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The Other Iron Lady

Terry Ashe/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

A: You’re right. The implication of your question is that you have to, in a sense, develop this syllabus of knowledge about a person such as Jeane. Whereas a person of a more celebrated and famous family, you start with a baseline of knowledge. So there was having to re-create all of the stories. And Jeane herself was famously closed-mouthed. She was a warm person, but she grew frigid when you got too close to the personal zones of her life. And so it was a challenge to understand her story and particularly the intimate part of her story about her coming to marry her husband, Evron Kirkpatrick, and really stumbling on parts of the story that she really would have not wanted to have known, such as the tragedy of her eldest child, who killed himself by alcohol, and the separation in some sense of her children from her and her husband in terms of their ambitions and in terms of their family solidarity. So I felt I had to tell that story because it was part of her story, but it was one that would have pained her and one that she went to some considerable lengths to hide. 

Q: Because this is the first book on her life and much of what you wrote was unknown to the general public, did you feel any sort of added pressure to make sure everything was correct?

A: I think that you do have that sort of a duty, particularly when you’re establishing what will become the criteria for understanding [Jeane’s] life publicly for readers and political scientists who will be interested in this book to some degree. So you have to get it right. And I did try to get it right. I did a lot of crosschecking. ... I did want to get it right not only for the sake of truth with a capital “T,” but because I also felt Jeane looking over my shoulder, and she could be a severe critic of people who took shortcuts and who were lazy in any respect. I think it was born out of a sense of wanting to honor her exacting standards, [rather] than some abstract idea that what I was doing was establishing her record.  

Q: Was it a different experience to be writing a biography of someone you knew personally?

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