A native New Yorker, Nelson DeMille attended Hofstra University, then joined the Army and was an infantry platoon leader with the First Cavalry Division in Vietnam. He is the author of many bestsellers, including the John Corey
series (Plum Island,
The Lion's Game,
The Lion). DeMille's latest John Corey novel,
The Panther, was published by Grand Central on October 16, 2012.
On your nightstand now:
In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. Larson also wrote The Devil in the White City, which was terrific. Beasts is the true story of William E. Dodd, America's first ambassador to Hitler's new Nazi Germany. Dodd is troubled by what he's seeing in Germany and his warnings to the Roosevelt Administration go mostly unheeded. This is a wonderful evocation of time and place. You are in Berlin in the early 1930s.
Favorite book when you were a child:
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. What can I say about a book that nearly every boy in America read when I was a kid? Great for girls, too. Make sure the kids in your life have a copy.
Your top five authors:
George Orwell, Arthur Conan Doyle, Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene and P.D. James. Orwell was not only a great writer, he was a genius and a prophet. Doyle is a superb storyteller and that's the highest compliment I can pay to a fiction writer. Hemingway is male fantasy--war, sex, courage, Paris, Spain--the whole nine yards. Every adolescent male in America should read all of Hemingway for a needed dose of political non-correctness. Greene is a super wordsmith. I don't care what he's writing about; I just want to read his well-crafted sentences. His characters, too, are well drawn and alive on each page. P.D. James makes small stories into great novels. She, too, like so many British writers, understands how to use our wonderful and expressive English language. To this list, I'd add two more Brits--Shakespeare and Chaucer--for the same reason; it's all about the language.
Book you've faked reading:
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. My publisher Warner Books did the paperback of Rose and thus I was given a free copy. I was also invited to meet Signor Eco at a reception at the residence of the Italian ambassador in Washington, so I read a few book reviews in case I needed to speak to him. Turns out he spoke no English, and I was safe.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. This book lifted my political and philosophical thinking beyond and above conservative or liberal. People either love or hate Rand's Objectivist philosophy, but everyone has to agree she was a very original thinker, though, alas, not a great novelist.
Book you've bought for the cover:
V. by Thomas Pynchon. I remember browsing in Brentano's in the early 1960s and seeing this striking cover with a large V on it. It looked intriguing, and I knew Pynchon's name, though I'd never read him, but I bought the book. Kudos to the cover artist. The book was okay.
Book that changed your life:
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. See above. And I'll also add that 50 years after reading all of Rand, including The Fountainhead, I'm still impressed that such bad novels could spark a cult following that exists to this day.
Favorite line from a book:
"A man lives not only his personal life, as an individual, but also, consciously or unconsciously, the life of his epoch and his contemporaries." --from The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
We are formed and shaped by our environment and culture to an extent that we don't always understand. We are unique, we have free will, and we are partially a product of our genes, but if we were born 100 or 1,000 years ago, our lives would be heavily influenced by time and place. Even if you believe in reincarnation.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
The Magus by John Fowles. Fowles makes sure the reader doesn't fully understand what's happening in this book. So you have to re-read it. But it's so well written and constructed that you also want to re-read it, and it feels new again. That's the genius of a great writer.
Who has most influenced your style:
Ernest Hemingway for brevity, though I haven't mastered that yet. Tom Wolfe for his almost informal writing style which you realize is actually the writing of a smart man who knows how to play with the language. Graham Greene, as I said, because he paints wonderful word pictures and he looks into the heart and souls of his characters.
Books you'll probably never read:
The entire Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson, or anything else in the weird Nordic thriller/crime genre. Maybe the ones I've read had bad translations.