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Edward DolnickDescribe your latest project.
My newest book, The Forger's Spell, is a nonfiction account of the biggest art forgery case of the 20th century. It's the true story of a small-time Dutch painter who dared to impersonate the great Johannes Vermeer. The con man's most famous victim was Hermann Goering, one of the most reviled leaders of Nazi Germany and a self-styled art connoisseur.
I'd written about art crime before. My previous book, The Rescue Artist, centered on the thugs who grab masterpieces off museum walls. This time I dealt with a higher class of criminal. Forgers look down on thieves unlike snatch-and-grab men, who are brutes, they are artistes. (The thieves, naturally, see it the other way around; they are men of action, bold buccaneers, while forgers are timid souls drudging away in garrets.)
The swindler at the heart of The Forger's Spell was a no-account painter named Han van Meegeren. For seven years he managed to pass as one of the most beloved and admired artists who ever lived. But the twist in the tale and the element that sets this case of forgery apart is that the reason for the forger's success was not his artistic skill. Van Meegeren was a mediocre painter. His true genius lay in psychological manipulation, and he came within inches of fooling the world. Instead, he landed in an Amsterdam court on trial for his life.
Calvin Trillin. No writer has as appealing a voice. The tone is natural, informal, wry, because all the labor has been done offstage. Trillin is a gorgeous craftsman watch, enviously, to see how efficiently he sets a scene, or how swiftly he nails a character but he never strains and he never shows off. Start with Messages from my Father.
Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
"A line will take us hours maybe; / Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought, our stitching and unstitching has been naught."
"Short words are best and the old words when short are best of all."
"There is but one art, to omit! Oh, if I knew how to omit I would ask no other knowledge. A man who knows how to omit would make an Iliad of a daily paper."
"Nothing puzzles me more than time and space; and yet nothing troubles me less, as I never think about them."
How do you relax?
Describe the best breakfast of your life.
Do you read blogs? What are some of your favorites?
Dogs, cats, budgies, or turtles?
Make a question of your own, then answer it.
A: Great Expectations, Chapter One, Magwitch terrorizes Pip:
Now I ain't alone, as you may think I am. There's a young man hid with me, in comparison with which young man I am a Angel. That young man hears the words I speak. That young man has a secret way pecooliar to himself of getting at a boy.
The Hound of the Baskervilles, Chapter Two, Holmes is asking questions about footprints found near the body of a dead man:
"A man's or a woman's?" Dr. Mortimer looked strangely at us for an instant, and his voice sank almost to a whisper as he answered: "Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!"
The Devil in the White City, Erik Larson, "The Black City":
How easy it was to disappear. A thousand trains a day entered or left Chicago. Many of these trains brought single young women who had never even seen a city.
Recommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise.
Five Nonfiction Books with Brilliant Opening Chapters:
The Path to Power: The Years of Lyndon B. Johnson, Vol. 1 by Robert A. Caro
Freedom at Midnight by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins
Maximum City by Suketu Mehta
The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Visions of Glory by William Manchester
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
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Edward Dolnick is the author of Down the Great Unknown, The Rescue Artist, and Madness on the Couch. A former chief science writer at the Boston Globe, he has written for the Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times Magazine, and many other publications. He lives with his wife near Washington, D.C.