Morrow, Lance 1939-
Morrow, Lance 1939-
Born September, 1939, in Philadelphia, PA; son of Hugh (a journalist, speechwriter, and political advisor) and Elise (a journalist) Morrow; married; wife's name Brooke (divorced); married; wife's name Susan; children: (first marriage) James, Justin. Education: Harvard University, graduate (with honors), 1963.
Home—New York, NY.
Writer, journalist, columnist, educator, and essayist. Worked summers as a Senate page in Washington, DC, and as a reporter-photographer with the Danville News, Danville, PA; Washington Star, Washington, DC, copyboy, 1958-59, reporter, 1963-65; Time magazine, New York, NY, 1965—, currently senior writer and essayist. Boston University, professor.
National Magazine Award, 1981, for essays appearing in Time magazine, and 2001, for essay "Outrages," Time magazine.
The Chief: A Memoir of Fathers and Sons (autobiography), Random House (New York, NY), 1984.
America: A Rediscovery, Holt (New York, NY), 1987.
Fishing in the Tiber (essays), Holt (New York, NY), 1988.
Safari: Experiencing the Wild (essays), photographs and notes by Neil Leifer, Reader's Digest Association (New York, NY), 1992.
Heart: A Memoir, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1995.
Evil: An Investigation, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2003.
The Best Year of Their Lives: Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon in 1948; Learning the Secrets of Power, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Second Drafts of History (essays), Basic Books (New York, NY), 2006.
"A heart attack, like the prospect of the noose in the morning—or, more closely, like the rope itself that morning, tightening up hard and starting to cut the neck—concentrates the mind." Thus observes veteran Time magazine essayist Lance Morrow in his 1995 book Heart: A Memoir, a reflection on what forces in his life might have caused him to suffer not one, but two, severe heart attacks by the age of fifty-three.
The first attack occurred in 1976 while Morrow was in Kansas City, Missouri, covering the Republican National Convention for his employer. It was followed soon after by coronary bypass surgery. He was only thirty-six, but as he readily admits in his book, "I managed to pack a great deal of aging into a small container of birthdays…. I had the bad habits of two or three grown-ups: a journalist … with the trade's behaviors, smoking and drinking; like a chimney and like a fish."
Yet even then, in the midst of his fright and anger over being betrayed by his own body, Morrow sensed there was something more behind what had happened to him. He slowly began to regard his heart attack not as a natural consequence of his smoking and drinking or his genes (there was no history of early-onset heart disease in either side of his family) but as some sort of warning or punishment.
This feeling grew stronger in 1992 after Morrow suffered his second heart attack and again was forced to undergo coronary bypass surgery—despite the fact that he had given up his bad habits for the most part following his first attack. The experience triggered a period of intense self-examination, during which time his thoughts turned to the past, specifically to his family.
Morrow's father, Hugh, was a well-known journalist who served for more than twenty years as a speechwriter, political advisor, and confidant to Nelson Rockefeller, the former governor of New York and vice president during the administration of President Gerald Ford. His mother, Elise, was also a noted journalist. Theirs was a troubled marriage in which alcohol abuse, money problems, ambition, "revenge, recrimination, blind rage, [and] apocalyptic follies" figured prominently, recalls their son. Absorbed in themselves and their careers and often neglectful of their responsibilities as parents, they maintained a certain distance from their children that early on forced Lance and his brothers and sisters to function as "little adults."
It was Elise Morrow in particular, however, who emerged as the focus of her son's search for answers. A brilliant and passionate woman, she was subject to especially savage bouts of fury. All her life, she struggled to cope with her hatred of an overbearing father. (He had rejected both her and her mother and ordered them out of the house, and he eventually had his wife committed to a mental hospital.) In addition, she fiercely resented her second-class status in a society that refused to consider her an equal to men.
As Lance Morrow contemplated these bittersweet memories during his recovery, he came to realize that he, too, had been consumed with "blood-clotting" anger throughout his life. It was a rage that ran so deep he thought it might have been inherited from his mother and perhaps from his maternal grandfather as well. At any rate, he notes in his memoir, he began to think of the sensation in his chest as he was having a heart attack as "a glowing toxin of some kind…. Ever since the second heart attack, I have felt that I brought it on by harboring, inside myself, an accumulation of palpable rage that finally, after years, arose against the saner regime and tried to stop the heart, and killed the muscle, taking it as a kind of tribute, a sacrifice of myself to the rage god."
This image serves as the premise of Heart that "the past (traumas, golden ages, irretrievable horrors and treasures) may become so transfixing that it ends by ruining and thwarting the present—occludes the present moment, which is alive, as a clot blocks the heart, and makes the muscle (the life) die." Morrow then takes an imaginative leap and applies the same metaphor to various situations he has observed around the world as a journalist. In places like Bosnia or the Middle East, he theorizes, it is a similar kind of obsessive rage and "clogging, enduring hatred" that have fueled decades and sometimes centuries of conflict between people who cannot set aside ancient grievances.
Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Richard Selzer described Morrow's memoir as "gripping" with its juxtaposition of the "rich experience of external life and the unseen wound within." As the reviewer concluded, "One closes [the book] giving thanks that the gifted, charismatic, humane, and utterly likable Lance Morrow lived to write it." Commenting on Heart and its "searing" recollections in the Chicago Tribune, Chris Petrakos remarked that the memoir has "a wild courage … that is difficult to forget."
While New York Times critic Christopher Lehmann-Haupt praised Morrow's "beguiling fluency" in discussing his heart attacks and his family history, he felt that trying to draw parallels between one man's inner rage and subsequent health problems with events in the outside world is a bit of a stretch. "You begin to get the feeling that he is filling up space," noted Lehmann-Haupt. Steve Oney, whose assessment of Heart appeared in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, made a similar observation. He found Morrow's theory "interesting," but he questioned whether it truly stands up under closer scrutiny. "This is the sort of thinking a writer can take only so far, and sadly, Morrow doesn't know when to stop," declared Oney. All in all, though, he characterized the memoir as "by any measure a triumph, a transfusion of rich images and insights."
Sherwin B. Nuland, a surgeon and author of How We Die: Reflections on Life's Final Chapter (winner of the 1994 National Book Award), offered up his views on Heart in an article published in Time. Like the others, he found it "evocative" and "almost poetic" in its style and language, with the power to "draw the reader in from the start." By the end, said Nuland, "Morrow's luminous study of self … strikes an unexpectedly universal chord…. So the author deals not only with the inner torment of Lance Morrow but also with that of all of us."
In later books, Morrow expands his focus from the personal to broader, sometimes more universal subjects. In Evil: An Investigation, for example, Morrow takes a sustained look at the abstract concept of evil and how perceptions of it have changed over the years through the influence of religion, literature, history, culture, politics, and other factors. He considers evil in its many forms and personifications, from Hitler to Osama bin Laden, from the effects of genocide to the victims of serial killers, from the abuse suffered by one to the violence perpetrated against many. Looming large among his examples are the Columbine school shootings, the 9/11 terrorists attacks, and the modern interpretation of the forbidding "axis of evil." Evil, Morrow concludes, is not committed only by the insane, the power-hungry, or the unrepentantly vile; the capacity for evil also exists within the average, ordinary individual, whose behavior in this regard can cause immense damage and trouble. The "solemnity of this brooding rumination perfectly matches its grave subject," commented James Carroll in the New York Times Book Review. Throughout this book, "Morrow's writing is elegant and conversational, like talking to a thoughtful, learned friend," observed Vanessa Bush in a Booklist assessment.
In The Best Year of Their Lives: Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon in 1948; Learning the Secrets of Power, Morrow "argues that 1948 was a watershed year in the lives of the three men who would preside over the United States during the 1960s," noted reviewer Barry D. Friedman in the International Social Science Review. The three were strongly influenced both by personal struggles and professional successes. Kennedy, Morrow notes, suffered health problems as he fought back against the potentially fatal Addison's Disease. He also endured the devastating loss of his sister, Kathleen, in an airplane crash in France. Johnson was beginning to learn the value of political machinations as he successfully fought for a seat in the U.S. Senate. Nixon, as a member of the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee, had recently been a prominent figure in the Alger Hiss scandal, proving that Hiss had been a member of the Communist party while serving in a high-ranking position in the U.S. Department of State. Though Morrow expands his narrative into later decades, he uses the year 1948 as the origin point of Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon's later political successes and failures. He shows "how, starting in 1948, each continually and routinely—if sometimes sadly—sacrificed ethics before the altar of ambition," remarked a Publishers Weekly contributor. "Fascinated by parallels in the three men's lives, Morrow emphasizes the commonalities of their failings, and in the process indicts American politics and its necessarily ambitious, self-promoting nature," observed James W. Hilty, writing in the Historian. Library Journal critic Karl Helicher called it "an intelligent guide to the flaws of the three future presidents." With this book, Morrow "has produced a fair-minded and highly readable work of biography and political history," commented Michael Potemra in the National Review.
Second Drafts of History contains a collection of "finely honed, clear-eyed essays" in which Morrow makes "largely successful attempts to make sense of an increasingly splintered American consciousness," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. His observations cover a wide range of topics, from stem cells to gay marriage, tourism to sin, popular culture to science. The book also includes Morrow's emotional essay on the 9/11 attacks, written that very day, and which garnered a National Magazine Award. With this collection of essays, noted Booklist reviewer Allison Block, "Morrow continues his reign as a writer of remarkable boldness and breadth." A Kirkus Reviews critic concluded that, "for fans of economical language and thoughtful journalism," the book is "a pleasure."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Morrow, Lance, The Chief: A Memoir of Fathers and Sons, Random House (New York, NY), 1984.
Morrow, Lance, Heart: A Memoir, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1995.
Booklist, August, 2003, Vanessa Bush, review of Evil: An Investigation, p. 1930; December 1, 2005, Allison Block, review of Second Drafts of History, p. 18.
Chicago Tribune, September 22, 1995, Chris Petrakos, "Journalist's Rage Lifts His Memoir to Universal Realm," p. 3.
Historian, December 22, 2006, James W. Hilty, review of The Best Year of Their Lives: Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon in 1948; Learning the Secrets of Power, p. 839.
International Social Science Review, spring-summer, 2006, Barry D. Friedman, review of The Best Year of Their Lives, p. 89.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2003, review of Evil, p. 897; February 15, 2005, review of The Best Year of Their Lives, p. 217; November 1, 2005, review of Second Drafts of History, p. 1176.
Library Journal, March 15, 2005, Karl Helicher, review of The Best Year of Their Lives, p. 98.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 17, 1995, Steve Oney, review of Heart, p. 1.
National Review, April 11, 2005, Michael Potemra, review of The Best Year of Their Lives, p. 49.
Newsweek, February 18, 1985, David Lehman, review of The Chief, p. B81.
New York Times, September 18, 1995, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Heart, p. C16.
New York Times Book Review, January 27, 1985, Susan Chiever, review of The Chief, p. 3; October 8, 1995, Richard Selzer, review of Heart, p. 37; January 11, 2004, James Carroll, "The ‘E’ Word," review of Evil, p. 26.
Publishers Weekly, June 30, 2003, review of Evil, p. 68; February 7, 2005, review of The Best Year of Their Lives, p. 50; November 7, 2005, review of Second Drafts of History, p. 68.
Reference & Research Book News, November, 2005, review of Evil.
School Library Journal, September, 2005, Catherine Gilbride, review of The Best Year of Their Lives, p. 247.
Shofar, spring, 2004, review of Evil, p. 203.
Time, February 11, 1985, Kenneth Turan, review of The Chief, p. 89; October 16, 1995, Sherwin B. Nuland, review of Heart, p. 100.
Weekly Standard, April 18, 2005, Victor Gold, "Lower '48: A Pivotal Year Gets Pulverized by Metaphors," review of The Best Year of Their Lives, p. 34.