Friday, November 02, 2012

Interesting pieces on writers - by Boris Kachka and James Andrew Miller

There were two tremendously interesting pieces I've seen in the past few days that dealt with writers and work they've produced.

For New York Magazine, Boris Kachka wrote "Proust Wasn’t a Neuroscientist. Neither was Jonah Lehrer" on the former superstar writer and it's a fascinating view into someone's downfall. Lehrer initially got himself in trouble with news that he was recycling his old blog posts into new magazine articles, but then  deeper problems when questions arose about sources referenced and veracity of his claims.

It's a fascinating read about someone working in the the same cognitive science area as Malcolm Gladwell and the Freakonomics guys, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. I've enjoyed tremendously work from Gladwell, Levitt and Dubner, but can also see how someone writing in this realm of squishy science could potentially use liberties in supporting stories to tell and points to make. Unfortunately for Lehrer, he took it too far... with an additional supporting anecdote from the Kachka piece being how Lehrer was becoming less of a writer and more of a speaker and insight guy with an entertaining story.

The other piece on writers and writing to note here was "A Problem of Churchillian Proportions" by James Andrew Miller for the New York Times. Miller along with Tom Shales wrote the tremendously entertaining Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN and in this piece he examines the circumstances around the upcoming book The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965. As detailed by Miller, William Manchester wrote two volumes on Churchill and then realized he wasn't going to be able to finish the third book and would need a co-writer. Manchester developed a friendship with newspaper writer Paul Reid and after he was contracted to co-write the book, Reid found himself taking over upon Manchester's death in 2004.

Miller relates in his Times piece how at that point, Bill Phillips came in as editor of the book and helped Reid work through the writing process over the next six years. It's really a fantastically interesting view into the impact a great editor can have on writing.