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2007 National Book Award Nonfiction Winner Interview With Tim Weiner
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Photo © Jessica D. B. Doyle
Tim Weiner
Legacy of Ashes:
The History of the CIA


Interview conducted by Jennifer Gonnerman.

JG: What was the hardest part of your book to write – and why was it so challenging?

TW: 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?

TW: Only three?

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 moment?

TW: Nothing compares to holding the thing itself in your hands.

JG: What’s the greatest personal debt you incurred while writing this book?

TW: 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 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.

JG: What’s the single best piece of advice you received while working on this book?

TW: 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?

TW: To increase my will to write more books.

Jennifer 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



Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA is currently available at your local library or or for sale through most major retailers, including:


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