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JFK's newest biographer

Nigel Hamilton defends book and lauds its subject

December 27, 1992|By Tim Warren | Tim Warren,Book Editor

It was an experience far different from his recent writing of the Kennedy book. "I could talk to everyone I wanted to," Mr. Hamilton says. "Everyone was willing to talk to me, even when some of the stories were, kind of embarrassing. When I got into the final volume, this Swiss gentleman wrote to me. He said Monty had gotten quite fond of him when he was a 13-year-old boy, and that he had about 170 letters from the field marshal.

"Well, as the official biographer, this was an uncomfortable moment - what do you do? But the family trusted me absolutely. The Swiss man sent the letters to Monty's son, and his son actually handed them over to me and said, 'Look, you're the official biographer. You decide how to use them.' I quoted from the letters, putting them in the context of the story, and nobody ever wrote to me about them or accused me of muckraking."

He says he's well into the writing of the second volume of the Kennedy biography, but begs off when asked his timetable. "We have a house in London, and my wife [Outi] wants to go back very much," he says. "So I just keep telling her, 'One more year, one more year.' But it will be a while, I'm afraid."

He taps a copy of "Reckless Youth," which sits majestically on a living room table. "After all, this was going to be a one-volume book," he says. "And it still took me 900 pages just to cover the first 29 years of his life."

THE HAMILTON FILE

Occupation: Author.

Born: Feb. 16, 1944; Northumberland, England.

Educated: Degree in history from Cambridge University in 1965.

Current home: McLean, Va.

Family: Married to Outi. Four Sons.

On a biographers relationship with his subjects: "The truth is, you're in effect living with your character, and while you're writing your book there's an extra plate at the table for him. His knife, fork and glass are there, just as if he's part of the family. That's why I've never understood biographers who dislike their subjects, because how could you tolerate an extra member of the family for several years if you despise them?"

On whether he will write about Kennedy's assassination in the third volume: "The assassination itself is an endless morass, and I'm ending the story at the point when the shots are fired. I was at the Library of Congress and did a computer search on the number of books on Kennedy. There were 458 books on him, and about 400 dealt with the assassination."

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