Early on in my life I decided that I wanted to experience as many kinds of lives as I could. I went to Antioch College which had a work-study plan. I worked in several places including the What Cheer, Iowa Patriot-Chronicle, a factory in France, and educational television in Boston. After graduating, I joined the Peace Corps and was one of the earliest volunteers to Nepal where I had a remote placement two days walk from a road.
After two years in the mountain kingdom, I was awarded a Ford Fellow in International Development that I used at the University of Oregon. I started writing magazine articles with enough success that it led me to an International Fellowship at the Columbia University School of Journalism. Upon graduation I spent an immeasurably unhappy year as an associate editor at Newsweek. That convinced me that I didn’t want a boss, and bosses didn’t want me. That period was the end of the golden age of literary journalism and I began writing magazine articles for many publications including Harper's, The New York Times Magazine, New York, Playboy and the Washingtonian. I worked incognito in a West Virginia coal mine where I broke my finger and wrote a piece that my agent sold to Harper’s. That led to an assignment covering the war in Bangladesh for Harper's. That article won a citation from the Overseas Press Club for "Best Magazine Reporting."
I couldn’t write quickly enough to make a living in the declining world of general interest magazines, and I turned to books. My study of the power players in the capital, Playing for Keeps in Washington, was named a notable book of the year by the New York Times. In 1979 I moved to Peru where I got to know one of the biggest drug dealers and wrote a novel, Assignment, about the cocaine traffic. Back in the United States I wrote Ascent:The Spiritual and Physical Quest of Willi Unsoeld, a biography of the man who climbed Everest in 1963 and had been the director of Peace Corps Nepal when I was there. Robert Redford and Columbia purchased the book for a movie that was never made. Ascent was reissued in paperback a few years ago.
I have many immensely talented friends who can barely make livings writing books. I’ve been fortunate. I’ve had a number of bestsellers starting with my book on the Reagans, Make-Believe: The Life of Nancy and Ronald Reagan. My bestseller, King of the Night:The Life of Johnny Carson, is generally considered the definitive portrait of the late star and has been reissued in mass paperback. I suppose I’m best known for my trilogy on the Kennedys, The Kennedy Women, The Kennedy Men and Sons of Camelot. My biography of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Fantastic, led me to living in LA for a while. My book on Palm Beach, Madness Under the Royal Palms, was another New York Times bestseller and a highly controversial book.
My new book to be published in 2013 is The Price of Justice,the story of two lawyers' struggle against Don Blankenship, the most powerful coal baron in American history. It is the most exciting project of my life.
In May 2012, I wrote the cover story in Newsweek about the suicide of Mary Richardson Kennedy. I say jokingly that I wish I could find a way to be controversial and have everybody like me. Of course, one can't do that. The truth has few friends, and if the personal vilification I received is the price one must pay for trying to write truthfully, I will willingly continue paying it. Actually, I found it exciting working with the talented people at the magazine and I probably will do other major pieces as I continue writing books.
I am married to the former Vesna Obradovic and have one daughter, Daniela Mantilla, and two grandchildren, Alejandro and Emilia.