tv QA Craig Fehrman Author in Chief CSPAN February 17, 2020 5:59am-7:00am EST
♪ >> craig fehrman, the author of the new book "author in chief." who was oran follett? why did he make the claim that he made abraham lincoln president? >> he was a publisher in ohio. he had is no printing firm in ohio. they published lots of different local books. he had the distinct privilege to publish abraham lincoln's best-selling book. we should probably back up,
because a lot of people do not know that he wrote one. when lincoln ran for the senate and lost to stephen douglas, they had their famous debate. during the debates there were a , couple of people from newspapers transcribing the debates, writing down shorthand and then a couple of days later, they would print it in papers so people who didn't attend could read it in the newspapers. lost theafter he --ate race, for most people, the story stopped there. this is breaking news. let's move on. lincoln, after he lost the senate race, he worked hard to gather those newspaper transcript. he worked hard. there are at least nine surviving letters of him gathering these newspaper transcripts. he cut them out and pasted them in a scrapbook. you can still see it today at the library of congress. it is an amazing document. he is making these tiny little edits in pencil. if one paragraph is not accurate, he is cutting it out and putting a different paragraph in its place.
this book contained almost 100,000 of lincoln's words. almost as many as stephen douglas. lincoln went to try to find a printer. this was not easy because lincoln was not a prominent figure, he was just someone who lost the race for senate. with the help of ohio republicans, they brought the book out in 1860. it was an enormous bestseller. it sold 50,000 copies. it is a big number any time, especially in 1860, it is a huge number. if you adjusted by population, it is the equivalent of a bookselling .5 million copies today. this book came out in time for lincoln to be helped to become the nominee of president. voters would write lincoln letters about this. when people would ask lincoln, what do you think about this issue? he would say, just look at my book. this book was essential to circulating his ideas and legitimizing him as candidate.
when the first reviews came out, they would say here is the book from stephen douglas and abram lincoln. they could not even get his name right. people started to learn his name correctly and his ideas and it played a huge, overlooked role in lifting him to the white house. that is what led to follett's quip. he visited lincoln after the presidency. lincoln said it was good to see you. he said it should be, after all, i am the one that helped you become president. i think lincoln appreciated it. all he could do was smile. one of my favorite lincoln letters was after he heard that the book would be published. he said this was the greatest complement i ever received, that somebody wants to publish my book. that is because lincoln is a book lover. one concept. tell me about the concept for the book. craig: is the untold story of presidents and their books.
one thing that is really fun and surprising is that this is a history that as long as american history itself. i talk about two different types of books, campaign books like lincoln's and they use a book to help them run. then legacy books, what did i do in the white house, what did my enemies say and what do i say? just as an example of how old this history is the first , campaign book, that comes from thomas jefferson. the first legacy book comes from john adams. this is a really deep history. it is a brand-new angle on the presidency. when i started working on this book 10 years ago, i had to make a list because no one had written about this for. how many books there are even out there that fit into this rubric? it really there were a lot of made a difference. there were a lot of them. >> what in your mind is the value of judging a president or presidency by his writing? craig: it reminds me of what history felt like not just to presidents but regular people. sometimes we forget about this
, because we live in an age where there are a lot of different media, including television shows like the ones we are on. when lincoln is running for president, books and newspapers were the mass media. when you think about a book, helping somebody run for the white house, it also tells you something about what it was like to be alive as a presidential candidate or voter. it was a distinctly human angle on these issues. it shows a humans side of the president. it applies to writing. there is something about writing that if you try to put your thoughts or feelings into words, you have to slow down, think " what am i afraid of? what am i scared of? what do i want?" that is true of presidents just like it is true for the rest of us. time and time again, i would look at presidents taking their time i tried to go behind the . scenes and really find the details. i felt like i was finding even our most well-known presidents at their most human. >> before we dig into the research of your book.
there is a craig fruman story that is interesting. how did this all gets started for you? craig: it was back in 2008. i was in graduate school at the time. >> where was that? i was in graduate school at yale. i was spending a lot of time going to politico's website and clicking election year. it was an exciting election. what i noticed was -- books were making a big difference. barack obama's books were everywhere. john mccain's books were everywhere. these books were really making an impact. thought, did and i this happen before? this felt special and new but is it? i started digging in and what i found is that history is so much deeper than i expected. as i mentioned it goes way back. , there are so many books that had a huge impact that lifted people to the white house. it gave them a chance to make a memorable case with their legacy. it took me 10 years because , there was a lot of groundwork to lay to even be able to write
a book like this because there were not precedents. if you like reading history books, this will tell you the history about yourself. there is material about what was , calvin coolidge's favorite bookstore? how did the printing press work when abraham lincoln was president? i think those kinds of quick little stories remind us about how american culture works and how important books have been to our country. >> what happened to the phd? craig: my mom would like me to say that it is still in progress. i will defer to her -- it is still in progress. >> when did you say that there was a book here? craig: it happened pretty quickly. after the 2008 election, i was curious and then i started looking into it in 2009. i would go to really good research libraries and get in those card catalogs and look up john quincy adams by his last name. how many books are thereby john quincy adams? making that list, it was astonishing how many were by
them. herbert hoover wrote a mining textbook. who knew? also there were these really , intimate and important books. i started to realize that abraham lincoln, calvin coolidge, ulysses s. grant, jefferson, adams, there were so many examples of these books really mattering. that is when i started to realize that there was a story to tell here. >> you alluded to the history of nonfiction book publishing in america. why do you tell that part of the story? craig: that is what helps us realize how important these books have been. even if you read a good biography about a lot of the presidents i talk about their , books don't come up. there books are not central. biographers and historians have a lot of work to do. they are worried about the policy. my books are about the human side and the publishing side and running for office. without that context, you can't realize how important these books are. i will give you an example from lincoln. when lincoln's book came out, it
was a best seller. slavery was a huge issue, everybody wanted to know where the candidates stood. it was a bestseller because of steam powered engines. trains were finally widely available. it was much easier to move a book from one city to another by train. before there were trains, you had to move them by horseback or horse carriage, and books are heavy. if you want somebody to deliver a book by mail, they are not going to do it because there is only so much room in the saddlebag. then steam powered engines helped because of printing presses. printing presses had been similar to what gutenberg had done. one person takes the arm and pulls. in this period, printing presses started to get powered by steam engines. that made it faster to make books and cheaper. that made it easier for people to buy books. those kinds of changes, first of all, they are fun. books and you want to know about the history of bookstores and books, i have a lot of material about that.
i like books. i think it helps us appreciate how these books mattered in their own times. >> when did readily available reading glasses become a factor? craig: the 19th century as well. i like those small details because you don't think of them , as a technology but oil lamps, reading glasses, does really -- those really matter because it is hard to huddle up next to a fireplace and read a book. the more light you have to read by, the more you can read and the better reader you can be. i have one footnote that make me laugh. there is a passage from one a reader who lived in new york city he is such a fun character. . i am only going to read biographies for the next year. i love nonfiction. he goes to the church and there is an oil lamp there. the pastor knocks over the lamp and there is a fire. there was a lot of chaos. a lot of disaster in the pastor is freaking out. he said why didn't we just stick with candles?
candles, oil lamps, those are technologies just like smartphones or anything else today. >> everyone has the darn internet, is identifying with the candle in the oil lamp. you mentioned footnotes. your book has about 60 pages of notes filled with stories like this. how did you do all of this research? craig: slowly. it took 10 years of work. a lot of the work was looking at the history of nonfiction publishing and figuring out how presidential campaigns work , because there were really important shifts in how you can run for president. >> how did you support yourself? >> i lived in the midwest. that helps because the costs were low. my wife works. she is a very patient woman. she is actually a book editor. she is a wonderful editor as well. i was fortunate to get a generous book deal, that helped. we made it work. there were not a lot of travels or fancy splurges.
it was my first book and i wanted it to be as good as i could possibly make it. >> what was the biggest "aha moment?" your biggest discovery? craig: sure, because i am from the midwest, my bias wants to say lincoln. another came from kennedy. the fact that people have this vague sense that john f. kennedy's book was written by someone else. i looked at thousands of pages of documents and i try to summarize that and show just how little work kennedy did. then i found this humans side of how much kennedy cared about the book. he is a senator, he is a celebrity. being an author, it did not seem to be on the front of his mind but he would write his editor letters and say i was at the airport and i did not see any copies of my book there, can we fix that?
why would a senator noticed -- notice something like that? i think kennedy cared about being an author and seeing that surprise was surprising to me. >> as a first-time author, what was it like picking up the wall street journal and seeing a full-page positive review of your book? it ends up being one of the best books on the presidency that has appeared in years. craig: i cried. i'll be honest with you. to work on something for 10 years and then have it described in those terms and have the reviewer do a great job summarizing what is in the book, he loved the publishing side, the presidential side. it meant the world to me. it meant a lot that i started my book tour and talked to regular readers to have them tell me about presidents and their books. it has been a wonderful experience. the fact that it took 10 years to get there makes it all the sweeter.
>> how many cities will you visit. cred: 13. there could be more down the road. >> before we dig into individual stories, i wanted to run through a couple of quick facts. which president wrote the most books? craig: teddy roosevelt. i don't know that i ever crunched the numbers specifically, but it can't imagine anybody other than teddy roosevelt did it. it was well over 30. you have to define whether a pamphlet is a book or a collection of speeches. i feel confident it was teddy roosevelt. if he were here, he would be announcing that fact. >> who was the most gifted presidential writer? craig: it was probably lincoln. just in his style of his speeches and books. there are also some surprising presidents. calvin coolidge, maybe even history fans don't have his presidency at the front of their mind. he was such a talented writer. i found a new york times article where they said that calvin
coolidge, and his presidency, is -- in his presidency, is the best literary president since lincoln. he wrote a thank you letter to that author because it mattered to him. >> you talk about presidential reading as well. who were the most voracious readers? craig: for a lot of them, books helped make them presidents today. somebody like ronald reagan or harry truman, it was their local libraries that gave them that boost. their families were working class so they couldn't go out and acquire a lot of books but they had their libraries. that is where they started getting ideas and thinking about history. harry truman was the biggest lover of history. ulysses s. grant was one of the biggest fiction lovers. he read so many novels. he got demerits as a cadet at west point for spending too much time in the library. all that fiction reading helped make his presidential memoir a stunning book. >> on the converse side
president trump often says that , he does not have time to read many books. what other presidents were not readers? craig: lyndon johnson was not much of a reader. his wife would joke that he had not read a book since he was in college in texas. i am sure that is not true but i don't think reading a book is the most important thing you can do as president. it is understandable that they are busy and they have a lot going on. but i value books and reading books on the way to the white house or taking some time to read can be a useful way to step back from all the excitement and news happening around them. johnson and trump are two good examples. >> you mentioned a legacy books and campaign books as the two types. james buchanan wrote a legacy book. how did that help him? craig: it did not help him. nothing was going to help him. president.rrible
people in the north and south realized it. i think that is why he wrote the book. he said history is not going to look kindly on me or the civil war. he decided that he wanted to write a book. he tried to recruit some friends and say i have all of my letters and papers, why don't you come write this book defending me? he did not get any takers so he said i have to do this myself. it is not a book that is very rewarding to read today. it is a book written in the third person. writing an autobiography like running for president has changed a lot over the course of american history. i am sure we can talk about some of the reasons for that. because buchanan did not want to appear too arrogant, he wrote in the third person. james buchanan is writing mr. buchanan did this and that. it grabs long chunks of documents from those papers. there will be a little bit of writing and then a long document. even if he was the best writer in the world, i am not sure it could have saved him.
"the new york times" ran a review after the book came out that said buchanan did not wait for his enemies to write a book, he wrote a book himself and everything you need to attack him is right there in the book. buchanan eventually told his friends to stop sending him reviews. >> we are going to listen to a few clips. the first one is a contemporary president, bill clinton, talked about the importance of writing an autobiography or memoir. let's look. [video clip] mr. clinton i concluded from : doing this book is that everyone who is fortunate enough to live to be 50 should sit down at some point and write the story of his or her life even if it is just for yourself, your children, your families. it is important what you remember, how you remember, what you forget. it is important to come to terms with the life that you lived and think about how you wish to spend whatever years are
remaining. everybody talks about how terrible book writing is. i enjoyed it. and i have written every word of this book. >> he is arguing that everyone should do it. when we think about presidents, what does the whole genre of presidential memoirs do to that history of that presidency? where does it fit in how scholars judge? craig: have to take it in two parts. when presidents write about their childhoods, those passages are the only place that scholars can get that information. in harry truman's memoirs, there is a wonderful story about his favorite high school history teacher. you will find that in every truman biography and that comes right from truman himself. the books are very valuable for those early formative years. they become less valuable by the time they get to the time of real political power. that is when the presidents tell their own version and use a
little spin. that is when scholars have to sift and evaluate what the president said versus what actually happened. but i think there is value in seeing how somebody spins. if you see how they view themselves, you can try to understand what they were trying to accomplish at times. in my own book, that is when i tried to take readers behind the scenes. i can give you a good example from president clinton's book. it is a very pro-clinton book. i don't know how we could expect it to be otherwise. instead of running through all of the points he made in my life, i tell the stories of how they were working on book. he did write the book himself, he was late on the book. he is right. he was late on the book. he was a procrastinator. they got this book with millions of dollars writing on it. bill clinton's editor came to his house and slept on his couch to make sure that he made the deadline. i think those stories can be as important as the book itself. >> he makes the points that he
wrote the book himself. when did ghostwriters become part of the picture? how should we understand the president's personality if someone else is writing his words? craig: it is a really good and important questioned. there are a lot of president that didn't need ghostwriters. roosevelt, wilson, lots of presidents did the work themselves. i would push back against the idea that a ghostwritten book is automatically inauthentic or automatically a poor book. i just don't think that is true. if we want to talk about the history of ghost writing in america, we have to start with george washington's farewell address. it is really foundational texts for our nation today. when it came to the time of the writing, washington got help. it was james madison and alexander hamilton who helped put his ideas into words. they were washington's ideas. they landed with such impact because they had washington's name attached.
washington was very involved in the process. he said this is the style i want to be. i want to review the draft and i might make some changes. it is washington's speech. he still got help writing it. i don't know is this book ghostwritten or not, i go is this a good book or not? with the farewell address, that is an example of good ghost writing how the process can help. theet's spend more time on jfk story. i have another clip from 1957. cbs, mike wallace was talking to drew pearson. let's watch. [video clip] >> you wrote that kennedy's father, joseph kennedy is spending a fortune on a publicity machine to make jack's name well-known. no candidate in history has had so much money spent on a public relations advanced build up. >> jack kennedy is a fine young
fellow, a personal follow but he , is not as good as that public relations campaign makes him out to be. he is the only man in history who won a nobel peace prize on a -- a pulitzer prize on a book that was ghostwritten for him. >> pretty tough stuff there. this is 1957, before he sought the white house, but aspirational. were people debating this concept at the time after he won the pulitzer prize? craig: the pulitzer prize was the turning point. that is important to understand in the history of the book and in terms of understanding kennedy's psychology. the book comes out in 1956. over the course of that year, it is a hit. it is everything you could want a book to be. it is on the "nerve times" bestseller list for weeks and weeks. times" bestseller list for weeks and weeks. it elevates kennedy from being a senator from new england to being a national figure. in 1956, kennedy very nearly gets the vice presidential
nomination. that is a big surprise. kennedy had a meeting with harry truman. he was an ex-president but he was in the party infrastructure. kenny and truman meet at truman's hotel suite. when kennedy comes out, they ask him what they talked about and he says my book. that shows you that harry truman is a good reader but also shows you how important it was in 1956. if the story stops there, i think it is a happy story. yes kennedy had the book written , by someone else and we can talk about the details behind that. but good ghostwriting and bad ghostwriting. this is an is example of good ghost writing and bad ghost writing. this is an example of good ghost writing. when i was working at the kennedy presidential library, i found documents that showed for the first time that jack kennedy was involved in securing that pulitzer prize. the story has often been, and you sought in that quote that kennedy's father was the one pulling the strings, but that is not true.
jack kennedy wanted that pulitzer prize. there were many times that he brought that up. he told another historian, i would rather win a pulitzer prize then be president. he had a strong desire for literary fame even though he did not want to do literary work, he got himself the prize. in new york city, in washington d.c., people had been gossiping "did kennedy write that book?" i wonder how much money they are getting out with those royalty checks. the pulitzer made it a moral and ethical question. readers realize this. when i was at the kennedy presidential library, i looked at the letters kennedy was and librarians57 into school teachers were sending him letters and asking him if he really wrote this book. you would not have accepted that prize if you did not write it, that is not the right thing to do. it was a moral question. kennedy and his family had an answer that was different than what the readers thought. >> in the long arc of history, does it matter? the book was being referenced during the recent impeachment
debate. there is an award given out by the kennedy family foundation on an annual basis. does it matter? craig: i think it matters in a very human and personal sense. does it matter as much as what kennedy did as president? probably not. but if you want to know something about kennedy, human being, this is a chance to see what his values were what he was willing to do and how he treated other people. ted sorensen did most of the work on the book. one thing kennedy did right was the preface in the acknowledgments. he wrote it and did not even mention sorensen's name. sorensen gives it an edit. sorensen says you should mention me. kennedy added dimension back in. then when the scandal came about, sorensen and kennedy both would refer to the acknowledgments and say that everything is above board in
this book. we mentioned that the work was done but it is kennedy's book. but that credit only existed because sorensen had to remind kennedy, maybe you should give the person who actually wrote the book the credit. that is not the cuban missile crisis in terms of historical import but it is a human choice. it is a human being that decided this is how he wanted to act. i think readers and voters, it is ok to think in those terms and think of presidents as humans and evaluate them as, did they do the right thing as a person? >> there was a story much farther back in history where an author claims authorship. would you briefly tell the story of eliza hamilton and her claims that her husband wrote george washington's farewell address? >> it's a crazy story and one of my favorite ones in the book. it deals with the farewell address that we talked about. the fact that it was washington's speech is what mattered. alexander hamilton famously died in a duel, and his reputation had hit a low point.
his wife, who was very loyal to him, decided that i need to prove my husband was the one who wrote the speech to give him hisp in recovering reputation. it's a crazy story. it was like a spy novel. there was a bundle of secret documents that was sealed and waxed. hamilton's supporters would pass it around. these are people who were loyal to hamilton. one of the people involved with somebody who really cared about alexander hamilton. his children were trying to hunt this down. one of his sons would try to go to the house and be nice. he would say, why don't you turn over these documents? when that did not work, the other son came along and was very menacing and tough. that did not work. it took a long time. it was one of those stories where people were gossiping. how much of this is hamilton, how much of this is washington, washington had nothing to do with it himself. he was deceased at this point. washington did not claim
authorship in the way that someone like kennedy did. it is an example that americans have always loved gossiping about presidents. >> john kennedy's success seems to have, according to your book inspired nixon to publish , his own. when did he publish it? craig: he published it in 1963. >> we have a clip of nixon about let's watch that the process of writing. and come back and talk about him. [video clip] >> this was my ninth crisis, writing a book is very hard work. i know you interview people on your program. i have seen them and i admire authors. i am not saying that in terms of myself but it is a great ordeal for me. i don't write easily. i see you've got some notes on a yellow pad. i write outline after outline and i dictate to a machine.
it is the spoken word -- the written word is very formal. i have good people that work with me. when i get down to crafting the final product, it is a great burden for me. >> every time i finish a book, i say never again. >> let's start with six crises. what did that do for his political aspirations? craig: it was important because he had just lost that election in 1960. it was during the cuban missile crisis that kennedy asked nixon to come to the white house could talk to the issues. nixon could tell how tired kennedy was. it was a time that was weighing him down. when they were done, nixon mentioned that he was thinking about writing a book. that perked kennedy up. he said i think every politician should write a book, it can help your standing in the political realm. that is what nixon did. he worked on a book. it cover different moments, different crises.
it is similar in structure to george bush's. it really picks key moments from that person's life. it was a best-selling book. it helped him begin to reestablish himself as a politician and begin that second act that led him to become president. >> after watergate, he authored several more books. how does this change his reputation post watergate? craig: his presidential memoirs which cannot directly after watergate were hugely , anticipated. it was breaking news when the page count came out. people were like, this is how long the book is going to be. becauses intense issue the watergate issue. after that, the books became less newsy, they were more philosophical, books about governing philosophy and politics. i think they helped, as much as anything else, president nixon settle into that senior statesmen role. it is amazing to think about his
reputation after watergate and talking about humans beings and people who make personal decisions, i think he and watergate is a very revealing episode. he was able to become the person you see in that clip, the senior statesman whose views on international relations were valued and sought out by other presidents. the regular rhythm of her releasing books had a lot to do with that. >> thomas jefferson, a well-known lover of books. his famous quote "i cannot live without books" is on coffee mugs everywhere. he ended up selling his collection of books to create the library of congress. how many books did he own? craig: 6000 and 7000. then he started building another collection. he had a couple thousand more when he passed. >> you credited him with the first campaign book.
craig: it is called "notes on the state of virginia." it was not a campaign book like abraham lincoln's. the story started a little earlier for jefferson. he worked on that book in the 1780's. it came out more than a decade after he ran for president. it was essential, it was a huge flashpoint during the elections of 1776 and 1800. this is when thomas jefferson and john adams are running against each other. there were other candidates as well. to understand why notes on the state of virginia were so important, we have to talk about how campaigning worked in that time. nowadays, presidential candidates want to be everywhere and they want to be on tv and twitters and make their case directly to voters. it was the opposite of that. early in our history, it was the complete opposite. if you went out to everyone and said i want to be president, that was proved to most voters that you were not the right person to run for president. the idea was that you should be humble. you should be called to serve. it should be other people advocating for you and your ideas. most presidents stayed home and stayed quiet. there was a public silence around john adams and thomas jefferson. what that public silence did --
that's a vacuum. something needs to fill it. that is where "notes on the state of virginia" came in. it sold the equivalent of .5 million copies. it was one of the most important books any american wrote in the 18th century. it was a vital book that defended america to its european critics. people knew and respected that book. now that jefferson was running for president but not saying much about it, they looked to his book for what he thought. a we have a clip of well-known historian, roger wilkins talking about , jefferson's notes on the state of virginia. let's see what he has to say and then come back to you. [video clip] >> in the end, you have to believe that what he wrote in notes on the state of virginia is his deep belief in black inferiority. he thought that blacks were stupid, lazy and ugly. he said it more eloquently but
that was the gist. he, more than any of the other virgina founders, seems more unable to distance himself from the ownership of slaves. >> people wonder how the author of the declaration of independence can square his views on slaves and slave ownership. you answer that to your own mind in your book. what are your thoughts? craig: this is another troubling example of where going behind the scenes and looking at somebody sitting down to write can reveal something about who they are as people. in that book jefferson offers , bigger, broader comments on how slavery is a moral evil but then because he is jefferson, he slips into this rational, scientific discourse. the tries to explain let's look , at the difference between lack
americans and white americans. his conclusions are what we just saw. they are troubling. they are written in a way that makes him sound scientific but i think it reads even worse. jefferson was very frank that he thought black people were inferior not because of their circumstances but because that is who they were. if anybody wants to give jefferson a pass because of the standards of his time no. this book drafts of to his contemporaries at the time. the first versions were worse. it, said if euros believe they said they don't think is right. you are not talking about humans in a way that is just. jefferson says this is only my hypothesis but he wrote what he wrote. he never changed his mind. as an old man, his book was very popular. one of the book sellers called a standing book.
today, you will always see if you books. in jefferson's time, his book was that book. printers asked him if he wanted to change anything in the book. he always said "no." that includes the dehumanizing passages about black people. >> one set of memoirs that is available on bookstore shelves is ulysses s. grant's. what is the story of him writing that set of memoirs? craig: it's almost an unbelievable story. he was a wonderful writer. i think we sometimes forget that when he was a general, some of his orders at the battlefield were printed everywhere in newspapers. they introduced people to his literary style, which was concise, funny and concrete. he was a tremendous writer. he did not want to write a book. after his presidency publisher , after publisher said your book would be the biggest selling book of any civil war figure. do you want to do it? he did not want to. what changed his mind is that he went through a terrible bankruptcy and he became ill
with what ultimately became a fatal form of cancer. he does not have enough money to pay his butcher. he has no money and he is dying. it becomes difficult for him to even speak or swallow. in those harrowing circumstances, he just got to work. he worked so hard on his book. one thing i do in my book is reproduce a page from early in the process when he is starting to write it. i think it puts you there with him in the writing. he is crossing out words and stopping midsentence. he doesn't know what to say or how to write. he gets momentum and then he realizes that he cares about the writing. he poured everything he had into that book. his wife supported him and his sons were fact checking the book. although he passed away for the book came out, his publisher, who was mark twain his publisher , made it one of the biggest and best sellers in american history at that point. >> it seemed all of america was
waiting to see if he would finish it before he passed. would you tell that story? craig: this is an example of how these books have been so central to american history. these books, in their own time periods, because of the publishing industry and the things we have talked about, they were news. they were at the core of what america was thinking about. grant was working on his book on his deathbed. the country knew that he was sick, the country knew that he was working on a book and newspapers would have headlines like general grant went for a walk today. general grant did not sleep well last night. general grant managed to write three pages. these are newspapers all over the country. there were telegraph lines that ran from houses close to his two other offices for updates. the updates happened in real time by the standards of that time period. the country was obsessed with it. while he was racing to finish his book, there was an army of booksellers, a lot of them were civil war veterans who were thrilled to have one last chance to serve the man they served
under, were going door to door. they had a careful script. the first line of that script was i am here to talk to you about the book you have heard so much about in the newspapers. this was news. it was a book that every american was excited about. grant wrote a book that lived up to that. it foreeded to read julia grant because he had lost all of his money with bad investments with his son. how much did she make of the book? craig: it was hundreds of thousands of dollars. >> in that era? craig if you adjust, it was more : than $10 million. that was not a perfect adjustment but a paycheck comparable to what president clinton earned for his and president george w. bush did for his book. that is an example how popular these presidential books have always been. it set his family up for life. >> it did not burnish his reputation for a long time. he was pretty low. coming up more recently what , happened, why did that not
have the effect that he hoped it would? craig: it is a curious fact. it was serve other presidential authors to take note. grant doesn't just write a good book, he writes a book that is a wild bestseller. that is the criteria that could shape a legacy. once grant's book comes out, his reputation starts to stumble. newspaper critics say why aren't there more things about ulysses s. grant? the reason there wasn't is because the south did a much warer job in the literary than they did in the actual war. there were a lot of historians who were pro-south. they wrote history that celebrated the south. one of the biggest strategies was to make granta look like a bad president, a butcher and a drunk and elevate robert lee as a saintly figure. grant. granted himself. he had amazing resources. but in the literary war, it was the south with the amazing
resources and grant was a terrific general. the southern historians were calculating writers as well. they overwhelmed grant's book. for decades, that book was one that writers are respected and that readers liked but in terms , of defining grant as a general and president, it did not have the effect expected. it's only more recently they have seen grants to reputation. if you are a president and you want to write a book that defends yourself, history says write a personal book instead. if ulysses s grant book can't save his reputation, what hope do you have to write a book that's going to save your reputation? don't worry about the political debates or the battlefield, tell -- or the battlefield accounts tell a personal story. , >> there have been very successful grant biographies published. have they served his standing to change it? craig: william's did. it came out a couple of decades ago. also, another book by joan. it's one of the finest books written about grant. it does not just tell the story
of grant but his reputation at the same time. it is a wonderful book that i would highly recommend. >> you referenced theodore roosevelt as our most prolific writing president. both him and woodrow wilson who was the only one from the academy, you say that their first books are their best. why? craig: i think because they were young and passionate and they had a lot of energy. i also think they were really thinking of themselves as writers at that time. being a writer and a politician are not always the same approach. they don't require the same skills. a writer looks for complexity, what is the core of this problem? what is the back story of this problem? a politician needs to simplify. a politician needs to get popular support. when roosevelt and wilson were working on their first books, they were thinking as writers. roosevelt started his first book while he was a student at harvard. he was obsessed with it. he would sit in class, the book was about the war of 1812 but
in specific, it was about the naval side of that conflict. roosevelt would sit in class and daydream about british and american ships battling. it was all he could think about. he did incredible, original research. he went to archives to find out the size of ships, how many cannons they had, he would draw diagrams about how the ships moved in battle. all of that information helped him understand something important and that is that patriotism and heroism are not the best explanations for history. an example in roosevelt's book book is oliver perry. he won this great battle and people named towns after him. people thought it was this underdog victory. when roosevelt went back to research to see what kind of ships perry had versus which ones the british had he found , out that the reason that he
won that battle is not because he was brave and heroic, it was because he had better ships. what is interesting is -- once roosevelt got to being a president himself, heroism and patriotism were what he cared about. he did a 180 as a writer. >> wilson, how did he use his study of congress when he became president? craig: it's the same trajectory, where the first book is full of original research. wilson's first book is still considered by political scholars today. it was an intellectual event when it came out in the 1880's. it was a transformational book that did a lot to shape the academic arguments over the next few decades. it is interesting that it is called congressional government. not presidential government. that's because for a lot of the 18th and 19th century, congress was the seat of power. if you were a reporter and
wanted to cover the action in white house, -- in the white house, you didn't go to the white house, you went to congress. that is where the media paid attention. wilson did a great job of explaining why that was in his book. he explained this is how it is set up and why it works that way. of course, when he became president, he and teddy roosevelt were two of the presidents that did the most to make the modern presidency of today. it has flipped. the president now appeals to the people and defines ideas and leads the parties. wilson and roosevelt did more than anyone on that count. wilson made his own book outdated, because his book talked about congress and how powerful congress was. when wilson was the president, he was able to irrigate that power to the presidency. >> we live in the age of blockbuster deals for presidents. the news reports are that the combined memoirs of the obamas may have made as much as $65 million. when did the blockbuster era start?
craig: it started the 1980's. that tells you as much about publishing as the presidency. part of it was that the presidency was becoming more glamorous and celebrated. ronald reagan did a lot to achieve that, especially with his background in hollywood. the publishing industry was changing in the same ways. if readers think about it -- walden books showed up in shopping malls. those kinds of changes allowed hardcover books to sell millions of copies, not hundreds of thousands. that change helped editors start to look for certain kinds of books books where people came , with a platform, an idea, a brand behind them. that matter as much as the book itself. in the 1980's, lots of figures published best-selling books that were everywhere. they would go on tv to talk about them. a good example is donald trump. before he was a political candidate and a president he was , one of those blockbuster authors with "the art of the deal." >> it was also the era when those who work in the white
house started writing books and now we are seeing it midstream. how does that change the presidency? craig: it is unbelievable how things spat up in the 1980's. things change so quickly that people who left the reagan administration were publishing their books before people in the carter administration published their books. they were leapfrogging the administration before then, because publishers and political figures were seeing that there was a lot of money to be made in this. i honestly don't know that we have quite come to terms with what these changes meant even today. you can see that with john bolton's book. it is not out yet, but it has been widely discussed. it will be a blockbuster and there is no question about it. there are ethical and moral questions about, should it have been presented in a different format? those questions don't have answers yet because were in the middle of this change both in politics and publishing. >> do publishers make money off of these books? craig: they do. they did not for a while.
ronald reagan's presidential memoirs -- he got an advance of $7 million. they lost quite a bit of money on that. since 2000, publishing has figured this out. you mentioned the obama's advance was astronomical. show obama's books is one of the best sailing in american history at this i have to imagine that point. barack obama's will do even better. publishers have started to realize they can sell these books in a certain way. blockbuster publishing is working for them, which is why i don't think it is going anywhere anytime soon. >> you mentioned donald trump's "the art of the deal." ofs is him telling the story signing the book "the art of the deal." [video clip] >> it's one of the first times someone has intervened at random house. he said i want to do a book with this guy. i arrived at random house with a mandate of doing books of this kind -- biographies of
high-powered figures. so i was tasked. i went to see trump with this publisher. i took a big russian novel i had , wrapped black and gold paper around it, put trump's name on it and said this could be you. low and behold, he agreed. he wanted the trump name slightly larger. >> how significant was the deal? -- how significant was "the art of the deal? craig: i think it was very significant. it was not twitter that made him a national figure. it was that book. because it was a blockbuster. it lifted him from being a new york city figure to a national figure. the book came out and sold thousands of copies. it really defined a style and an image that he still used when he ran for president so many years later. petershould peter that
plays a role in c-span's corporate history. he went on to found his own nonfiction publishing house and they brought our c-span books to market. i want to get that on the record. in his history, he brought both "the art of the deal" and barack obama's "dreams from my father" to market. what does that say? craig it says the publishing : business publishes lots of kinds of books, and that's what we should celebrate about it. peter aust must was the one that signed the deal but that was obama's second deal. the book was so challenging for him to write. we think of obama as such a polished person and speaker and presidential candidate. he has the life story with the father from kenya and the mother from kansas. it all just clicks together. his background explains how people can come together. it is a great story, it is one that helped him become president
but it was not an easy story to , piece together. it was in writing this first book that he was able to piece those stories together. it was not a simple process. he got the book deal, he wrote part of the book, he sent it in. the publisher did not like it. he got married in october to michelle. a couple of weeks later, he lost his book deal. obama, as a young man, just out of law school finds that he does , not have a book deal anymore. he also owes his publisher part of the advance that he already spent. he had a very good agent who was able to get him a second deal. i interviewed him and he went -- talked about having obama going to their offices. they wanted to meet with him. he was impressed that obama came in and he knew what he wanted the book to be about. once he was able to figure those , it took a lot of
reading, revising, took a really good editor to help him. obama put that book together. in that book, the themes showed up in his speeches and presidential campaign. the writing of that book helped obama understand his life and future political appeal. >> how important are narratives to a political success? did you see other presidents develop life narratives that they used on the campaign trail? karen: yes, absolutely. -- craig: yes, absolutely. if you can tell your life story, in a way that connects not just to who you are, but the ideas and issues that you stand up for, it is really effective. leaders have multiple ways to respond to it and remember it. calvin coolidge is a great example. his literary style was very clipped, concise and funny. it lined up with his image. he was known as silent cal, even though he had two fantastic books. he is somebody we should remember him as much for his words as his absence of words. that stern and buttoned-down and serious approach lined up with his politics and his traditional approach to american life.
the literary style of calvin coolidge lined up with the life of calvin coolidge and readers and voters responded to both things. >> we have president obama talking about writing "dreams" in 1985. let's put that on as we get close to the end. [video clip] >> my father was a black african. my mother was a white american. much of my life was spent trying to reconcile the terms of my birth that divided heritage with the realities of race and nationality, tribal identities that exist not just in this country but also overseas. so that this book is not so much a memoir as a journey of discovery for me, making some sense of my family. >> what do you see there?
craig: i see exactly what i was talking about. that is the father from kenya, the mother from kansas, those lines showed up in the convention speech and when he ran in 2008. somebody in hillary clinton's campaign that year said, we are not running against a person, we are running against a story. that's what gave his campaign momentum. you can see in 1995, he had finally figured out that story after years of writing and reading and thinking. he solved that story and figured out that story and that is what supercharged his political appeal and some of the ideas he stood for. >> we are almost up in our time with you. in a review in the washington examiner, one writer was critical of the fact that you did not include james k polk. how does he end up on your cutting room floor? craig: first of all, a diary is not a book. i relied on presidential diaries often. john quincy adams wrote wonderful diaries. james garfield wrote wonderful
diaries. diariesms to garfield allow us to know that he was , reading civil war books. diaries are good sources. i wanted my book to tell a real story and to be a coherent book. to do that, i had to make cuts. there have been a lot of presidents and they have written a lot of things. what interested me was the story of their books and how important their books have been to american history. i focused on their books, what they were reading, presidents reading other presidents. when i made those kinds of choices to tell the best story, no offense to poke, but his story is not one of the best stories. i did not want to waste pages on it. >> so having spent 10 years with presidential books -- you have a favorite or if people haven't spent much time with them, where's a good place to start? craig: i like calvin coolidge's autobiography. it came out a 1929. i don't believe it is in print anymore, but someone should change that. it is a wonderfully personal book. we talked about s grant -- we
anded about ulysses s grant so many presidents have followed that approach, i got to list every fight i was in an say why i was right in every one of those fights. calvin coolidge did not do that. his book is a sixth as long as grant's. it is a wonderfully personal volume. the example that stood out to me and what made it such a celebrated book in 1929 when it came out, centers on calvin coolidge's son. his son died while he was in the white house. he developed a blister while playing on the white house lawn. in the era before antibiotics, that blister became infected and it killed him. americans knew that story because they knew the white house and followed along and they listened to calvin junior's funeral on the radio. once the book came out calvin , coolidge was able to tell his side of the story. he said i was the most powerful person in america and i had no power to save my son dying right before me. any parent, any child can relate to that story.
it is a story of being the president but also being a human being. that is what coolidge did in his brief and wonderfully written book he told the personal , stories that told us what it was like to be president. i think that is what our presidents should do in their books. that is what i try to do in my book, show that personal side. if more presidents looked to coolidge as a literary model, i think we would be better off as readers. >> the book is called "author in chief." it has been a pleasure to spend an hour with you. craig: it has been a pleasure. thank you so much. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> all q&a programs are available on our website or as a podcast on c-span.org. >> next week on q&a, catholic
university political science professor, matthew greene, talks about the careers of notable speakers of the u.s. house of representatives. that is sunday, february 23 at 8:00 p.m. eastern and pacific time. >> here is a look at some of what is coming up today. our three hour "washington journal" program is next. candidatesemocratic participate in a summit in las vegas. a form with presidential speechwriters. campaign continues with pete buttigieg speaking with caucus-goers in a town hall , carson city, live today at 2:00 p.m. eastern on c-span. this morning, at george mason university lawyer talks about his book. later, douglas