September 12, 2018

Write ‘what is absolutely true in your eyes,’ says best-selling author Robert Kaplan

By Robert D. Kaplan

Our September pick for the PBS NewsHour-New York Times book club, “Now Read This,” is “Earning the Rockies” by Robert D. Kaplan. Become a member of the book club by joining our Facebook group, or by signing up to our newsletter. Learn more about the book club here and see all the previous book club selections here.

In his three-decade career, best-selling author and analyst Robert Kaplan has reported from nearly every region of the world and authored 18 books on foreign affairs and travel. His most recent, “Earning the Rockies,” includes not only political analysis and history but also veers into the territory of road-trip story, as he follows in his truck-driver father’s footsteps on a cross-country drive to see how America’s geography has shaped its past, present and will shape its future.

Below, Kaplan shares his daily writing routine (get up early), the best writer’s advice he’s ever received (write what’s “true”), and the overlooked books he thinks are important to read now (another book that studies “place” in America). In his words:

1. What is your daily writing routine?

I get up at 5 a.m. daily and am at my desk at 6:30. I write straight till 10 a.m. with the computer Wifi disabled. I use my computer like an Olivetti typewriter, on which I wrote my first book 30 years ago. By 10 a.m. the world intrudes with emails on my iPhone and current events to catch up on. Then I continue to write, much less efficiently, till noon. After lunch and a nap I am back at writing. I write on planes and in airport lounges. I never watch movies. I read and write.

2. What is your favorite childhood book? Or one book you think everyone should read?

I’ll never forget the experience of reading a young adult version of “The Travels of Marco Polo” in the library of my public school when I was 11, in the fall of 1963. It helped forge my desire to travel.

Everyone should read “The Federalist Papers” by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay. It is a foundational text of what it means to be an American. Here is the realism, both constructive and tragic, on which American optimism was built. By always considering the worst in advance, as the Founders did, the worst would usually not happen. To avoid tragedy you have to think tragically.


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