Serious Jibber-Jabber: Conan O’Brien interviews Edmund Morris

Conan O’Brien has a new project going called Serious Jibber-Jabber. In the interview above O’Brien talks with one of my favorite biographers and writers, Edmund Morris.

Morris is mostly known for his 3 volume biography of Theodore Roosevelt (TR). A truly exceptional biography. The first volume, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book award. The 3 volume biography leaves you feeling like you’ve truly been in the presence of TR. I can’t say enough about Morris’s art and skill as a biographer.

Morris was also the official biographer of President Ronald Reagan. Morris was basically hired on as White House staff during the Reagan years so he could research and write Reagan’s official biography. After its release, the biography generated a lot of controversy over the way it was written. Morris had fictional elements in his biography of Reagan. Why did he include fictional elements in the biography? Well after years of being around Reagan, interviewing him many times, along with personal acquaintances and people who worked for the President, Morris had a difficult time figuring Reagan out, getting inside his head. As Morris said, “Nobody around him understood him. I, every person I interviewed, almost without exception, eventually would say, ‘You know, I could never really figure him out.'” Morris decided to use a fictional character in his biography in an attempt to paint Reagan as how one might see Reagan if you had known Reagan over his life and career.

I enjoyed Dutch, the book was an artistic master piece of writing and a truly innovative, even if not necessarily popular, way to understand Reagan and the man behind the Presidential facade. Of course many acolytes of Reagan, and even the former President’s wife, Nancy Reagan, didn’t care for the book because the biography didn’t always cast Reagan in a positive light. Morris might have been Reagan’s Boswell, but Morris felt his job, most of all, was to paint Reagan in full color, warts and all. I think history will ultimately render a positive verdict on Morris’s work. It is still probably the best biography of Reagan you can read.

Morris also wrote a short biography on Beethoven. And Morris just recently published a book of essays. While Morris is a superb biographer, I personally think his greatest gift and contribution to the history of letters will be as a literary artist. He prose, as one critic says, is hard but elegant. He draws, like Charles Dickens, unforgettable scenes and his play with words is masterful. I always felt I was being educated about the central character of the book and about what, if I was paying close attention, a literary artist has to teach me about writing. Morris is a giant in the world of literature.

4 thoughts on “Serious Jibber-Jabber: Conan O’Brien interviews Edmund Morris

    • Yes, indeed, I do. You’re so right. Traveling, work and the holidays have temporary slowed my blogging. But thank you for prodding me my friend. Merry Christmas!

  1. This is a great article and if I get some time, I just might read Dutch because I am a HUGE Reagan fan and would like to learn more about him: the good, the bad and the ugly… as long as it’s honest! Thanks again for the information and for the reading recommendations!

    • Mit – As teenagers in the 1980s you and I remember well the grandfatherly figure of President Reagan. At that age, we didn’t know really much about him or his politics, except that our parents seem to like it that he was in charge, but we liked his manner, his style, his confidence and his “just wait to the old man gets home” way of handling business. I remember the feelings well. What a great time to grow up too!

      But of course there was Reagan the President and persona, and then there was Reagan the man. Morris’s biography is about Reagan the man behind the persona. “Dutch” is good look at Reagan by a first class biographer. Morris admired Reagan but the biographer’s job is too reveal the man not the myth.

      Glad you liked the blog post. Thanks for commenting!

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