Author Revealed

About Jonathan Alter

Q. What is your birthdate?

A. 10/6

Q. Previous occupations

A. My current and previous occupation: journalist.

Q. Favorite job

A. writer and editor at The Washington Monthly

Q. High school and/or college

A. Francis W. Parker, Phillips Academy, Andover; Harvard College

Q. Name of your favorite composer or music artist?

A. Paul McCartney

Q. Favorite movie

A. The Killing Fields

Q. Favorite television show

A. The Colbert Report

Revealing Questions

Q. How would you describe your life in only 8 words?

A. My goals: Work Hard. Be Nice. Keep perspective.

Q. What is your motto or maxim?

A. I don't like mottos but believe in staying skeptical yet idealistic.

Q. How would you describe perfect happiness?

A. A day on vacation with my wife and our three kids.

Q. What’s your greatest fear?

A. Dying of cancer (I'm a cancer survivor)

Q. If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?

A. Skiing on a beautiful day with good snow.

Q. With whom in history do you most identify?

A. Franklin Roosevelt

Q. Which living person do you most admire?

A. Nelson Mandela

Q. What are your most overused words or phrases?

A. "But" and "hey"

Q. What do you regret most?

A. Intentional or unintentional unkindness

Q. If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?

A. Photographic memory for names and faces.

Q. What is your greatest achievement?

A. My kids.

Q. What’s your greatest flaw?

A. Hubristic unthoughtfulness

Q. What’s your best quality?

A. Friendliness and seriousness of purpose

Q. If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?

A. Barack Obama

Q. What trait is most noticeable about you?

A. My intense interest in politics and history.

Q. Who is your favorite fictional hero?

A. Atticus Finch

Q. Who is your favorite fictional villain?

A. Tony Soprano

Q. If you could meet any historical character, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?

A. I'd ask Abraham Lincoln about his childhood, which is not well understood.

Q. What is your biggest pet peeve?

A. Lousy customer service.

Q. What is your favorite occupation, when you’re not writing?

A. Watching funny movies.

Q. What’s your fantasy profession?

A. President of the United States

Q. What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?

A. Sense of humor, decency, insight

Q. If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?

A. artichoke

Q. What are your 5 favorite songs?

A. "Yesterday," "Good Golly, Miss Molly," "You're So Vain," "Sweet Baby James," "Imagine"

On Books and Writing

Q. Who are your favorite authors?

A. Just a few of them: Robert Caro, Taylor Branch, David Halberstam, David Donald, Geoffrey Ward, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Philip Roth, John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut, John Fowles.

Q. What are your 5 favorite books of all time?

A. I like parts of different books but don't have a top five.

Q. Is there a book you love to reread?

A. No. There are too many new ones I haven't read.

Q. Do you have one sentence of advice for new writers?

A. Write like you're writing a letter to your aunt.

Q. What comment do you hear most often from your readers?

A. Your book is so readable!

Q. How did you come to write The Defining Moment?

A. At the end of 1999, I did a story for the TODAY show (I moonlight on TV) about great "What Ifs?" of the 20th Century. One of the what ifs was what if Giuseppe Zangara, an unemployed bricklayer, who got off five shots at FDR two weeks before he was inaugurated on March 4, 1933, had killed the president-elect? How would history be different without Roosevelt? I submitted the book proposal to Simon and Schuster on September 10, 2001. After 9/11, I put the whole project aside for six months. But then I woke up with a start one night and realized that the big issue of our time was the quality of our crisis leadership. This brought me back to the master--Franklin Roosevelt.



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