William Manchester

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William Manchester

Inscribed Book Page - 1951

Signed inscription to prominent radio interviewer Mary Margaret McBride by then-29 year old William Manchester, on the publication of his first book Disturber of the Peace.

William Raymond Manchester (1922-2004) was an American historian and biographer, notable as the bestselling author of 18 books that have been translated into 20 languages.

In 1947, Manchester went to work as a reporter for The Baltimore Sun. There he met journalist H. L. Mencken who became the subject for Manchester’s master’s thesis and first book, Disturber of the Peace. The biography, published in 1951, profiles Mencken, the self-described “conservative anarchist” who made his mark as a writer, editor, and political pundit in the 1920s. In 1953 Manchester published his novel The City of Anger fictionally placed in Baltimore and dealing with inner city life and the numbers racket, subjects Manchester had learned about as a big city reporter.

In 1955 Manchester left journalism as a career to became an editor for Wesleyan University and spent the rest of his career there, later becoming an adjunct professor of history and writer-in-residence there.

His best-selling book, The Death of a President (1967) was a detailed account of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, who had been the subject of an earlier book by Manchester. Manchester, who retraced Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald’s movements before the assassination, concluded, based on his study of Oswald’s psychology and their similar training as Marine sharpshooters, that Oswald acted alone. Manchester had the support of Robert and Jackie Kennedy, but later had a falling out with Robert Kennedy over Manchester’s treatment of President Lyndon B. Johnson.

However, before the book could be published Jacqueline Kennedy filed a lawsuit to prevent its publication, even though she had previously authorized it. The suit was settled in 1967, reportedly by Manchester agreeing to drop certain passages dealing with details of Kennedy’s family life. In response satirist Paul Krassner published a piece entitled “The Parts That Were Left Out of the Kennedy Book”, which imagined censored material of an outrageously more scandalous nature than anything that could possibly have been the case. In his collection of essays Controversy (1977), Manchester detailed Kennedy’s (and, likely, Johnson’s) attempts to suppress the book.

Following the death of his wife in 1998, Manchester suffered two strokes. He announced, to the disappointment of many of his readers, that he would not be able to complete the previously planned third volume of his three part-biography of Churchill, The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965. He died at the age of 82 on June 1, 2004.


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