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I trace my love of history to the days when I was six years old and my father taught me the mysterious art of keeping score at baseball games so that I could listen to the Dodgers play in the afternoons while he was at work and re-create for him at night the entire history of each day's game, play by play, inning by inning. He made it even more special for me because he never told me that all this was described in the newspapers the next day so that I thought without me he would never even know what happened to our beloved Dodgers! Thus history acquired for me a magic that it still holds to this day.
But if my love of history was planted in that childhood experience, my particular style of writing--a love of storytelling and an attempt to fuse history and biography with as much detail as possible so that the characters can come alive for the reader-is rooted in the experience of knowing one president Lyndon Johnson-very well when I was only thirty four. I worked for him first as a White House Fellow in his last year in office and then helped him on his memoirs the last four years of his life. It should have been a time in his life when he had much to be grateful for. His career in politics had, after all, reached a peak with his election to the presidency and he had all the money he needed to pursue any leisure activity. But here was a man whose entire life had been consumed by power, success, and ambition, and as a result, he could barely get through the days once the presidency was gone. And, in his vulnerable state, he opened up to me in ways he never would have, had I known him at the height of his power, telling me of his fears, his nightmares, and his sorrows.
It was this experience that fired within me the drive to understand the inner person behind the public image that I'd like to believe I have brought to each of my books, beginning with Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream, published in 1976 when I was still teaching at Harvard where I had gotten my Ph.D. in 1968. Watching Johnson's desolation at the end of his life also had an impact on my personal life. I had started my second book, The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, shortly after I was married and had two sons in two years. I was still a professor at Harvard, trying to teach, write, and be a mother at the same time and doing nothing right. The image of Johnson's sad retirement helped me to make some choices-to give up teaching so that I could stay at home with my children and write. Even then, it took ten years to write the Kennedy book, which was finally published in 1987. But when I look at the young men my boys have become, I have never regretted the years I spent at home. I was drawn to my third book, No Ordinary Time, by a fascination both with the period of time, a time when our country was united by a common cause against a common enemy, and by a fascination with the extraordinary partnership between Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. The research was a labor of love: I spent months at a time at Hyde Park, New York, conducted hundreds of interviews with people who knew the Roosevelts personally, perused dozens of diaries and thousands of letters, read old newspapers and magazines, and truly felt as if I had been transported back 50 years in time.
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