Reagan biographer bites back

Edmund Morris answers his critics in an online chat.

Published September 30, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

In an online chat Wednesday, Edmund Morris, the author of "Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan," had a chance to answer the critics who lambasted his book before its release. Newsweek (which offers excerpts of the new biography in its current issue) unleashed the Pulitzer Prize-winning author in its Web site's Cover Talk section, and he came out snapping -- when his antagonists weren't snapping at him.

A question from Santa Ana, Calif., had the form of an indictment: "I believe that the panic you felt, brought on by impending humiliation, caused you to make a very unwise and now embarrassing decision." To which Morris replied, "I don't believe that you will believe
that, when you read the book. And the epiphany, such as it was, was not caused by writer's block, but by plain old writer's inspiration."

When asked if his best work is 20 years behind him, Morris retorted, "I think that my best work is not twenty years behind, but twenty-four hours ahead, tomorrow being the publication day." Responding to a gentler question from Modesto, Calif., about people who weighed in on the book prior to its release, Morris replied, "I find it saddening but not surprising given the pack mentality of today's ever-hasty press, not to mention the knee-jerk mentality of former aides who have not yet read the book."

The book was embargoed by Random House until Sept. 30, and so Morris naturally assumes that no one has had access to it. Thus he blasted a questioner in Houston with the following crack: "I congratulate you on the extraordinary speed with which you have read a book not yet in the stores." But he may have been too hasty in his sarcasm. According to an employee at the national Borders chain, "Dutch" has been available to its customers since last Friday and, in some cases, since last Thursday.

By Craig Offman

Craig Offman is the New York correspondent for Salon Books.

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