Some years ago, I read Thomas Carlyle's history of the French Revolution, and I was very taken by the way he told the story, and it seemed as though I was right in the middle of things. And it took me a while to figure out how he achieved that effect, and one of the ways was to write it in the present tense.
When you tell a story, there are imperatives of structure, of style, of pacing and all of this, that are there simply because you want to make it a good story. When do you introduce your characters? When do you put them onstage, when do you take them off the stage? How do you weave the different threads of the narrative together?
There has always been interest in certain phases and aspects of history - military history is a perennial bestseller, the Civil War, that sort of thing. But I think that there is a lot of interest in historical biography and what's generally called narrative history: history as story-telling.
The president is the one person who potentially could be the unifying figure in the country. And if the president or a presidential candidate basically writes off 40 states, then how in the world do the people in those 40 states feel like they have a stake in that person or that election?
I've been writing American history for a long time, and I've had a hard time finding strong, interesting female characters. There are women, of course, in American history, but they're hard to write about because they don't leave much of a historical trace, and they're not usually involved in high-profile public events.
Reagan gave essentially the same speech from the beginning to the end of his political career, which was always, 'The American people are great, the government always screws things up, let's get the government out of the way.' On the foreign policy side it was, 'Communism is bad, and we're going to defeat it.'
Harry Truman's decision to fire Douglas MacArthur at the height of the Korean War in April 1951 shocked the American political system and astonished the world. Much of the world didn't realize the president had the power to fire a five-star general; much of America didn't realize Truman had the nerve.
In the academic world, biographies of these great figures of the past fell out of favor in the 1960s, when there was a turn toward social history, which meant the history of the voiceless and faceless. But the public at large never embraced the idea that these dead white guys should be abandoned.