William Manchester met John F. Kennedy following World War II when both of them were disabled veterans living in Boston. After Kennedy’s death, Jacqueline Kennedy asked Manchester, a family friend, to write an account of the assassination, offering him exclusive interviews with family members.
From that request and two years of exhaustive research and writing came the award-winning 1967 publication, “The Death of a President: November 20-November 25, 1963,” which made Manchester famous and paved the way for future successes as a historical biographer.
In the introduction to the 1985 edition of “The Death of a President,” Manchester writes: “Here … I have attempted to lead the reader back through historical events by recreating the sense of immediacy people felt at the time, so that he sees, feels, and hears what was seen, felt, and heard – mourns, rejoices, weeps, or loves with mourners, rejoicers, weepers, or lovers long since vanished: figures whose present has become our past.”
Such use of detail and emotion to make the past come alive is considered a basic part of how Manchester writes.
“Power [is] the one thing that has fascinated me ever since I was a kid in Springfield, Mass.,” Manchester told Stefan Kanfer of People magazine. “What exactly is power? Where are its roots? How do some people get it and others miss it entirely?”
The study of power is the thread that connects all of Manchester’s books. He started his study of power as a journalist working briefly for the Daily Oklahoman then the Baltimore Sun in the late 1940s and ‘50s. Using what Kanfer calls the “Manchester trademarks: unflagging energy, hundreds of interviews, monuments of detail and pounds of manuscript,” Manchester, states Kenneth Atchity in the Los Angeles Times, has made himself “the [James] Michener of biographers.” Manchester passed away June 1, 2004.
During his illustrious career, Manchester has written four novels, 14 nonfiction works and several essays. His nonfiction books include “The Arms of Krupp, 1587-1968” (1968), “The Glory and the Dream: A Narrative History of America, 1932-1972” (1974), “American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur, 1880-1964” (1978), “Goodbye, Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War” (1980), the 1980s trilogy “The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill,” and his most recent work “A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance: Portrait of an Age” (1992).
“American Caesar” was adapted into a television miniseries, narrated by John Huston, which aired on the Ted Turner cable network in 1985.
Manchester has received several awards and honors including a Guggenheim fellowship, 1959-60; Prix Dag Hammarskjoeld au merite litteraire, 1967; National Book Award nomination, 1980, for “American Caesar”; and American Library Association Notable Book citation, 1980, for “Goodbye, Darkness.”
He was born in 1922 in Attleboro, Mass. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1942-45, and was awarded a Purple Heart. He currently lives in Connecticut.