William Manchester

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William Manchester
Manchester in c. 1967
Manchester in c. 1967
BornWilliam Raymond Manchester
(1922-04-01)April 1, 1922
Attleboro, Massachusetts, U.S.
DiedJune 1, 2004(2004-06-01) (aged 82)
Middletown, Connecticut
Resting placeIndian Hill Cemetery, Middletown, Connecticut[1]
  • Historian
  • biographer
  • professor
EducationMassachusetts State College (BA), University of Missouri (MA)
Notable worksAmerican Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880–1964,
The Death of a President,
The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill

William Raymond Manchester (April 1, 1922 – June 1, 2004)[2] was an American author, biographer, and historian. He was the author of 18 books which have been translated into over 20 languages.[3] He was awarded the National Humanities Medal and the Abraham Lincoln Literary Award.

Early life[edit]

Manchester was born in Attleboro, Massachusetts,[4] and grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts.[2] His father served in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War I. After his father's death, and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, William Manchester likewise enlisted in the Marine Corps. However, he was ordered back to college until called up. Initially Manchester joined the Officer Candidate School but was dropped before receiving a commission. After being warranted to the rank of corporal, he was sent to Guadalcanal in 1944 for further training. Although he had expected to serve in Europe, Manchester ultimately found himself in the Pacific Theater. He served in the Battle of Okinawa, was severely wounded on June 5, 1945, and was promoted to sergeant[5] in July and awarded the Purple Heart.[2] Manchester's wartime experiences formed the basis for his very personal account of the Pacific Theater, Goodbye, Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War. In this memoir, Manchester uses personal anecdotes from his service on Okinawa in his descriptions of battles on Guadalcanal, Tarawa and Saipan. Manchester's portrayal of his wartime service, his section in combat, and his injuries are literary devices. He stated this in the end notes, as well as clearly denying any attempt at a chronological account.[6] Later examination of his personal papers, his wartime record, and his medical records prove that much of what he recounted was inaccurate.[7]

Manchester also wrote of World War II in several other books, including a three-part biography, The Last Lion, of Winston Churchill. Manchester also wrote a biography of General Douglas MacArthur, American Caesar.

Manchester worked as a copyboy for the Daily Oklahoman in 1945 before returning to college. In 1946, he completed his B.A. from the Massachusetts State College, and in 1947 he earned his master's degree from the University of Missouri.

Manchester married Julia Brown Marshall on March 27, 1948, known as Judy, and they had one son, music composer John[8] and two daughters, Julie, and Laurie. [9]

Reporter and professor[edit]

In 1947, Manchester went to work as a reporter for The Baltimore Sun. There he met journalist H. L. Mencken, who became his friend and mentor,[10] and also became the subject of Manchester's master's thesis and first book, Disturber of the Peace. The biography, published in 1951, profiles Mencken, the self-described "conservative anarchist" who made his mark as a writer, editor, and political pundit in the 1920s. In 1953, Manchester published his novel The City of Anger, set in Baltimore and dealing with inner city life and the numbers racket, subjects Manchester had learned about as a big city reporter.

In 1955, Manchester became an editor for Wesleyan University and the Wesleyan University Press and spent the rest of his career at the university.[11] For the academic year 1959–1960, he was a Fellow on the faculty at the Center for Advanced Studies of Wesleyan.[12] He later became an adjunct professor of history, adjunct professor emeritus, and writer-in-residence at the university. During his association with Wesleyan University, Manchester developed an intense writing regimen that he adhered to for much of his life, often writing nonstop for up to 50 hours at a time. He described the experience as follows: "I would work all day, all night, all the next day, all the following night and into the third day. I would look up at the clock, and it would be 3:30 in the afternoon, and I would say, 'Oh boy, I've got three more hours to write.' I just loved it."[10]

JFK assassination[edit]

His best-selling book, The Death of a President (1967), is a detailed account of the assassination of United States President John F. Kennedy, who had been the subject of an earlier book by Manchester. In 1964, Manchester was commissioned by the Kennedy family to write the book.[13] Manchester, who retraced the movements of President Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald before the assassination, tentatively concluded, based on his study of Oswald's psychology and their similar training as Marine sharpshooters, that Oswald had acted alone. Manchester had the support of Robert and Jacqueline Kennedy, but later had a falling-out with Robert over Manchester's treatment of President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Before the book could be published, Jacqueline Kennedy filed a lawsuit to prevent its publication, even though she had previously authorized it. The suit was settled in 1967, reportedly with Manchester's agreeing to drop certain passages dealing with details of Kennedy's family life.[14][15] In response satirist Paul Krassner published a piece entitled "The Parts That Were Left Out of the Kennedy Book", which imagined scandalous censored material.[16] In his collection of essays Controversy (1977), Manchester detailed Kennedy's attempts to suppress the book. The book was a best-seller at release, but was allowed to go out of print until 1988. It was re-issued in October 2013.[17]

Later life[edit]

Following the death of his wife in 1998, Manchester suffered two strokes. Manchester told his publishers that he would not be able to complete the planned third volume of his three part-biography of Churchill, The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965. Manchester was initially reluctant to collaborate with anyone to finish the work,[10] but in October 2003, he asked Paul Reid, a friend and writer for The Palm Beach Post, to complete the Churchill biography. After Manchester's death, Reid completed the third volume using Manchester's notes and writing.

In 2001, President George W. Bush presented Manchester with the National Humanities Medal. In an interview conducted with a writer who was preparing capsule biographies of NEH medal recipients, Manchester claimed that he had been valedictorian of his class at the University of Massachusetts and that he had received the Silver Star and two Purple Hearts; according to conservative intellectual review "The American Spectator",[18] none of this was true.[7]

Manchester was also the recipient of the Abraham Lincoln Literary Award, among other awards.[19]

Manchester died at the age of 82 on June 1, 2004,[20] and is interred at Indian Hill Cemetery in Middletown, Connecticut.[21]



  1. ^ "Connecticut Cemetery Memorial, Monument & Family Headstone Dealer - Fox-Becker, Connecticut (CT)". www.granitesign.com.
  2. ^ a b c Severo, Richard (June 2, 2004). "William Manchester, Whose Biographies Detailed Power in the 20th Century, Dies at 82". The New York Times.
  3. ^ According to one writer, "Scholars generally disliked the biographies by Manchester. They were deemed superficial, anecdotal, hyperbolic, and hagiographic." Eugene L. Rasor, Winston S. Churchill, 1874–1965: A Comprehensive Historiography and Annotated Bibliography. Greenwood Press. 2000, p. 62.
  4. ^ "William Manchester [Obituary]". Daily Telegraph. June 3, 2004.
  5. ^ Letters to his mother, July 1945, UMASS archives.
  6. ^ Morgan, Ted (August 31, 1980). "Pacific Combat". The New York Times.
  7. ^ a b "Stolen Valor: The Fake History from a Real Historian That Fooled Presidents and Publishers". The American Spectator.
  8. ^ "Author: John Manchester". Goodmen Project.
  9. ^ "William Manchester". Nndb.com. March 27, 1948. Retrieved April 24, 2012.
  10. ^ a b c Filkins, Dexter (August 14, 2001). "Ailing Churchill biographer says he can't finish trilogy". New York Times. Retrieved July 24, 2014.
  11. ^ Seidel, Rebecca. "University To Unveil William Manchester Writings Amid Return of JFK Manuscript – Features". The Wesleyan Argus. Retrieved April 24, 2012.
  12. ^ "Guide to the Center for Advanced Studies Records, 1958 – 1969". Wesleyan.edu. Archived from the original on March 14, 2017. Retrieved April 24, 2012.
  13. ^ 'Sam Kashner "A Clash of Camelots", Vanity Fair, October 2009
  14. ^ Krassner, Paul. "Slaughtering Cows and Popping Cherries". New York Press. Vol. 16, no. 34. Archived from the original on February 8, 2004.
  15. ^ Philip Nobile, (November 17, 2013). "JFK, Jackie Joined the Mile High-Club Day Before His Death". The New York Post.
  16. ^ Paul Krassner (May 1967). "The Parts That Were Left Out of the Kennedy Book". The Realist.
  17. ^ Associated Press. "Controversial JFK book to be reissued in October" Yahoo! Finance, September 17, 2013.
  18. ^ York, Byron (November 1, 2001). "The Life and Death of The American Spectator". The Atlantic.
  19. ^ "News Archive | National Endowment for the Humanities". Neh.gov. Retrieved April 24, 2012.
  20. ^ Bernstein, Adam (June 4, 2004). "Author of Military History William Manchester Dies". The Washington Post. p. B7. Retrieved July 21, 2008.
  21. ^ Wilson, Scott (August 19, 2016). Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 471. ISBN 978-0-7864-7992-4. Retrieved July 14, 2019.

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