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The Most Famous Writer Who Ever Lived: A True Story of My Family

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The Washington Post Book Club's October Pick One of Washington Independent Review of Book's Favorite Books of 2016 "A grandson of writer MacKinlay Kantor unravels the tangles of his grandfather's life and finds many of those same threads (the good, the bad, the ugly) in his own...A compelling account, suffused with both sympathy and sharpness, of a writer who's mostly forgo The Washington Post Book Club's October Pick One of Washington Independent Review of Book's Favorite Books of 2016 "A grandson of writer MacKinlay Kantor unravels the tangles of his grandfather's life and finds many of those same threads (the good, the bad, the ugly) in his own...A compelling account, suffused with both sympathy and sharpness, of a writer who's mostly forgotten and of a grandson who's grateful."--Kirkus Reviews An award-winning veteran of The Washington Post and The Miami Herald, Tom Shroder has made a career of investigative journalism and human-interest stories, from those of children who claim to have memories of past lives, in his book Old Souls, to that of a former Marine suffering from debilitating PTSD and his doctor pioneering a successful psychedelic drug treat-ment in Acid Test. Shroder's most fascinating subject, however, comes from within his own family: his grandfather MacKinlay Kantor was the world-famous author of Andersonville, the seminal novel about the Civil War. As a child, Shroder was in awe of his grandfather's larger-than-life character. Kantor's friends included Ernest Hemingway, Carl Sandburg, Gregory Peck, and James Cagney. He was an early mentor to the novelist John D. MacDonald and is cred-ited with discovering the singer Burl Ives. Kantor wrote the novel Glory for Me, which became the multi-Oscar-winning film The Best Years of Our Lives. He ghostwrote General Curtis LeMay's memoirs, penning the infamous words "We're going to bomb them back into the Stone Age," referring to North Vietnam. Kantor also suffered from alcoholism, an outsize ego, and an abusive and publicly embarrassing personality where his family was concerned; he blew through several small fortunes in his lifetime, and died nearly destitute. In The Most Famous Writer Who Ever Lived, Shroder revisits the past--Kantor's upbringing, his early life, his career trajectory-- and writes not just the life story of one man but a meditation on fame, family secrets and legacies, and what is remembered after we are gone.


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The Washington Post Book Club's October Pick One of Washington Independent Review of Book's Favorite Books of 2016 "A grandson of writer MacKinlay Kantor unravels the tangles of his grandfather's life and finds many of those same threads (the good, the bad, the ugly) in his own...A compelling account, suffused with both sympathy and sharpness, of a writer who's mostly forgo The Washington Post Book Club's October Pick One of Washington Independent Review of Book's Favorite Books of 2016 "A grandson of writer MacKinlay Kantor unravels the tangles of his grandfather's life and finds many of those same threads (the good, the bad, the ugly) in his own...A compelling account, suffused with both sympathy and sharpness, of a writer who's mostly forgotten and of a grandson who's grateful."--Kirkus Reviews An award-winning veteran of The Washington Post and The Miami Herald, Tom Shroder has made a career of investigative journalism and human-interest stories, from those of children who claim to have memories of past lives, in his book Old Souls, to that of a former Marine suffering from debilitating PTSD and his doctor pioneering a successful psychedelic drug treat-ment in Acid Test. Shroder's most fascinating subject, however, comes from within his own family: his grandfather MacKinlay Kantor was the world-famous author of Andersonville, the seminal novel about the Civil War. As a child, Shroder was in awe of his grandfather's larger-than-life character. Kantor's friends included Ernest Hemingway, Carl Sandburg, Gregory Peck, and James Cagney. He was an early mentor to the novelist John D. MacDonald and is cred-ited with discovering the singer Burl Ives. Kantor wrote the novel Glory for Me, which became the multi-Oscar-winning film The Best Years of Our Lives. He ghostwrote General Curtis LeMay's memoirs, penning the infamous words "We're going to bomb them back into the Stone Age," referring to North Vietnam. Kantor also suffered from alcoholism, an outsize ego, and an abusive and publicly embarrassing personality where his family was concerned; he blew through several small fortunes in his lifetime, and died nearly destitute. In The Most Famous Writer Who Ever Lived, Shroder revisits the past--Kantor's upbringing, his early life, his career trajectory-- and writes not just the life story of one man but a meditation on fame, family secrets and legacies, and what is remembered after we are gone.

30 review for The Most Famous Writer Who Ever Lived: A True Story of My Family

  1. 5 out of 5

    Anne V.

    My review and ratings for this book are broken into three distinct parts: Three stars for the first two-thirds, because it was intermittently interesting and engrossing, but sometimes confusing to try to keep track of whose grandfather/father he was talking about. By the time I got to the last hundred pages or so, I had dropped it to a one star with these comments: It appears to be no easy task to live up to the hype of a mythical literary family member, harder still for a person who only became aw My review and ratings for this book are broken into three distinct parts: Three stars for the first two-thirds, because it was intermittently interesting and engrossing, but sometimes confusing to try to keep track of whose grandfather/father he was talking about. By the time I got to the last hundred pages or so, I had dropped it to a one star with these comments: It appears to be no easy task to live up to the hype of a mythical literary family member, harder still for a person who only became aware of that influence later in life (despite repeated anecdotes to the contrary) after struggling to achieve greatness in the same vein. Tom Shroder is naked in his drive to find out through exhaustive research exactly why his grandfather was such a compelling person/writer when he himself struggles to extract his own literary output. Even as he discovers and exposes the tender, often ugly, underbellies of the men in the successive generations he explores, he sees in himself the unsatisfying sameness yet difference that somehow leaves him more tortured than before, as if he became frustrated that he could not simply evoke the magic of his family ego. This is a mediocre book, and after reading nearly all of it, I am still unsure as to what meaning the title was supposed to convey. While it is true the reader learns much about Kantor, the real story is about Shroder himself. The writing in this biography/memoir is fine, but on the whole, the book is uncomfortably self-aware, too full, and meanders through this and that, ending up as part soul-searching, part angry rant, part melancholy oozing, and part airing of dirty laundry to no purpose whatsoever. Maybe it was the format, which was difficult at times to follow from the “I” he was using to write in first person, or the “I” he was using to quote something Kantor or his father described in notes, while freely going back and forth from one to the other. But really, I think it was just too much talk and not much to talk about. However… When I got to the last part of the book, I found a completely charming solid five star ending, making the book a worthy trip to have taken overall. In fact, rarely have I come across such a near perfect, wise, and honestly humble denouement in fiction or nonfiction. It not only made everything make sense, it was really good, erasing all of my gripes from earlier. Could have been a little shorter and less cluttered, but has value beyond a simple biography. A review copy was received from the publisher through firsttoread in exchange for an honest review. This review and more at annevolmering.com.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Morgan

    I would argue that few people could call this book anything but a vanity piece; a labor of love for the author's own family history that few people can relate to, nor would think is nearly as interesting as the author himself does. The author is a professional writer, so at least the writing is solid, not laborious to drag through. I actually have great-grandparents who lived in Webster City, IA, where this story starts and frequently returns, probably at the same time as the author's great-gran I would argue that few people could call this book anything but a vanity piece; a labor of love for the author's own family history that few people can relate to, nor would think is nearly as interesting as the author himself does. The author is a professional writer, so at least the writing is solid, not laborious to drag through. I actually have great-grandparents who lived in Webster City, IA, where this story starts and frequently returns, probably at the same time as the author's great-grandpa or grandpa, who turns out to the be featured character of this book. I also worked for many years at the Cedar Rapids Gazette, where the author's ancestor had history with as well. So, these are the parts that kept me hanging in there during this extra-long tribute to his family line. If I hadn't been curious to see if my ancestors would possibly turn up in this tale, or for the tiniest bits I could somewhat relate to, I think I may have given up on this book about halfway in. About half of the book focuses on the author's great-grandfather, who was a con man and swindler until the day he died. The rest of the book focuses on his grandfather who wrote a number of books, some of which were "wildly" successful (although I'd never heard of any of them probably due to my age, which is one generation younger than the author). Although these men led interesting lives, I'm not sure they warranted a 400+ page book. I think it's great the author spent time delving into his family history and drew many comparisons to his own life from his grandfather's. That's important work, to remember where you came from. And I think it's great that he thought these lives worthy of writing a book about. It just seems like more of a personal piece than a piece for public consumption. I won a copy of this book via First Reads.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Logan-Reynolds

    For an author that I had never heard of, the grandson did a great job keeping my interest in him. It’s a thick book yet it’s an easy read.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ann

    Tom Shroder has simultaneously written an autobiography and biography. As such, it is not he who is the eponymous writer but his grandfather, Pulitzer Prize winner, MacKinlay Kantor. Shroder has done extensive research into his grandfather's life and shares his findings in effective prose. He also shares his own life story which, in many ways, parallels his grandfather's, as well as several other ancestors. I think the book is best summed up by Shroder's own observation :" the idea that relation Tom Shroder has simultaneously written an autobiography and biography. As such, it is not he who is the eponymous writer but his grandfather, Pulitzer Prize winner, MacKinlay Kantor. Shroder has done extensive research into his grandfather's life and shares his findings in effective prose. He also shares his own life story which, in many ways, parallels his grandfather's, as well as several other ancestors. I think the book is best summed up by Shroder's own observation :" the idea that relations were somehow 'in you blood' predated by centuries the biological understanding (of) DNA" . He further relates "The profound psychological impact of ancestry has been cleverly highlighted by recent research at Emory University". (Sorry for the quotation marks, Mack). So, it would seem, indeed, that talent is in his blood. Tom Shroder has done his ancestors proud in this very engaging book. I was given a copy of this book by Penguin's First to Read program.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Cláudia

    Thank you to Penguin - First to Read program for giving me an early copy of the book The main reason why I wanted to read this book was its description, it captivated me to what seemed a good book, aside from the tittle itself, that for me got a special touch. To be honest it was a hard read, I felt the need to force myself to read it fully, and I did try to get interested in the story and continue it, but I got lost sometimes due to the fact it's really easy to loose interest. The plot could be Thank you to Penguin - First to Read program for giving me an early copy of the book The main reason why I wanted to read this book was its description, it captivated me to what seemed a good book, aside from the tittle itself, that for me got a special touch. To be honest it was a hard read, I felt the need to force myself to read it fully, and I did try to get interested in the story and continue it, but I got lost sometimes due to the fact it's really easy to loose interest. The plot could be better, since it's an inspirational tale of the grandfather that influences his grandson to become a writer. I got disappointed with this book, my rate would be 1,5 out of 5 stars

  6. 4 out of 5

    kevin moore

    Unique, and thought provoking about family.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Linda Perlstein

  8. 4 out of 5

    Chloe Miller

  9. 4 out of 5

    Christine

  10. 4 out of 5

    Cathy

  11. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    At his peak, MacKinlay Kantor really was "the most famous author." His books got rave reviews, he was profiled in magazines and newspapers, and he earned an impressive sum from his writing. But now he is barely remembered, and his grandson, a former editor at the Washington Post and author of several books, sets out to discover the past. Details of the search are entertaining, the revelations are fascinating, along with the parallels to Shroder's life. At his peak, MacKinlay Kantor really was "the most famous author." His books got rave reviews, he was profiled in magazines and newspapers, and he earned an impressive sum from his writing. But now he is barely remembered, and his grandson, a former editor at the Washington Post and author of several books, sets out to discover the past. Details of the search are entertaining, the revelations are fascinating, along with the parallels to Shroder's life.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Blythe

  13. 4 out of 5

    Phyllis

  14. 5 out of 5

    Peggy

  15. 5 out of 5

    Julianne M

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kay Bernstein

  17. 4 out of 5

    Gwen - Chew & Digest Books -

  18. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Ford

  19. 5 out of 5

    Dave

  20. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

  21. 5 out of 5

    Bruce Lord

  22. 4 out of 5

    Elsie

  23. 5 out of 5

    Margaret George

  24. 4 out of 5

    Julie

  25. 4 out of 5

    Melanie

  26. 4 out of 5

    Brian Nass

  27. 4 out of 5

    Shannon

  28. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie Crowe

  29. 4 out of 5

    Annie Garvey

  30. 4 out of 5

    John

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