teens shift uncomfortably in their cramped wooden desks.
Most are bored and hope the teacher will just get on
with the lesson so they can get home already.
O’Reilly, fresh out of Marist College and, at 21,
barely older than the faces staring blankly his way,
stands inside a classroom at Monsignor Edward Pace High
School in 1970 and realizes he has a challenge, how to
teach history to a preoccupied audience and make it
revelation: bring the historical characters alive as
kids were not motivated, so I did it in a way that was
fun," says the host of Fox News’ top-rated
"The O’Reilly Factor," from his office in
New York City. In just a few hours he tapes that day’s
"O’Reilly Factor," a news commentary program
that routinely trounces the cable competition.
63, commands attention. Some would say the former
Catholic-school boy is a firebrand for his predominantly
conservative political views. Some would offer
descriptions that are more unkind. For O’Reilly,
everything started back in that Monsignor Pace classroom
in Opa-locka, Fla., some 40-plus years ago.
got the blood and gore out there, and the personality
profiles of who they were," O’Reilly says of his
approach to teaching history. "I made them real
people so, in the back of my mind, that was a way to get
people involved. When I became an author and did
successful books on contemporary problems on what was
happening in the country, to the dismay of my publisher,
I said I was going into history books, and I used the
same techniques I used in the classroom in Pace. I was
fortunate to find Martin Dugard, a brilliant
historian." Their biographies, he says, are
"fun to read."
their two history books "Killing Kennedy: The End
of Camelot" (Holt, $28) and last year’s
"Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination That
Changed America Forever" crackle with the tension
of a brisk James Bond thriller. Yet they aren’t
novels, a point O’Reilly wishes to enforce.
people get confused, but these are nonfiction books and
they are well researched," he says. "These are
not Gore Vidal."
week, both books are performing like the latest
bestsellers from John Grisham or J.K. Rowling.
"Killing Kennedy" is No. 1 in its fourth week
atop the New York Times bestsellers list; "Killing
Lincoln" sits at No. 3 in its 57th week.
style is not the norm for historians, says Florida
International University history professor Darden Pyron,
author of biographies on "Gone With the Wind"
scribe Margaret Mitchell and musician Liberace.
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."
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.
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.
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
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."
Lincoln and Kennedy have lessons to impart on our
post-election nation, O’Reilly believes.
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
ultimate goal, much as it was 40 years ago at Pace, hasn’t
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."