Joe McGinniss Critical Essays

Introduction

Joe McGinniss 1942–

American nonfiction writer, novelist, and journalist.

McGinniss has gained prominence for his nonfiction books on subjects of current interest. His work is based on extensive research and personal involvement. For instance, Fatal Vision (1983), his recent best-seller, concerns the trial of Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald, a former Green Beret and "all-American boy" who was accused of murdering his pregnant wife and two small daughters. McGinniss worked closely with his subject, living in MacDonald's California condominium with access to his private papers and records. The result is a comprehensive rendering of the events which led to MacDonald's conviction in 1982.

McGinniss's first book, The Selling of the President 1968 (1969), exposes how Richard Nixon's political promoters used television to remake his public image. McGinniss gained behind-the-scenes knowledge of the Nixon campaign by presenting himself to Nixon's promoters as a student who was researching a scholarly thesis on the role of the electronic media in a political campaign. The Selling of the President 1968 brought McGinniss instant fame; the strenuous speaking tour which followed provided material for his only fictional work, The Dream Team (1972). In this novel McGinniss presents a self-portrait in the protagonist, a best-selling author who tires of the book-promoting circuit. Heroes (1976), a nonfictional account of McGinniss's search for contemporary heroic figures, reveals how deeply the success of his first book and the pressure to maintain that level of achievement affected McGinniss. Although he interviews such notable figures as Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern, Daniel Berrigan, and Arthur Miller, Heroes is more an attempt to understand his own confusion and loss of fame than an explanation of the lack of contemporary American heroes.

McGinniss acknowledges that in writing Heroes he gained a deeper understanding of himself and was able to move on to less personal material in his next two books, Going to Extremes (1980) and Fatal Vision. McGinniss lived in Alaska for two years in order to write Going to Extremes, which explores why people move to America's last frontier and how they cope, or fail to cope, with their isolation.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 25-28, rev. ed.)