Book Chat

with John Farrell



Jack Farrell knows biographies.

As John A. Farrell, he has explored the lives of Tip O’Neill (Tip O’Neill and the Democratic Century), Clarence Darrow (Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned) and, most recently, Richard Nixon in Richard Nixon: The Life, recently released in paperback.

Farrell, who worked for the Boston Globe and Denver Post, among other news organizations, has guest lectured at Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the United States Military Academy, among others.

He’ll be in Oxford March 21, taking part in “Writing Political History,” a panel that’s part of the 25th Oxford Conference for the Book.

In advance of that appearance, he talked about the books and writers that shaped him.

What writers influenced you growing up?

Robert Stone. Thomas Pynchon. Ernest Hemingway. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Agatha Christie. Franklin W. Dixon. Cornelius Ryan. Ward Just. Pete Hamill. Norman Mailer. Jimmy Breslin. J.R.R. Tolkien. Joseph Heller. Madeleine L’Engle. T.H. White. Albert Terhune. Sinclair Lewis. William Gibson.

Are there one or two books you reread from time to time?

All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren, the greatest American political novel. And V., by Thomas Pynchon.

What biographies are the gold standard for you?

Son of the Morning Star: A life of Custer, by Evan Connell. David Levering Lewis on W. E. B. Du Bois. Robert Caro on Lyndon Johnson. Ron Chernow on Alexander Hamilton. David McCullough on Harry Truman. T. Harry Williams on Huey Long. Taylor Branch on Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement. And Seabiscuit, by Laura Hillenbrand.

What are you reading now?

On my bedside table: The Late Show, by Michael Connelly. A Legacy of Spies, by John LeCarre. The First Tycoon, by T. J. Stiles. They Marched Into Sunlight, by David Maraniss. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson. The Day of Battle, by Rick Atkinson. Last Train to Memphis, by Peter Guralnick.

What’s next for you?

I am under contract with Penguin to write a biography of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.


The Oxford Conference for the Book takes place March 21-23 at the University of Mississippi and other locations. Most events are free. For more information, go to