PW: Your new biography about the president, The Faith of George W. Bush, is fairly gentle and positive.
Stephen Mansfield: I wasn't attempting a hard-bitten analysis of his policies or failings. My goal was explain to the American people how he came to faith and what it might mean to American history.
PW: What response do you expect?
SM: The Right won't be happy because the book is not a puff piece. The Left won't be happy because I do take his faith seriously—I believe Bush is attempting to implement a genuinely held faith. But it's an inspiring story, whether you like him as a president or not. Everyone can relate to a man seeking fulfillment, even if they don't believe what he found is true.
PW: You worked fast!
SM: The copublishers, Penguin and Charisma House, contracted me to write the book in late May, so I had 60 days to put it together. I hired two researchers, George Grant and Eric Holmberg, who did the interviews, literary scanning and Internet research. It worked very well. But I don't know that I want to write another book in 60 days! Oreos and Mountain Dew sustained me.
PW: Did you meet with President Bush?
SM: I didn't meet Bush as part of the writing of the book. I'm glad I didn't—I don't want to be open to the charge that the White House was controlling the project. However, many of Bush's friends and family members were helpful, as were members of his administration.
PW: Was there anything about profiling the president that made you nervous?
SM: I wanted to be careful about what I said about the president's drinking and ethics during his playboy years. I don't know that it is my job to speculate. I also disagree with the president's approach after 9/11, and I didn't want that to bias me.
PW: As you researched and wrote the book, what was the most surprising thing you discovered about Bush?
SM: One thing was the stir about his intelligence. People come out strongly on both sides of the issue. I think the president may be an undiagnosed dyslexic, and have a brand of relational, intuitive intelligence.
PW: Anything else that was unexpected?
SM: Rarely do you see such evidence of spiritual seeking on the part of someone who becomes president.
PW: Your writing in The Faith of George W. Bush is very vivid and detailed.
SM: I research until the poetry starts to show up. Once I hear it—the narrative coming together in a way that moves me—I begin to write. I like the section where I tease the reader with views about religion, and until you get to the line where you find out it is Al Gore, you think the views are Bush's. And I love the baptism scene.
PW: Your other books, including Never Give In: The Extraordinary Character of Winston Churchill and Then Darkness Fled: The Liberating Legacy of Booker T. Washington, have a historical slant as well. How did you fall in love with the genre?
SM: When I was growing up, my father was in the military. We bounced from post to post, and my mother took the 20-some volumes of The Book of Knowledge with us. She was always having me look things up. I lived in Berlin during the Cold War as a teenager, and it made me aware of international relations and affairs. And in Berlin, there was only one American TV channel, and one movie showing at the local theatre. Because of this, I read a lot.
PW: Is it difficult to get readers excited about history?
SM: For most people, history is dull—dates and dead people. That's because of bad history classes taught by those who don't care. But it's inspiring to me how much people love history when they get outside of the classroom.