Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write the book?
Scott Miller: I've long been interested in America's emergence as a global power in the late 19th century. Most people don't appreciate that our first steps abroad were taken by William McKinley, a rather little-known president. During his five years in office, from 1897 to 1901, the United States took over Cuba and Puerto Rico, annexed Hawaii, entered into a nasty war in the Philippines, and sent troops to China to help squash a peasant uprising called the Boxer Rebellion. This was all a sea change for the United States, which until then had been focused on events at home. I realized the many factors behind this great outward push could best be told through the lives of McKinley and the man who assassinated him, anarchist Leon Czolgosz.
JG: What surprised you the most during the writing process?
SM: I didn't appreciate how widely known and feared the anarchist movement was in the 1880s and 1890s. It is analogous to the fear that many Americans have of terrorists today. Anarchists during McKinley's life attacked and killed several political leaders in Europe, including the king of Italy. In the United States, four anarchists were hanged in 1887 for the murder of a policeman in Chicago. Another anarchist tried to kill a leading steel executive. Americans were terrified that social radicals would destabilize the government.
JG: What would you be doing if you weren't a writer?
SM: I love doing what I'm doing. Narrative history is endlessly entertaining. During the research for this book, I kept telling myself that a fiction writer couldn't invent better stories than what actually happened. But if I didn't write, I would pursue something completely different: fly fishing guide or marine archeologist. Neither option is probably very realistic.
JG: What else are you reading right now?
SM: Having lived for a considerable time in Germany, I enjoyed fellow Seattleite Erik Larson's book In the Garden of Beasts. I also just started Amanda Foreman's book about Britain's role in the Civil War, A World on Fire. Otherwise, I'm reading a lot of American history with an eye toward book No. 2. My office right now is stuffed with books checked out from the University of Washington's huge Suzzallo Library.
JG: What's next for you?
SM: I haven't decided exactly, but I'm attracted to the history of U.S. foreign relations. The key, I think, is finding a compelling story with great characters who illustrate broader historical events. The ultimate test, however, is finding a story that I myself would like to read.
For more on "The President and the Assassin," visit the Random House website.