agent said to me, what about edison? about time somebody about -- did a book on him. i said i don't think i want to do another enormous biography, so i said no to the idea. but a few months later, mysterious how these things happen, i was at an airport in florida, fort myers, which is near where edison used to have his winter plantation, next to henry ford's and i was running to catch a plane and came across this airport lobby display of a huge cutout, life-size cutout of thomas edison. thun of these photographic
8:02 pm
silhouettes. i literally barged into it. it was posed next to his leckedfied model-t that henry ford had given him. so here am i looking into thomas edison's eyes and i suddenly became overwhelmed with curiosity. this guy is fascinating, i have to write about him! and all the way back to new york on the plane after that encounter, i felt this lust to write. so that's how it started, as simply as that. >> when did you start the book? >> well, immediately i began the research. >> how long ago is that now? >> like i said, i guess that was two years ago, three years ago if not more. i got a contract 3478 -- almost immediately. it's a huge subject as you can imagine particularly for someone who spent his life writing about presidents and com poet -- composers to write about this polymath of a
8:03 pm
scientist, something new. but that's part of the attraction. i love the challenge of writing about something quite different than i wrote about before. >> where are you on the timeline to get this down -- done? >> that's the kind of question any nonfiction writer wants to shoot himself. i don't know, brian. you can never tell how long a biographer is going to take. i thought i could finish reagan in four or five years. it took 14. i spent years writing about theodore roosevelt. it's less than sounds because i wrote other books in the meantime but each of my books spent about five years. how long edison will take, i can't tell. >> what's one thing you learned about edison that you didn't know? >> how profoundly imagine native he was. one thives a scientists as
8:04 pm
someone who works with process, experimentation and theories. but the fact that theys 1,092 patented inventions of edison that poured out of him from the fact of onward, the that prodigal outpouring of inventiveness derived from imagination is what fascinates me. he really was an inspirational person. i'll give you an example. his talking to a science fiction writer in the 1880's who was expliccating the new current theory of atomic composition of matter. even in the 18le 0's -- 1880's it was known that all matter could be reduced to atoms. edison was talking about this subject and he said if this sthore indeed correct and all matter consists of atoms i
8:05 pm
suppose it would be possible for me to take a few atoms of yself and transfer those atoms to a rose, and then i could retrieve those atoms and put them back into myself and thereby acquire some of the sensibility of a rose. that's what i mean about his profoundly imagine native nature. that's a poetic perception. that's not scientific, it's poetic. nowadays, most of the 20th century and the 21st, scientific inventions come out of theory. first the theory, then the invention. but edison, the invention came out of nowhere, responseaniously. >> so -- p spontaneously. >> so when a biographer has a subject they want to start -- write about, where do you start? what's that first day like?
8:06 pm
>> one always has this desire to get to know the person, if he's dead of course. reagan was alive when i wrote about him so that was easy but i had to get to know theodore roosevelt, had to get to able to see him, feel him, even smell him. i researched what kind of cologne he wore. it was the same with edison for me. a lot of the process of analyzing comes from looking at the writings. i love the look of handwriting and i can sort of deduce the movement of the hand that wrote those words. photographs are immensely important to me. it's very important we know exactly what they looked like and the things around them. the first curiosity manifests itself visibly, audiblely in terms of sensations. once i feel i have the person in any -- my field of knowledge then i can begin to tell the
8:07 pm
story of the life, analyze the mind. >> speak of biography, i wanted to talk about you about -- with you about presidents. obviously you know two very with. i wanted to round out a video clip we did with robert dallek, talking about a series of meetings with obama. before we show this have you met with president obama? >> yes. >> in one of these meetings? >> i went to a meeting there. >> we talked about a great variety of things in those interviews or those dinners. of course there were roughly 12 historians. i wasn't the only one there and some of his principal aides, including one of his principal speech writers. so for me it was a fascinating
8:08 pm
experience to be able to at one point sit right next to the p -- president at dinner and have this kind of exchange with him. in many ways it felt like an academic sem innar because after all, he is someone who has been a professor of law. it was like being in a seminar with a bunch of colleagues is the way i would characterize it. >> when did you meet with president obama? was mr. dallek there? >> yes, he was. it was just after the gulf spill, in the gulf of mexico, which made me realize what a cool customer he was. this catastrophic thing had just happened in the gulf. douglas brinkley was there and he personally witnessed a lot of the ecological damage. obama was completely unmoved. he took it as a procedural issue, something that could be solved by discussion, pro ess, and meetings.
8:09 pm
it was an issue. a political phenomenon. it was not an environmental catastrophe. he was very, very cool. >> in one of your essays in the book that i mentioned, you write, "barack obama" -- this is april 2009 -- >> have you changed your mind at all since? it was five years ago. >> oh, absolutely not. i love to hear him think allowed. -- aloud. the clarity of the sequences and the thought. do i think he's in love with the sound of his own voice. he expresses himself so well that he indulges himself rhetorically.
8:10 pm
>> what are some of the other -- differences in the way he was and when president reagan was around? what was the difference in the way people treated them? >> people tals -- always tend obsequious in the prevens the president. there is a lot of laughter that's not really laughter. the strange smile that spreads over the faces of people. it's half joy and half fear. and the president loves to talk, so we all sat there and listened and listened and listened. the difference between him and reagan was with reagan he was much more aloof than obama was. obama is such an intelligent person that he focused directly upon you although he's not particularly interested in you. he does focus and he does listen. reagan you could die in front of him and he wouldn't have
8:11 pm
noticed. he would continue with his stories. reagan was always living somewhere slight lay part from the room he was in. >> how many different occasions were you in the room with reagan? >> oh, countless times, in the sense that i was a fixture at the white house during his second term. i could come and go as often as i liked. i interviewed him every month. i spent a lot of time with him after the presidency. and i was table to go to meetings and go on trips with him so i had plenty of time to observe him. that's when i noticed following in his wake the strange universal expression that crowds have as the president approaches and walks through them. the strange smile an -- on every face. >> you tell this story, and you tell it in this book but i don't remember whether i have heard you tell this. we're going to run the video first of his farewell address. you were in the room, if i remember correctly, when he
8:12 pm
gave his farewell address. let's run a little bit of this and get you to tell the story. >> my fellow americans, this is the 34th time i'll speak to you from the oval office and the last. we've been together eight years now and soon it will be time for me to go. but before i do, i wanted to share some thoughts, some of which i've been saving for a long time. it's been the honor of my life to be your president. so many of you have written the past few queeks -- weeks to say thanks, but i could say as much to you. nancy and i are grateful for the opportunity you gave us to serve. one of the things with the presidency is that you are always somewhat apart. you spend a lot of time going by too fast in a car someone else is driving and seeing the people through tinted glass, parents holding up a child and of wave you saw too late and couldn't return, and so many times i wanted to stop and reach out from behind the glass and connect. >> do you believe that, that he
8:13 pm
wanted to reach out behind the glass and connect? or is that words from somebody else? >> no, i don't believe it. he was always happy behind the screen of glass. even when he ways young actor writing about his emotions when he stepped on the set, the stage set, in hollywood in 1937, he said, "i felt myself stepping behind a wall of light." reagan loved to feel -- and he said the wall of lighten shrouded me and i began to act. reagan loved that feeling that he was screened off from the rest of humanity by that wall of light, which was transparent and through which he was being watched. but he never wanted to step out of it. when he did step out of it, for example, after the remember convention -- republican convention of 1976 when ronald reagan very nearly unseated president gerald ford for the nomination, it was spectacular
8:14 pm
television. ford made the mistake in his acceptance speech of saying, "ronnie, would you like to come down and say a few words to the convention delegates?" if you ever get a clip of this, brian, you should sthow because it's political theater at its best. down from this high room, taking his time, comes ronald reagan. on stage comes this magnificent person ambling along, looking like a million bucks and proceeds to say a few words, which as you heard them you realized this is the acceptance speech he would have delivered if he had been nominated. meanwhile, behind him gerald ford is standing with the blood draining from his face, and the delegates all -- out there are all thinking, "god, we nominated the wrong guy. " he gives a spectacular peech.
8:15 pm
but he then had to step offstage, get in the helicopter and fly back to los angeles to private life. a few days later, a neighbor in pacific palisades saw ronnie reagan coming down the driveway to put out the trash and he said he looked terrible. he was stooped, he was lined, pale-faced, all his charisma evaporated. he had stepped outside at that wall of light. he was back in the real world and he didn't feel comfortable. >> you were in that room for that farewell address. where were you sit something >> i was sitting just a few yards away to his right with peggy noonan and a few other white house aides and that same transformation i'm talking about took place in that room. a reeved about 10 minutes before 9:00 and found the oval office looking strangely denuded with these cables
8:16 pm
across the floor and the ornaments off the desk, which is how it's always done when the president makes a speech. it just looks better that way on television, but in. -- in situ it blooks -- looks bleek -- bleak p. in steps the president looking strangely subdued. i couldn't figure out why he was sub dufmentde he was holding a glass of hot water wrapped in a white towel. he went, sat down at the desk. drank the hot water, which is what he always did before a speech to soothe his vocal cords and make his voice huskey. again he stim -- still seemed ill at ease. then i noticed his eyes kept flickering toward a dead monitor to the left of his desk, the monitor on which his image was about to appear
8:17 pm
before the televising began. when the nidge -- image popped up on the screen of himself, he said, "ah, there he is," and instantly he became happy. he had seen himself on the screen and knew he was about to perform. the transformation occurred and they counted down, five, four, three, two, and he became ronald reagan looking like a million balks -- bucks and doing what he did best. >> did he know you were in the room? >> i suppose he did. reagan was not particularly interested who was in a room as long as there were people in the room. >> and over the times that you met with him, did he know every time when you met with him who you were? >> yeah. yes. i used to think sometimes that he was out to lunch, but you know, one very telling incident. not -- long after he left the white house he came back in the last month of george h.w. bush's presidency to receive
8:18 pm
the medal of honor, and he was significantly older then. this would have been january of 1994. so i was there with a bunch of the old reagan white house people, and we filed by. 500 of us shaking hands with the old guy. and when i finally shook hands with him, he seemed very distant. his eyes were opaque. i thought, well, he's losing it . but then i heard from fred ryan, his chief of staff, that on the plane back to california reagan said to fred, "you know, i saw edmund in the line today and you know, i think he's waiting for me to die before he writes his book." in other words, this spaced-out former executive had noticed me, seen something in my face that i hardly wanted to acknowledge myself. so that was the mystery of reagan. you never quite knew juste --
8:19 pm
just how acute he was. he seemed to be play-acting, not particularly curious but, but he registered. >> are there moments that you've never written about, having been around him over the years, that you have just not the occasion to talk about? >> sure. but i didn't -- any biographer has to select his material. >> can you give deficiency us an scompfble something you've never used? >> i haven't thought about it or long. i just had these images that stay in my head. one night before he made an appearance in the presidential library, long after the president, when he was againing to be strange. the dementia was beginning to be noticeable. he was standing with his back to the sunset, the pacific behind him through the windows in a silhouette and that pomp of his poomp dour head
8:20 pm
was sticking up and he looked s though he was on fire. i wish i could put that image in words but you can't. it haunts me. >> have you spent time around other presidents? >> yes, jimmy carter, gerald ford, obama, both bushes. >> any of those people you mentioned that comes to moined when you talk about observing omething we don't normally see ? >> they all like to talk. undivide attention. that goes with the territory. in carter's case, but they're all human beings and psychologically different in fundamental matters.
8:21 pm
for example, carter. i met him twice after the presidency. once was when he wanted some advice from presidential storians on how to write his his "me-mores, as he pronounced it. he when my turn came, i said, well, mr. president, when you begin your book, and beginnings are always crucially important, i would suggest that you begin with that miraculous moment just after you were inaugurated. when you decided to get out of the presidential limo coming down constitution avenue and walked, hand in hand, with your wife in the sunshine. and i said after all the claustrophobia and ar a -- par annoyav the nixon and ford years, here was a president of
8:22 pm
the united states, walking in the sunshine with his wife, hand in hand. i said that would be a great moment for you to describe and then perhaps from that flashback to the beginnings of your career and tell your story of how you came to that moment. so he said no, i'm going to the with when i p triumph -- triumphed over scoop jackson in the florida primary. his eyes flashed blue fire and i realized that was the most important moment of his life, when he won that primary and i sensed this immense aggression. carter ways killer campaigner and that triumph was the most important thing that ever happened to him. >> here's george will recently on this program talking about his relationship with george w. bush. how'd that work? did you pick up the phone and say, "mr. president, come to my house?" >> well, i got to know ron
8:23 pm
ealed reagan before he was president and he liked to get out and have a -- out of the bufble the white house. george w. bush i knew was interested in this and i suggested it. barack obama i think hadn't even been nominated yes i called someone on his staff and it would be sort of nice are to have a dinner if we win. of conservative coum initiatives to try and rekindle something that was character tic -- characteristic of and -- an older washington you and i can remember, back in the 1970's. a more amicable one. >> actually in addition to that he talked bb having a dinner every year at the white house
8:24 pm
for baseball players. again, going back to your experience, when somebody calls up and says the president wants to visit with you and there are 10 or 1 people signature around, what's your real doctor real attitude about that. do you say this is exciting, i have to go there? or i have to go, my president's called. >> well, i think it's your duty when the president wants you to show up and one exults in the most powerful man in the world, feeling you're an epicenter apart. there is something egg like about the oval office. it's an egg-shaped room and you feel the whole world swirls around this we go, and here is this golden egg like shape and in the middle tv is the most powerful man in the world.
8:25 pm
is it p ng >> you did the book on beethoven the what do you run into with academics and the world of history or yanss that say you're not a historian the >> oh, i repeat it myself. i'm not a historian. >> why not? >> i'm a different species of cat. historians deal with more than the individual. a biographer deals with the individual. a biography is the story of writing of life, biography. i'm interested in character, the narrative of character. the strangeness of events. the strangeness of reality. i'm interested in literary matters. history or yaps have to concern themselves with the abstracts -- economics, great social
8:26 pm
movements, consensus, ideology. these things don't particularly interest me. i like to write about living human beings who live in extraordinary times and whose characters are extraordinary. the factd that i've written about two presidents is not through any particular interest in politics or governmenting, it's fascination with the personalities of these men and the really unique lives they led. >> why a biography on beethoven. >> i've always loved music very much, and to speak in literary terms the challenge of quig will music is extreme. 's trying to use language to express the inexpressibleness of music. not really possible since music is the superior language of -- to that of writing but to we who love music so much to be -- to have the challenge of being able to communicate or try to
8:27 pm
communicate the essence of beethoven's music was something i rose to. quite apart from that, beethoven himself was a rich and complex, craggy character of the sort that any biographer would love to write. i couldn't writing about that about bruckner, for example, because his character was simplistic compared to beethoven. >> could you have been a concert pianist? >> no. i had the point that i might one day. when i was young. when i married my wife or at least started taking her out as a young man in london. she said enough about this concert pianist stuff already. if you really are serious about going to the royal college of music, why don't you go, sign up, study and i'll support you? she had a teacher's salary.
8:28 pm
i was in my early 20's, which was already ridiculously late but i said i will, i'll do that. so i went to the royal college of music and to sign up and found i could not walk you up the steps. something told me that was not my scene. so i went back maholm -- home and told her i can't do it. she said, i knew you'd come back. how? i notice that whenever you play the piano and people criticize your playing it does -- doesn't seem to bother you but whenever people criticize your writing, you it go crazy. you're a writer, not a musician. so the problem was fixed in that moment. >> you write about other composers, haydn and others. did those people in the 1700's, 1800's, play a role in politics in your opinion? >> they had to be politicians in the sense they had to play
8:29 pm
the politics of the court. haydn and mozart were treated as servants, were servants in fact, who had to learn how to deport themselves in court. beethoven was a court of the elector of cologne but he was the first composer in history to emansipate himself when he settled in vienna and to such an stept that the princes and dukes and earls sued him to come to their palaces and perform for them. but throughout his career even when he became the most famous composer in the world and he was sensationally be successful all throughout his career he always had to consider the vanity of the princes and learn how to play the vanities of one otch the other. >> so how much of the piano do you play today? >> i play every day, an hour or
8:30 pm
two, sometimes three hours a day. >> who is the composer you are most like throy play? >> it goes through phases. i'm on you abralms kick at the moment. quite coincidentally, i don't now if you are aware of alen rustwich, the editor of the "guardian" number in brit -- britain. the guy who leaked the whole snowden story. he is a middle aged pianist and he wrote a book recently called "play it again, sam," the story of hibbling -- him very difficult piece of music. he just wanted to see if he could physically and mentally do it. could memorize it and perform this extremely difficult of music and coincidentally that year of with the whole edward snowden wikileaks story.
8:31 pm
so this book is a quite fascinating parallel story of an major newspaper breaking one of the greater scoops in history and trying to master chopin's g minor. i myself without knowing this try and year ago to master brahms piece which is a difficult piece and goes on for about 25 minutes in my late middle age i could master it physically. i found that as the brain ages its capable of improving ability to memorize. i r the year i managed -- found memorizing easier and asier and the body can be trained. at the moment i happen to be in phase.
8:32 pm
>> is it gaining or lose something it's, outube has been an extraordinary resource f. anything on youtube. joseph hoffman playing the piano? in. it there is a market we're probably people youf and many iscover the complexities and beauties through the internet. ut concert halls full of graying audiences now and go to and everybody in the audience is in their sixties wrarather es and depressing. >> we talked about your writing habits there was a time when
8:33 pm writing long are you still? > not as much as when i was younger. iographical writing the computer is ideal. name checking you find you spelled a name wrong you can throughit instantly all a manuscript. technologically the computer is the writing of non fiction but i like to compose initially long hand. video some years go where it shows you in your home and the card system that you use. >> oh, yes. study. my have a disk which was built for me because i always worked with cards and i don't know if
8:34 pm
it comes over clearly but i have two projecting drawers and each of which carry as yard of cards. there are four of these drawers. i've got four yards of cards on me which can i reconstruct what day by day.ghting i write by hand and do use a computer later on but i like to coming out of the pen and i believe that a writer a physical relationship with these manuscript in the sense that a product of his hands as well as his heart and his head one of the reasons i think the craft of writing is deteriorating is there's a between the hand and the page. now u hear all the time that young people don't even use cursive at all. computerized. what are we losing?
8:35 pm
direct we're losing is contact between the creator and the created thing. of a ample, framing sentence, these days it it goes out the n and comes other end. ut there is always this screen interposing not only between those who compose words or music those architects now design buildings through the computer. don't draw anymore. and architect friend of mine in new york tells me it's very hard to hire young architects to work in his firm who can even draw. consequently there's been a decline in special skills in americans. it's been measured and quite catastrophic. young americans don't understand and the ttic things lexibility of an aircraft don't think three
8:36 pm
dimensionally. beginning to freak me out. probably because i just can't adjust to this new type of i feel we are deprived. seminal moment for me a number of years back i went graduate high chool students to alcatraz national park bay of san francisco for a dinner in the prison and all these bright people after the dinner came out from the prison through of the national park, center.uction over the ohight and counter was this image of the san francisco with the city glittering and this great
8:37 pm
mage and the kids were photographing it on their cameras. they then stepped out into the fresh cold night air and there across the bay water is over the san francisco. twinkling and trembling. they didn't even look at it. just went down to the ferry. in other words they were -- they could only relate to an image that was synthetic and was framed. saw all the real thing they didn't even see the real thing. this inability to comprehend anything that's not inside a frame behind a screen is worry me a lot. a semester at lf the university of chicago teaching narrative non fiction of very bright students. inactivity and inpassivity while i was talking to freak me out. began to realize they weren't
8:38 pm
listening to me so much watching me. watching.up heads talking on screens and i was just another talking head. really eerie experience. when i mentioned this to lance probably know, he the same exactly impression, he's being watched. >> what do you think the impact be? becoming reality is reality. what is behind a screen is real nd what's not behind a screen is not real. >> doesn't that go back to what you said to ronald reagan. why he was so much a precursor of the modern sensibility. reagan only existed as an no, no, that's not fair. was a real person but he projected himself in terms of
8:39 pm
images. four you this before and years ago have you still not talked to nancy reagan. no, not since i published. i didn't expect to. >> anything new on dutch in your own feelings about the way you fictional character? >> oh, yes if i did that book it the same do way. oddly enough, it may surprise people on the occasions when i do meet people in the street or they come up on my book fest, that's the book they talk about the most. have gone by, i've exalted in that what i did in dutch was honest and something advance in by photograph cal technique. >> the book i have in my hand, living hand, was done in 2012. was it originally a hard back? it was. >> what's in here? essays i have
8:40 pm
written over the course of 40 years, some on music and some on biographies and subjects; travel, humor. >> how does it work? do you call them or do they call we want an essay on something? > well, one is young and struggling to pay the rent, one hustles for whatever assignments can get. used to hustle for wine articles and travel articles and newspaper pieces. but as time goes by and you publish books and become better known, the commissions come spontaneously. would say that at least half of those essays were to issioned and thes i had hustle. >> there was an essay about your wife. friend who t to worked at reader's digest produce $0.17 a
8:41 pm
word. changed our world. when were you the closest to not it g able to make financially in this writing world? >> in the beginning. very, very poor. it was.nties we were pretty desperate. no desperate that we took any kind of work we could take. of the things about living in new york city is that great of e.b., nobody should come preparedrk unless he's to become lucky. i found whenever we were truly desperate the phone rang. i didn't have en enough money to pay the rent for next month, the phone rang and says, would you and your wife like to go across the france, on the s.s. this great luxury liner and rite a brochure about first class life from the s.s. france
8:42 pm
across l fly you back the atlantic. i'm saying, we'll do it for nothing. it, so y paid us for suddenly, we had money flooding in. that's the life of a free-lancer. one hopes to be lucky and one is. ly >> go back to the teaching at the university of chicago teaching writing. uh-huh. >> what would you tell a class if they said i want to be morris. edmund life.t to live that in looking at the way the world is changing and communications you think the future next 40 will be able to do the same thing you and silvia last 40 years?e you are by nature a writer there's nothing that can stop doing it. i never tried to encourage young people to write. to dissuede them. all i would say to them is it's
8:43 pm
likely y difficult and to be more and more so unless ou adapt to the new technologies. those who think that they can earn a living writing print in are going to be more and more dissolutioned. t's always been difficult but becoming impossible. young people now should adapt to screen to audio and to these ew techniques, to computersation and network and tart writing in terms of that technology and incorporate more effects.nd sound i tried to do it myself when i did the audio of dutch, for years , and this is ten ago. many of to incorporate i so i used technologies like for example when i described his speech in may of 1985, the
8:44 pm
crisis point of his presidency. story how that speech came to be written by his speech writer and how he came to on that climatic day. i had the sound recording and then i segwayed reagan's voice on the real day in the audio book. use effects oks like that they can be i think all young people should techniques.these private.s obviously f all the things you've done which is the most immune ra active? >> in terms of money? yes. >> reagan. hen you look at your -- i got
8:45 pm
on amazon and found out that most reviewed book of all your reviews by the way which is a lot is the rise of 1979.our first book in the least reviewed is the one i living hand nds, and other essays. second at reagan was 331 reviews. amazon bookstores and the life of somebody who writes today, books being sold? where are your books being sold? or in the amazon book stores and what is your that? of the future of >> electronic books is the way the world will go. in barnes & noble they had feel about them. i think amazon does 30% of the book business in the not a lot more. and i'm actually all for it
8:46 pm
buy so quickly and spontaneously if one reads that one is ct interested in one can instantly the following day. >> do you tweet? do you have a facebook account? no. >> do you listen to podcasts? >> no. watch youtube? >> oh, yes. go on youtube a lot because, as i indicated, very fond of classical music and i found youtube is a paradise for performances. >> an essay in your book, the of mr. justin holmes, an old man ought to be sad. 1989? s that about in you can remember things like that? >> can i remember things like that? remember that an essay? >> oh, sure. >> what was it? essay?did i write the >> why is it? why did you do it? biography of justice
8:47 pm
holmes. do you was -- what remember about justice holmes >>? > i've always been interested in him. e was of course distinguished supreme court justice and one of the most famous we ever had but was a marvelous pro stylist. opinions and eat issents are american pros at its finist. . had the ability >> you have an essay in here on adams. and a review i guess the incation of henry adams back 1997. modern library edition. >> that was an introduction of a edition of the education of henry adams. >> why? what do you like about him? again, he was one of our reat letter writers and marvelous pros stylist and i got
8:48 pm
interested in him simply because writing about theodore roosevelt who was his adams is one of the sharpest and funniest the presidency. >> you write even his periods ual and social found his narcissim unpleasant he then you go on to quote, wanted power handed to him on a silver platter. >> yes. ell, he was the zion of presidents himself. lafayette lon on square to which every sunday for breakfast came all the best town, including presidents. they would cross the square to have breakfast. all.e knew them >> back in 2,000 you wrote the piece on the library of congress. what's your memory of the library of congress?
8:49 pm
when did you first go there? used to live there practically. two first t of my roosevelt biographies in the library of congress. i was always aware writing in that magnificent reading room that i was surrounded by the jefferson the original nucleus of the library. looking up always has the was working i bell jefferson's saeur hrupl. line in this piece hat says gorbachev remarked on reagan's balance to me after both men left office. is your take on mikael gorbachev. >> he's the single most met. ssive person i ever through 5, '86 and '87
8:50 pm
1990 he was overwhelmingly and his ic, forceful pwaoeupdibinding.l he under stood everything. the few words of the sentence he was already there. and the attractive chemistry between him and reagan was marvelous to watch. is slow and benign and gorbachev n than oddly enough. gorbachev had acute intelligence. the tragic figure i think did transform -- he accepted the essence of what was happening to the soviet union nd presided over it and despised the result. that's the fate of all figures.nal >> you said i have only two records of him becoming violent.y when a hollywood drunk made an
8:51 pm
etiquette remark to his face. things?e two >> in the first place, reagan genuinely fundamental tow tal tearism and the holocaust that effected him. picture irst motion unit in california, he had to rocess day after day after day all the raw color footage that was coming back from the opening camps. and these horrific images which 've seen myself -- i've seen the raw footage that reagan saw in 1945 and it made me sick for -- that affected him permanently. hen after the war he heard an anti-sepl met tick remark at the party he ended up slugging the
8:52 pm
guy. generally known that trauma emained so advertised by his apprehension of the haul kauft his son told me he and ron and patty, the three young children, 14 had to ey turned watch that same footage reagan sneaked out, they had to watch t puberty so the on set of adolescence to see what anti-semitism was. > what about the michael thing. > he madd made a sarcastic remark abouting a knew. mr.ed on any of coget t mental notions upset.
8:53 pm
>> they had been governors together? >> yeah, i guess they were in '70s. >> here's clip of you giving a speech talking about the impact pulitzer. the how many times have you won it? >> only once. >> what year? been 1980 ld have after my first book. >> let's watch. kind of you to applaud the fact that i won the prize but in new york city it's difficult to walk without e corner bumping into another pulitzer prize winner. it, back in 1980, amazed at how perfunctory the award was. certificate that came and a check for a thousand bucks, that's it. doorman of our building in new york city who me with s treated
8:54 pm
extreme contempt -- [laughter] -- which is what writers have to, suddenly became withordinarily object seek us. i thought if only for this it's the pulitzer prize. do you think of prizes, the idea? >> they're a crap shoot. it's always a timing. ion of luck and >> in this book of essays, the first three i believe were never published. >> uh-huh. about?t were they >> oh, uhm -- stitch?'s the bum >> lat the bum stitch was -- ju about the first piece of material writing.
8:55 pm
wrote an essay called the bum 1972. in it was a fruit that a school me nd of mine shared with when i was about ten years old. story want to go to the too long because it's rather in lex but i see it retrospect of fruit of the tree n the knowledge of good and evil and forms a symbolic image past. however, after the book was published my young nephew in decided to research it to see if i was just imaging and he found out he botanical name and it does still grow in kenya and end me the botanical description of it. >> when you look back at your appearances and look back at the whole experience with the who do you remember
8:56 pm
being the maddest at you back controversial?y hard to choose because i managed to infuriate a number of people. in member a friend of mine new york saying congratulations, you've managed to offend all the conservatives, all the political journalists and even offended because you presented ronald reagan as a person indeed. remembered i generated as much praise. that most reviews writers would die to get. so i look back on the whole episode with great happiness. it.ved >> you think about what made people mad. can at the best thing you mad enough to le react? did they buy the book? mad before they
8:57 pm
book or after? >> what a non fiction writer has to do is tell the truth as to what is non fictional. truth about ll the any beloved person, any great complex person you'll have to tell the sides of his character that they want to know about. so i offended a lot of the swingers who still some p reagan's memory as sort of divine to prove to show flesh.he man was i thought he was hugely and ssive president tphraudz human beings but we all are and they do not like to be told that. > do you miss theodore roosevelt? >> no. no. as soon as i think have written somebody having
8:58 pm
studied them with extreme absorption they evaporate from my head almost immediately. curiosity about them anymore. i don't think about them. 'm now completely absorbed in thomas edison. >> you want to predict the year written? will be >> no, i don't. >> i tried earlier. talking we've been about is this living hand and ther essays available on paeufper back. we thank you very much. >> thank you. for free transcripts or give us your comments about this at aq& us available on c-span podcasts. push


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on