Sunday, November 15, 2009
Andrew Ross Sorkin's Too Big To Fail
I have just started reading Too Big to Fail by Andrew Ross Sorkin and I must say it is a page turner. Sorkin has done a masterful job of narrative non-fiction, making the reader feel like he or she is in the center of the action, in real time.
Since Sorkin only had 10 months to write the book -- and he continued to write his column for the New York Times in this time -- he needed a lot of help. In its current issue, New York Magazine details just how extensive that help was.
With his $700,000 advance, Sorkin hired two researchers. Check. That I understand. But then he also hired three independent editors, count that -- three editors -- to go through various sections of the book. Of course he had his own editor at the publishing house as well.
"With only ten months to conduct interviews and produce a 160,000-word draft, Sorkin hired two researchers to compile exhaustive timelines of virtually every newspaper and magazine article on the crisis, as well as prepare detailed dossiers on each of his central characters," according to the New York magazine article.
"In addition to his editor at Viking, Rick Kot, who edited Barbarians at the Gate, Sorkin asked three freelance editors to work on different portions of the book, including former New York Times Sunday business editor Jim Impoco, now at Reuters, and Hugo Lindgren, New York’s editorial director (who had no involvement in this story). Impoco, in particular, heavily edited the book’s opening three chapters."
This astonishes me. It almost feels like cheating. Throw up some prose and rely on others to make it sing.
In Sorkin's case, however, it was a smart move. His book was an instant New York Times bestseller and has already broken through the clutter of all of the other books written on the financial crisis.
His colleagues at the Times have criticized Sorkin for using their work and not attributing it to them But since this book was put together so quickly, it's not surprising to hear this.
UPDATE: Lesley Stahl did a great interview with Sorkin for WowOwow. I liked this part about his writing process:
LESLEY: Did you enjoy writing the book?
ANDREW: You know, I did it under such a time pressure; the whole process was about ten-and-a-half months. So it was painful at some level.
LESLEY: That’s all? That’s quite extraordinary to put out a book like that.
ANDREW: It was a pretty miserable experience on a day-to-day. But trying to get at the emotions and the interconnectedness of these people was a terrific reporting experience. And I had some researchers who were helping me. I used to do my writing typically from midnight to about 6:30 in the morning, like I was back in college. I used to go to the corner store near my apartment, I’d buy a two-liter bottle of diet Coke and a bag of Stacy’s chips from the same guy. He’d laugh at me every time.
LESLEY: And you kept working at your day job, for The New York Times, at the same time?
ANDREW: Yes. Yes, I did.