"Most historians are not interested in telling stories. When I was writing the Margaret Mitchell book and discussing with colleagues that I wasn't sure what the plot is, a silence fell across the room," Pyron says. "Without doing damage to the data, the first responsibility of a professional historian is to get the data straight, not to tell a story. To engage an audience . . . storytelling is essential, but historians don't do it. If more than 300 people read what I write, I assume I'm doing something wrong."
O'Reilly calls his collaborator Dugard the historian. The pair take about a year to complete a book, with Dugard conducting meticulous research from his home in Orange County, Calif. They're working on a third book, but O'Reilly's mum on the subject.
How does the partnership work? "The research comes back to me; I shape the book," O'Reilly says. He'll call for more research as each tantalizing detail is unearthed. The two work back and forth in this fashion, and O'Reilly reads every sentence he has written over the phone to Dugard.
"Marty came up with great stuff, tons," O'Reilly says. "We wanted to tell people about how Kennedy changed from a shallow guy, living day to day, going after the babes. The lynchpin was the death of his baby. (Patrick died in the hospital shortly after his premature birth in August 1963.) That's why I spent so much time on that.
"Lincoln has been deified in this country, and rightly so. He was the best president and overcame the most," O'Reilly continues. "We found things about these men that had been underreported."
Both Lincoln and Kennedy have lessons to impart on our post-election nation, O'Reilly believes.
"With Lincoln, we're looking for that kind of leadership today, and I'm hoping Obama rises up in his second term and can turn the economy around and protect us against danger," O'Reilly says. "With Kennedy, I wanted to go on record with what kind of president he was at the beginning -- weak -- but he grew into the job, and maybe Obama will do that. There are parallels to these men and what's happening now."
O'Reilly's ultimate goal, much as it was 40 years ago at Pace, hasn't wavered.
"I'm not looking to win the Pulitzer," he says. "There are many good history books that are impossible to read. I'm interested in getting people to read books."