A Little Too Embedded

When does getting close to your biographical subject become too close for the subject’s wife? Or husband, if that ever happens–you know–a 60 some year old female has her 30 some year old biographer fall for her?  Yeah, right, you hear about it all the time–an older woman who has power is simply irresistible to the opposite sex, even if in her 6th decade. Writing a bio for the opposite sex shouldn’t lead TO sex–how often does this happen? Have there been other examples of two collaborators finding their time spent together turning into something other than reminiscences on a page? All In: The Education of General David Petraeus is a first for me–I’ve not encountered this concept before. Unless I’m woefully uninformed and it happens all the time. But here’s my question–what exactly did Paula Broadwell write? Because she didn’t do the book alone–another name is on the dust jacket–Vernon Loeb. Who is Vernon Loeb?  I checked what other books he may have written, and seems as though he co-authored another bio–King’s Counsel with Jack O’Connell, O’Connell’s name in larger letters– about war and diplomacy in the Middle East.  So–Vernon is the ghostwriter? A ghostwriter for the ghostwriter?–no, Petraeus isn’t pretending to have written his autobiography, Ms. Broadwell is pretending to have written his bio? Why was she chosen to write the book to begin with–especially if she needed someone else to dot the i’s and cross the t’s for her? After writing the above, I found a news story that contends Mr. Loeb had no clue anything was going on between subject and pseudo biographer. at the time.

Just why was this particular woman tapped for this particular bio? From the scattering of facts I was able to gather, she instigated a professional relationship with Petraeus while at Harvard in a doctorate program she was eventually thrown out of, for unknown reasons. So although she attended Harvard, obtained a master’s degree from there, she didn’t manage to finish a doctorate, and moved on to another school in England. She was in the military, at West Point, and has claimed she garnered some kind of fitness award. Actually, she sounds as though she padded her resume a bit, and created an impression of expertise that she may not possess.  Somehow her enthusiasm for anti-terrorism and General Petraeus evolved into her hanging around him for a long long period of time, running with him, apparently, seemed to be her biggest talking point when on The Daily Show, with Jon Stewart. I remember seeing that program back when the book was published, and thinking, first, she was overdressed for the interview, and second, she seemed a bit vapid for a biographer, considering her main talking points were how much Petraeus ran, and how she was equal to him. I didn’t come away from the interview thinking as I so often do after seeing a biographer on Stewart’s show–I must read that book.

Naturally, the book is now selling off the shelves whereas before, it received lukewarm reviews-and if you go by Amazon reviews, which I don’t, she was far to prejudiced in the General’s favor to write a balanced bio. Again, though, if Loeb wrote most of the book–then who was the biased one? So what I am finally grasping–Ms. Broadwell hero worshiped General Petraeus and became his shadow for a period of time, jotting down things they did, and how they were done, handed these activities over to Loeb, and he somehow fashioned a book out of it. Can this be true? How often are bios handled in this manner? I have read my share of biographies, usually of people involved in the Golden Age of Hollywood, or prominent women, sometimes presidents. I am never interested in the military, especially people who actively and happily engage in killing other people. I don’t enjoy war, war stories, war experiences–positive, negative, or fiction–maybe I’m Quaker at heart.  I’ve no idea how a biography of a military hero is supposed to be conducted, but somehow, embedding a young attractive  female who can’t write-although a soldier-hasn’t fought in a war, and has no past experience with the subject or his duties, seems a bit ill advised. Hell, embedding a young attractive male with the same lack of qualifications would be equally ill advised, simply because that’s not the way to document factually and meticulously, the strategies and responsibilities of a distinguished military leader. Naturally, this is only my nonprofessional opinion. And I bet, the opinion of many people who wish the entire bio hadn’t be written, because the last thing we care about is how, where, when, and with whom, someone who is supposed to be protecting us from terrorism, is having sex. Sigh. At least  those who won’t cast the first stones, don’t care. Others hypocritically condemn, or find conspiracies in every orifice, of life. Note to the editor and publisher of the next projected biography of a powerful important individual whose work the country needs–vet your biographer before sending them to bed down with their subject.


Question–am I out of the loop? Does anyone know of other instances in any area of biographies throughout history, where subject and writer became entwined?