As a disclaimer, I do not like Bill O’Reilly, nor his network, Fox News. You might, and that is just fine with me. I chose to become angry at his interview with President Obama before the Super Bowl, where he demonstrated poor questioning skills, poor probing skills, and abysmal listening skills. He was obviously more interested in making a scene for himself than providing a forum on issues for a national viewing audience. A quick review of his television career shows him to be a walking time-bomb, with explosive unsubstantiated commentary, often followed by apologies, corrections, and dissatisfying defenses delivered in a Howard Cosell-like manner. Yet, these are behaviors that make him popular, and create vast viewing audiences.
But, his three best-selling books are another matter. Henry Holt was the publisher of all of these. I have finished two of these, Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot (2012), and Killing Jesus: A History (2013), and am now into a third, Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever (2011). As you see, that one was actually the first in the series. His co-author is Martin Dugard, a not-so-famous historian, who for all we know, may provide gravity to O’Reilly when he might otherwise stray from facts. The fourth, Killing Patton: The Strange Death of World War II’s Most Audacious General, is due in September this year.
These are all highly readable accounts of famous history. I find them novel-like in their wording, pacing, and unfolding dramatics of events. He adds feelings to facts, and emotions are a strong appeal to his writing. All the books keep you focused, but also move you off-balance in a very positive way. You think you know what will come next, and it will, but not how you expect it. O’Reilly opens several windows as he writes, but not so many that you find yourself flipping back to review. Even his footnotes are interesting and explanatory. And, Iike many people, I don’t usually read footnotes.
The background and context are particularly strong elements. I am grateful, for example, that we are given a condensed review of ancient Roman and Judean history, including key events, characters, traditions, customs, geographies, among others, way before we even read about Jesus’ birth and brief time on earth. The writing is more appealing than even a visual imagery could provide.
I can tell you that I also read things in these books I have never seen before. If you read these, you may occasionally feel the same way. You might react with “I didn’t know that” or “oh, yeah?” Here are two I remember. The JFK-RFK interest in Marilyn Monroe is public knowledge, but I have never before read in such a strong and factually-appearing manner that JFK spent two consecutive nights with her in California. Tiberius was known as power-hungry and egotistical dictator, but I never knew that he swam with young boys who nibbled at him below the water. At minimum, I never remember studying that in Sunday School.
Years ago, I read the famous author, Jim Bishop, who wrote accounts of these same three. He called them The Day…. (Kennedy Died, Christ Died, Lincoln Died). They have been reprinted several times. They were good, but they are nothing like the O’Reilly accounts. Compared to the dynamism from O’Reilly, they seem static to me today.
Perhaps that may be due to the title. Note the word: “killing” begins each of his books. The use of the “ing” means that we are reading a process, not an event. “Kennedy killed” is an account. “Killing Kennedy” is a dynamic, in-action, unfolding of a story.
Put aside any feelings you may have about O’Reilly. If they are negative, don’t let that interfere with your access to these books. You will find your time well-spent by doing so.
And, I plan to order the Patton book when it is ready in September. If nothing else, I can read some new things and replace the George C. Scott image that seems to always be in my head.