Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Remembering Millicent Fenwick on her Birthday

February 25, 2021

During this past year consumed by the pandemic and the tumultuous election, aftermath, and insurrection, I’ve been thinking a lot about Millicent Fenwick who would have turned 111 today, February 25. I think in this period when politics has become so partisan, Millicent Fenwick would have been a voice of reason and led by example. What has been surprising, and rewarding, is that her memory is alive and well nearly 30 years after her death in 1992. 

How do I know this? Because over the past year I have received snail mail and emails from readers who have discovered Millicent Fenwick: Her Way. As an author, there is no greater gift than hearing from readers, especially about a book that was published 18 years ago this month. Millicent Fenwick’s biography has far outlived the typical shelf life of most books. The one regret I have is that there never was a paperback edition. I just went on to amazon and the cost of the book has skyrocketed which I guess indicates demand. 

How do I know this? Because over the past year I have received snail mail and emails from readers who have discovered Millicent Fenwick: Her Way. As an author, there is no greater gift than hearing from readers, especially about a book that was published 18 years ago this month. Millicent Fenwick’s biography has far outlived the typical shelf life of most books. The one regret I have is that there never was a paperback edition. I just went on to amazon and the cost of the book has skyrocketed which I guess indicates demand. During this past year consumed by the pandemic and the tumultuous election, aftermath, and insurrection, I’ve been thinking a lot about Millicent Fenwick who would have turned 111 today, February 25. I think in this period when politics has become so partisan, Millicent Fenwick would have been a voice of reason and led by example. What has been surprising, and rewarding, is that her memory is alive and well nearly 30 years after her death in 1992. 

Another indicator of demand was book events which have continued over the years with the most recent being in October when the Hoboken Historical Museum included Millicent Fenwick in their “NJ Women Make History!” series. 

Earlier today, Stephen Grant, a fellow biographer, sent me a FaceBook post from Joseph Esposito remembering Millicent Fenwick. What was clear from his post, and the comments, is how much Millicent Fenwick still resonates with those who knew her and those who did not. She was a principled, outspoken, dedicated and passionate public servant who in her day was dubbed the “Conscience of Congress” by Walter Cronkite. When John Lewis died, the same was said of him. I think they both are in good company. 

Not only does her memory continue to live on, but so do her legislative achievements, most notably the establishment of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Public Law 94-304 of June 3, 1976, signed by President Gerald Ford which promoted the monitoring of human rights in accordance with the Helsinki Final Act of 1975 signed by 35 nations including the United States and the Soviet Union. Bill Canis, one of Fenwick’s former staffers sent me this link to an article published this past year commemorating Fenwick’s role in establishing the commission:

Another discovery I made this year is a Millicent Fenwick high school curriculum from the New Jersey Historical Commission as part of their “It Happened Here New Jersey” series. At a time when many are looking for civility and reason, I am glad to know that the next generation is learning about role models such as Millicent Fenwick. educators are leveraging the many lessons gleaned from Fenwick’s life. As former Governor Christine Todd Whitman said, “Millicent Fenwick was really ‘My Way.’ And she did it with class and style …She showed that a single mother could make it, that you could be independent and balance things, and that women could be very credible policy advocates.”

At Millicent Fenwick’s funeral her grandson, Jonathan Reckford, now CEO of Habitat for Humanity, delivered the eulogy. He said the following, “She brought elegance to the most mundane matters and showed that indeed one can fight for change without breaching decorum.” 


2015 BIO Conference

Bio-Logo_Black2-500x193Yesterday, the Biographers International Organization (BIO) got off to a great start with pre-conference activities including information sessions at the Library of Congress, a docent-led tour of the Library of Congress by yours truly, and a lovely welcome reception at the home Kitty Kelley. Other biographers in attendance included BIO President Brian Jay Jones, Vice-President Cathy Curtis, Barbara Burkhardt and Robin Rausch (conference co-shairs), Douglas Brinkley, Evan Thomas, Nigel Hamilton, Mike Lennon, and more.

At the reception, Thomas Mann received the Biblio Award, which is given annually to an archivist, or librarian, who has gone above and beyond in assisting biographers with their research — providing essential assistance as we endeavor to tell the stories of people’s lives. Although Tom retired in January after 33 years at the Library of Congress he can be found in the main reading room on Saturdays, where he still assists researchers, just in a volunteer capacity. He is one of the many treasures at the Library and many attending last night’s reception could attest first-hand to his helpfulness, myself included.  Oxford University Press recently published the fourth edition of his book Oxford Guide to Library Research. It’s a great resource for writers.

Today the BIO Conference gets underway at the National Press Club with Evan Thomas and Douglas Brinkley discussing the Art and Craft of Biography. Taylor Branch will deliver the luncheon keynote address. He is the recipient of this year’s BIO Award.

And in between there are a host of workshops including the one below. It’s my first speaking engagement about my biography of Nicholas Katzenbach. It’s not done yet, but getting closer. If you have not registered for the conference, it’s not too late as they are accepting on-site registration. For more info click the BIO tab in the blog header. Hope to see you later!

Writing About Someone You Know 


Writing a biography is never easy, but does it make a difference if you know your subject? Perhaps you’re writing about a family member, a neighbor, or a former boss. Maybe you’ve met your subject in the course of researching and writing. Does a personal connection help smooth your path when it comes to approaching sources and gaining insights? Or does familiarity create its own pitfalls? How can you take advantage of your privileged position while still holding onto your artistic independence?


Barbara Burkhardt ’s William Maxwell: A Literary Life (University of Illinois Press, 2005; paperback, 2008), a biography of the longtime New Yorker editor and novelist, received praise in The New York Times, TLS, The Washington Post, and Chicago Tribune, among other periodicals. She subsequently edited Conversations with William Maxwell (University Press of Mississippi, 2012). Burkhardt is associate professor emerita of American literature at the University of Illinois Springfield, where she was named University Scholar in 2007. A founding member of BIO, she has served on the BIO board for three years as its secretary. She is at work on a biography of Garrison Keillor under contract to St. Martin’s Press.



Beverly Gray , who once developed 170 low-budget features for B-movie maven Roger Corman, is the author of the best-selling Roger Corman: An Unauthorized Biography of the Godfather of Indie Filmmaking. Tastefully retitled Roger Corman: Blood-Sucking Vampires, Flesh-Eating Cockroaches, and Driller Killers, it is now available (as both e-book and paperback) in an updated and unexpurgated third edition. Gray has also published Ron Howard: From Mayberry to the Moon . . . and Beyond. She teaches online screenwriting workshops for UCLA Extension’s renowned Writers’ Program. Her blog, Beverly in Movieland, covers movies, moviemaking, and growing up Hollywood-adjacent.

Michael Lennon is president of the Norman Mailer Society. He teaches in the Wilkes University low-residency M.F.A. program and is the author of Norman Mailer: A Double Life (Simon & Schuster, 2013). Most recently, he edited Selected Letters of Norman Mailer (Random House, 2014). He also wrote the introduction to the new illustrated Taschen edition, JFK: Mailer’s “Superman Comes to the Supermarket.” His work has appeared in the Paris Review, The New Yorker, New York Review of Books, Provincetown Arts,  Creative Nonfiction, New York, and Playboy, among others.

Amy Schapiro is the author of Millicent Fenwick: Her Way, a biography of the New Jersey congresswoman best remembered as the pipe-smoking grandmother who served as the model for Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury character Lacey Davenport and whom Walter Cronkite dubbed the “Conscience of Congress”. Schapiro is currently working on her next book, Leading Justice: The Life of Nicholas deBelleville Katzenbach. She has appeared on C-Span/BookTV, NPR, WOR, and WABC.

BIO Announces Hazel Rowley Prize – Deadline January 31, 2014

Bio-Logo_Black2-500x193 It’s still January and there’s still plenty of time to keep all those new year’s resolutions you made. My new year’s resolution is that this will be the year of the book, which for me means finishing the Katzenbach biography.

But for all those aspiring first-time authors, the Biographers International Organization (BIO) is offering a once in a lifetime opportunity for a future biographer (and I’m on a committee to help raise awareness about this new award so here goes it). BIO has named a prize after BIO member Hazel Rowley (1951-2011), an author of several biographies including Tȇte-à-Tȇte: Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, translated into twelve languages.

The Hazel Rowley prize is intended for first-time biographers and will award the prize to the best proposal for a first time biography. The purpose of this award is to provide new biographers an opportunity to have their proposal read by an agent who will bring the winning proposal to the attention of editors and publishers who are actively seeking to publish biography.  The Prize also includes $2,000 in prize money.

The winner of the BIO/Hazel Rowley Prize for Best Proposal for a First Biography will be announced at BIO’s fifth annual conference in Boston on May 17, 2014.

The deadline for applying is January 31, 2014. See details about the prize and eligibility guidelines at

 And for more information about BIO, a grassroots organization of writers, educators, publishing experts, readers and others who support the art and craft of biography please visit:

Good luck!


2013 BIO Conference

Docent-led tour at the New York Public Library

Docent-led tour at the New York Public Library

Last weekend I attended the fourth annual Biographers International Organization (BIO) Annual Conference held in New York City. This year more than 225 biographers gathered at the Roosevelt Hotel to discuss research, writing, book reviews, social media, and a host of other topics.

I had the pleasure of moderating a panel entitled “Crafting Biography” featuring three biographers – Kate Buford, David Stewart, and Marc Leepson – who among them have written more than a dozen books. My favorite tidbit from this panel was from Marc Leepson. He does not sleep with a notebook by his side to capture all those brilliant late night ideas. Instead, he uses his phone to send himself e-mails about his words of wisdom. Why didn’t I think of that?

For those that lament the obstacles of finishing a book, feel sorry for yourselves no longer. Amanda Foreman, award-winning author of Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire, managed to finish her second book, A World on Fire, with five children under five and a husband diagnosed with cancer. She regaled the audience with tales of how she accomplished this feat including how she had to return her original advance and find another publisher.  I will never complain again.

The conference isn’t just about what you learn, but who you meet. On Friday, I took a research tour of several libraries with our guide, Nancy Goldstone. At the New York Public Library I learned about the Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. Papers, and have since found correspondence between him and the subject of my next book, Nicholas Katzenbach. One letter in particular provided me with a timeframe for a William Safire column I have tried to track down. I was off by about a decade, no wonder why I couldn’t find it?!?

Networking is another perk of BIO. At the conference I met fellow writer Steve Weinberg who is writing about Garry Trudeau. I did a slew of research about the evolution of Lacey Davenport, most of which I didn’t include in my book due to space constraints. Now, however, I plan to give the Lacey research to Weinberg so it can be put to good use. And for me, Weinberg offered to put me in touch with his father who was in the same POW camp, Stalag Luft III, as Nicholas Katzenbach during World War II. I’m always surprised by the bountiful serendipity that occurs at BIO.

Katherine Hourigan, Knopf’s managing editor, accepted the Plutarch Award on behalf of Robert Caro.

Katherine Hourigan, Knopf’s managing editor, accepted the Plutarch Award on behalf of Robert Caro.

I could go on and on about all the connections made, but I don’t want to bore the reader. So I’ll conclude where the conference ended, awarding the first Plutarch Award to Robert Caro for The Passage of Power, his fourth volume on President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Ironically, Caro was in Texas doing research for his next LBJ volume so one of his editors, Katherine Hourigan from Knopf, accepted the award on his behalf. Well-deserved.



A Gathering to Honor Nicholas deBelleville Katzenbach

Last week on the summer solstice, June 21, the Katzenbach family held a memorial service in Richardson Auditorium at Princeton University to celebrate the life of Nicholas deBelleville Katzenbach, former attorney general. Everything about the memorial was an apt reflection of the man who passed away on May 8, 2012 at the age of 90.

His quick wit, sense of humor, and decency were on display for all to see through the memories of his friends and family. There was so much laughter in Richardson Auditorium that day that if you didn’t know better you would have thought you walked into a comedy club not a memorial service.

It was only fitting that the memorial was held at Princeton University, his alma mater, and an academic institution for which he cared deeply about, spending years on its Boards of Trustees and also providing pro bono legal services on occasion. Former Princeton President Bill Bowen was the first to pay homage to the man no longer among us. “He was truly ‘one of a kind’: a gentle giant of a man, as kind, compassionate and humorous as he was brilliant,” said Bowen.

Following Bowen were three lifelong friends, all of whom had known Katzenbach for a half-century or more – Herb Sturz, Jack Rosenthal, and Ward Chamberlin, the latter of whom had known Katzenbach since their teenage years at Exeter. He regaled the crowd with stories of a European adventure they took following high school graduation. They went on a biking tour of France and wouldn’t you know it, it happened to coincide with the Tour de France. The boys tried to ride ahead of the pack (avoiding several miles and towns on the route) so they could arrive at the next layover ahead of the cyclists, but hoping to be mistaken for them.

One of the most memorable stories was told by Jack Rosenthal. He recounted a visit Katzenbach made to the LBJ Ranch in which President Johnson took his guests deer hunting. Katzenbach was not thrilled about the prospect. He was not a hunter. “And then,” as Rosenthal told it, “inspiration struck. Katzenbach said, ‘Mr. President, as much as I’d like to shoot a deer, I don’t think I should, I don’t have a Texas hunting license.’” This was particularly problematic given his position, as attorney general and he didn’t want to violate the law. LBJ responded, “You know, I never thought of that.” Both Katzenbach and a deer were spared.

The three friends were followed by Katzenbach’s four children, as different as can be, but all inherited Katzenbach’s wit and knack for storytelling. The last of his children to speak was his daughter, Mimi. Her theatrical background and stage presence commanded attention. She explained why there was a Bloodgood Maple tree on the stage. The answer can be traced to the Revolutionary War and Katzenbach’s namesake, Dr. Nicholas deBelleville.  As she said, goodness flowed through his veins. During the Battle of Trenton, Dr. deBelleville ordered both sides to carry their wounded to a bloodgood maple tree in the middle of the battlefield and he treated them all. “Like his namesake on the battlefield,” said Mimi, “Dad did not discriminate among those who are wounded in the fight for freedom and justice.”

After the service everyone retired to the Prospect House, a Victorian mansion in the center of campus, which once housed Princeton University presidents such as Woodrow Wilson. At the Prospect House friends, family and colleagues from as far back as Katzenbach’s days in the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations to his tenure as general counsel at IBM, and beyond, mingled and reminisced about the man who not only impacted the hundreds in attendance, but also this nation.


One lesson I learned years ago is how warm and welcoming the aviation community is, and, I experienced that again today, as did the crowd at Andrews Air Force Base who turned out for the Joint Services Open House & Air Show.

The aerial show was spectacular and included performances by aerobatic Hall of Famer Sean Tucker, the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team, and the Navy’s world reknown Blue Angels, but that’s not why I went.

I went to Andrews to meet Panchito, a 68-year-old bomber. Panchito is a B-25J and Nicholas Katzenbach was shot down in an earlier version of the B-25, a B-25C. I’ve read all about B-25s and their famous Doolittle Raid over Japan, but I’d never seen a B-25 in person.

When I arrived at the air show, Sean Tucker was dazzling the crowd with his barrel rolls, loops, and dives. My visit was already off to a good start. With dozens of aircrafts on the tarmac I asked someone in a golf cart which way the B-25 was and I ended up getting a lift. Lucky for me as Panchito was at the other end of the field.

Seeing a B-25 in person is quite different than seeing one in pictures. B-25s are a medium sized twin-engine bomber used during WWII. While it seems large from the outside (with a wingspan of nearly 68 feet), inside it seems miniscule.

Yes, that’s right I got to climb inside this warbird thanks to Larry Kelley who heads up Panchito’s flight team. He knew who Nicholas Katzenbach was, but didn’t realize he was shot down in a B-25. With that, the welcome mat was extended and a narrow staircase was pulled down from the front of the plane. Here’s some unsolicited advice, don’t wear a dress and don’t wear sandals. I wore both. None-the-less I made it up the narrow ladder and giant steps with guidance from Larry.

While the bomber looks large from outside, inside is another story. It seemed cramped to me and I’m a foot shorter than Katzenbach. The cockpit was tight, with the pilot and co-pilots’ seats closer than I thought. The body of the plane isn’t wide and to get to the gunner position one has to crawl into the nose, I didn’t do that.

Behind the cockpit was a section that Larry told me would have been outfitted for the navigator in the B-25C (Larry knew all the slight modifications between the B-25C and B-25J). Even more remarkable, he had a copy of the original B-25C Maintenance Manual complete with diagrams, photographs, and text. In the manual we were able to see the type of folding navigator table and stool that Katzenbach would have used. Just when I thought chapter two was done, I now need to go back and infuse some of this amazing information I gleaned today. I literally was on cloud nine. While I beamed, Panchito’s metallic skin shined under the sunlight.

Thanks to Larry Kelley for the impromptu cockpit tour, and his son, crew member Josh Kelley, and crew photographer, Richard Allnutt.

It should also be noted that while the Panchito crew shares this warbird with the public they do so for a good cause; Disabled American Veterans (DAV). The Panchito crew offers rides and raises money so DAV can provide free services to our nation’s veterans, assisting them in obtaining medical care and benefits they’ve earned and deserved. For more information, visit:

Thanks again and happy flying!

USA Today Column: Katzenbach civil rights legacy lives on today

  1. In case you missed it, I had a column in the USA Today over the weekend about Nicholas Katzenbah.  I hope you enjoy !

Column: Katzenbach civil rights legacy lives on today

By Amy Schapiro

Updated 2d 15h ago
Tuesday night, this country lost one of its national heroes. For those who grew up in the ’60s, Nicholas Katzenbach, who was 90, was a household name. For today’s generation, it is a forgotten name. Yet the lives we lead today would be drastically different if it weren’t for the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Bill of 1965. Katzenbach was one of the key architects behind that legislation and more.
  • In this 1963 photo, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, at right, confronts Alabama Gov. George Wallace, standing in front of a door to keep blacks from enrolling at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala.By Calvin Hannah, APIn this 1963 photo, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, at right, confronts Alabama Gov. George Wallace, standing in front of a door to keep blacks from enrolling at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

In some sense, it is ironic that on the day it was learned that an unsung hero of the civil rights movement died, the president of the United States, the first African-American, advocated his support for same-sex marriage — the next battleground for equality.

As Robert Kennedy‘s deputy attorney general, it was Katzenbach whom the Kennedy administration relied on to craft legislation and quell crisis after crisis. Katzenbach was the ranking government official dispatched to represent the attorney general, and the president, when James Meredith enrolled at theUniversity of Mississippi.

The following year, it was Katzenbach who was sent to another college campus to enforce the integration of theUniversity of Alabama by two African-American students, James Hood and Vivian Malone (who would later become the sister-in-law of current Attorney General Eric Holder).

Reflections by Holder

The impressions that Katzenbach made on a 12-year-old Holder were everlasting. “When I became deputy in 1997, Nick Katzenbach was a person who by then, I never met, but whom I knew from history,” Holder told me during an interview last year. “One of the things I always do as I take these jobs is try to think about who my predecessors are and what they do well. … As I thought about what I wanted to do as deputy, I wanted to be a force beyond simply making sure that the ship was running on time, and I took that from the experience of having seen (Katzenbach) playing such a pivotal role in a historical event.”

The photo of that historic confrontation — between a short and stocky segregationist governor, George Wallace, and a tall balding government official, Katzenbach, has become an iconic image of the struggle for civil rights. On that hot June day in 1963, Wallace planned to seize the opportunity to highlight himself and his cause. But what he didn’t expect was to be upstaged by a 6’2 man who called it like he saw it — “a show.”

Katzenbach always called it like he saw it. He didn’t mince words; he was a straight shooter, and he accomplished something few others can say. He was the rare individual who was trusted by rivals Robert Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. He was part of Bobby Kennedy‘s inner circle, and later succeeded Kennedy as LBJ’s attorney general. For Johnson to appoint a Kennedy man in the position spoke volumes about Katzenbach. Katzenbach was his own man, guided by the principles of the U.S. Constitution. In recent years, he was beside himself over the Citizens United ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. Even in his later years, he never lost his love of the law.

His father’s footsteps

In pursuing the law he emulated his father, who was the state attorney general of New Jersey and died when Katzenbach was just 12 years old.

Katzenbach endured his own struggle for freedom when he was shot down in a B-25 over the Mediterranean and spent 27 months as a POW during World War II. While he was stymied by the confines of prison, he maximized his time by reading hundreds of books, including legal tomes, so he could return to the U.S. and earn his bachelor’s degree from Princeton University and pursue his dream of becoming a lawyer. He accomplished both.

When Katzenbach wanted to work for the Kennedy administration, he turned to Yale Law School classmate Byron White. Katzenbach’s eyes were set not on the Department of Justice, but rather the State Department. Ironically, that is where Katzenbach ended his government career. In what was considered a surprise move by President Johnson, Katzenbach went from being attorney general to under secretary of State under Dean Rusk. With the passage of the civil rights legislation, Katzenbach was ready to take on a new challenge, the Vietnam War. He was a dove among hawks and groomed many future statesmen such as Richard HolbrookeAnthony Lake and Lawrence Eagleburger, who all worked for him.

I recently asked Katzenbach about the stalemate in Congress due to unwillingness to compromise. He replied, “Compromise assumes, I think, a certain rationality and a willingness to postpone, not necessarily give up. I never tried to convince the Southerners to stop discriminating and vote for civil rights. But with everyone, I was willing to explain why we wanted a provision and what we thought it would accomplish.”

He did the same when a proposal or amendment wasn’t favored. As he said, “These discussions often exposed a misunderstanding that could be cured. Our language could be interpreted in ways we did not intend.”

This nation will certainly miss public servants like Katzenbach who valued the art of understanding and compromise.

Amy Schapiro is author of the forthcoming biography Leading Justice: The Life of Nicholas deBelleville Katzenbach, which will be published next year.

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Women’s Education, Women’s Empowerment

This year I kicked off Women’s History Month as the luncheon speaker at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (more about that later) in Washington, DC. The Board’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, headed by Sheila Clark, decided to celebrate Women’s History Month by hosting a high noon tea.  This year’s theme was “Women’s Education, Women’s Empowerment,” and it was the perfect topic to discuss the life of Millicent Fenwick.

Born in 1910, Millicent Fenwick’s life embodied the times. When her father was appointed the U.S. Ambassador to Spain in 1925 her brother and stepbrother were allowed to stay in the United States to continue their education at St. Paul’s boarding school, but Millicent and her sister, Mary, were not afforded the same opportunity. The sisters were pulled out of Foxcroft Boarding School to accompany their father to Spain. Since Mary was a senior she was granted her high school diploma, but not Millicent. She was 15-years-old when her formal education ended. Despite her quest for knowledge, Millicent Hammond Fenwick never graduated from high school.

In 1938, in the wake of divorce, Fenwick sought employment. She applied for a job at an upscale New York department store. The interview went well until she was asked what college she went to. When she said she didn’t go to college, she was asked what high school she graduated from? She told them she attended high school for two years, but never graduated. That information promptly ended the interview. They wouldn’t hire anyone without a high school diploma.

Fenwick didn’t let her lack of a formal education hinder her path forward, but it took her longer to empower herself. At the age of 59, she was tired of following the “typical female pattern … I finally learned that when a man wants more he says, ‘Listen George, I want a bit of the action.’ Well, we’ve been taught, ‘You have to wait to be invited to the dance.’” Fenwick was tired of waiting. In 1967, she was hoping party leaders would select her to run for a state seat. They didn’t. Two years later, she didn’t make the same mistake. She spoke up and was named the Republican candidate for the Eight District Assembly seat. She won, launching her political career and, in essence, marking the beginning of her journey towards the nation’s Capitol.

Fenwick was elected to the House of Representatives in 1974. She was 1 of 18 women in Congress. All were in the House, none were in the Senate. Today there are 90 women serving in Congress, 17 of whom are in the Senate.

Since I was speaking at the Federal Reserve, I shared a story about Fenwick being on the “Banking, Currency, and Housing Committee,” a freshman assignment she detested and referred to as Beirut. Maybe if she visited the Federal Reserve she would have a different opinion.

I’ve lived in Washington for years, but the Federal Reserve was one building I’d never been inside. DeAnna Neill, the event coordinator, gave me a private tour of the building after the luncheon. Not only did I get to see the grand staircase, but also where Chairman Bernanke’s office and conference room were tucked away. The ornate conference room was in use, but the adjacent conference room was just as stunning. Most surprising, was the art. The Federal Reserve has its own art collection donning the walls. Who knew?


Brian Lamb

One of the few staples in my life has been watching Brian Lamb on C-Span every Sunday night at 8 p.m. First, it was for his hour-long author interview program called Booknotes. Each week it featured a different author and book; and Brian Lamb read them all. Then that program, in 2004, morphed into Q & A. It was still an hour-long program, but not necessarily with an author.  “Every Sunday night, we introduce you to interesting people who are making things happen in politics, the media, education, and science & technology in hour-long conversations about their lives and their work.” That’s how C-Span describes Q & A.

Today, March 19, marks the 33rd anniversary of C-Span, and a surprise announcement. Brian Lamb, the CEO and founder of the Cable Satellite Public Affairs Network (C-Span), is stepping down. His efforts to bring more transparency to government by providing public access to the political process by offering live feeds from the House and Senate floors and congressional hearings, has transformed the landscape of political news coverage.

He also transformed lives. When I started down the biography path I knew no writers nor I had taken any writing classes. What Brian Lamb did through Booknotes, was bring authors to my living room. He not only asked them questions about their subject, but also their writing process. And what those authors shared gave me new ideas, and, often validated what I was doing. It was the best education one could get, and it was accessible and free.

Although Brian Lamb is stepping down from the C-Span helm, he plans to continue hosting Q & A. My Sunday night tradition will continue.


My Second Book Review: Sonia Gandhi

This week my second book review was published in the Washington Independent Review of Books. It’s about a current Gandhi in office and one for whom you may not be familiar, Sonia Gandhi. To learn more click here:

or read the review below.

Sonia Gandhi: An Extraordinary Life, An Indian Destiny

By Rani Singh

Palgrave Macmillan

288 pp.

Reviewed by Amy Schapiro

Gandhi. The name for many evokes Mahatma or Indira, but Rani Singh’s new book isn’t about them. It is about one of India’s current political leaders, Sonia Gandhi. Rani Singh, a London-based journalist, brings her investigative skills to this remarkable story of an Italian schoolgirl who went to England, met a boy, married him and instantly became a member of the Nehru-Gandhi family dynasty.

When Sonia Maino met Rajiv Gandhi in a Cambridge restaurant, it was love at first sight for both. “I just wanted Rajiv,” said Sonia. “I could have gone to any part of the world for him. He was my biggest security.” Before the pair married, they had to endure a one-year separation imposed by Sonia’s father, who did not want his 20-year-old daughter moving across the ocean and marrying a foreigner. But that’s just what she did.

In a matter of weeks, Sonia went from living in a small Italian village with her parents to living in New Delhi with her mother-in-law, Indira Gandhi, at the prime minister’s residence. Indira Gandhi took her new daughter-in-law under her wing and helped shepherd her through the transition to a new culture, language, and lifestyle. Sonia was determined to immerse herself into her new homeland and she did that by giving up her old one. As Sonia said, “I decided that my roots had to be properly embedded in India. …  This would be possible only if I severed all contacts with Italy.” Once Sonia achieved that goal she reconnected with her Italian family.

The first part of the book examines Sonia’s childhood and idyllic family life with Rajiv and their two children ― but the fairy tale comes to a sudden end. Like the Kennedy family, the Nehru-Gandhi family produced a political dynasty and suffered an excruciating amount of pain. In Part II, Singh describes the death of Rajiv’s only brother, Sanjay, in a plane crash, and the even more devastating assassination of Indira Gandhi by one of her bodyguards. India lost the woman dubbed the mother of the nation, and Sonia lost a mother-in-law, mentor and confidante.

In the wake of his mother’s death, Rajiv was asked to step up to the political plate, and he did, becoming the youngest prime minister of India, at the age of 40. Sonia did not rejoice. Instead, she feared her husband would meet the same violent fate as his mother. He did, assassinated by a bomb blast that was so powerful it tore his body apart and emotionally shattered his wife of 23 years.

The second half of the book chronicles how a grief-stricken Sonia Gandhi gradually entered a life of politics as the politician, not the spouse. According to Singh, living with Indira was “the best political kindergarten Sonia could have had, and she absorbed everything osmotically, even though she was never interested in being a politician.”

Sonia’s foremost interest was preserving the legacy of her husband. She did so through the establishment and chairmanship of the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, which espoused his vision for a new India through science, technology, literacy and an emphasis on the future ― the country’s youth. The Indian National Congress, the party of Rajiv, Indira and Indira’s father, Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, was desperate for a Nehru-Gandhi to lead and tried to recruit Sonia into the family business. As Sonia recovered from her loss and gradually built up her confidence, she answered the call of the party, not by choice, but to advance the ideas of her husband.

The irony is that for more than a dozen years of marriage, Rajiv and Sonia led a quiet life out of the spotlight. He was an airline pilot and she ran the household. When Rajiv’s brother died suddenly in 1980, the political torch was passed to Rajiv. This was the first time there was tension in the marriage. Sonia was a reluctant political spouse, but once again adapted. She traveled the countryside with her husband and demonstrated an innate ability to connect with people. This skill served Sonia well, as did her years of playing host to world leaders first, when Indira was prime minister, and later, when her husband held that position.

Mikhail Gorbachev was among the first political leaders Sonia met once her husband assumed his role as prime minister. The friendship that emerged between the Gorbachevs and Gandhis is recounted in Gorbachev’s foreword to the book, as is the reluctance of both Rajiv and Sonia to be on the world’s political stage.

One wonders if it was Sonia’s lack of desire to become a politician that gave her the luxury to step down at will. She did that twice when opposition about her not being a native-born Indian became deafening and unproductive. While Sonia’s opponents have used her Italian roots against her, the people of India have always embraced her, and the Indian National Congress has relied on her to rejuvenate the party and the voters.

Sonia’s rebirth and the development of her political prowess, first at the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation and then leading the Indian National Congress, comprise the last two parts of this six-part book. For those who are novices at Indian politics, Singh does a good job of weaving an understanding of India’s political structure and key players into the narrative.

What’s most remarkable about this book is that it is about a powerful contemporary figure, but one with whom most Americans are not familiar. Since India, with a rapidly growing population, is expected to surpass China as the most populous  nation in the world, it’s vital that the story of Sonia Gandhi and her leadership is understood as India becomes a key player in atomic energy and its economy continues to expand globally as the class divide within India widens.

Amy Schapiro is the author of Millicent Fenwick: Her Way. Schapiro’s next book is Leading Justice: The Life of Nicholas deBelleville Katzenbach.