© Jessica D. B. Doyle
Legacy of Ashes:
The History of the CIA
JG: What was the hardest
part of your book to write – and why was it so
I wrote the introduction 24
times. The challenge was baiting the hook for readers,
to reel them in. When I write a newspaper story, I’ll
often write the lede last, so as to best summarize all
that the story contains in 25 words or less. Here the
lede was more than one thousand words long, but it still
had to have the force of all that followed. It had to
set the tone. It had to be calibrated so that it grabbed
you like the opening notes of a three-minute song and
stayed resonant for 500 pages.
JG: What are three
of your favorite non-fiction books of all time?
The March of Folly: From
Troy to Vietnam, by Barbara W. Tuchman
The Great War and Modern
Memory, by Paul Fussell
The collected works of H.L.
Mencken and A.J. Liebling, two newspapermen too prodigious
for the dailies.
JG: Of all that transpired
after your book was published, what was your favorite
Nothing compares to holding
the thing itself in your hands.
JG: What’s the
greatest personal debt you incurred while writing this
The New York Times,
who gave me an unfettered (if unpaid) nine-month leave;
to Phyllis Grann at Doubleday, who edited the book with
passion and precision; and to the good people of Yaddo,
who gave me eight weeks of uninterrupted peace and quiet,
free from the digitized daily world. In those eight
weeks, I got 110,000 words down. Yaddo is without question
the world’s best minimum-security prison.
Without question the debt is
to my wife and my daughters, to whom the book is dedicated.
They lived with it for two solid years without complaint.
The greatest professional debts are to Bill Keller,
the executive editor of
JG: What’s the
single best piece of advice you received while working
on this book?
To go to Yaddo – and
to come home on weekends for conjugal leaves.
JG: What impact, if
any, do you think your National Book Award nomination
will have on your future work?
To increase my will to write
Gonnerman is a contributing editor at New York Magazine.
She was a finalist for the 2004 National Book Award
for Life on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine
Bartlett (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).
Photo © Nina Subin