Peter Osnos’ career in journalism and publishing spans more than 50 years and includes, most recently, his memoir, An Especially Good View: Watching History Happen. In this episode, Osnos talks to Robert about his family’s remarkable escape from Warsaw in 1939, his stints as a reporter in Vietnam and Russia, why former Russian dissident Natan Sharansky is his personal hero, media trends, publishing books by Obama, Carter, Clinton, and Trump, and, as he wrote in his memoir, “believing in the power of resilience.”
Robert Bryce 0:04
Hi, and welcome to the power hungry podcast. I’m Robert Bryce. On this podcast we talk about energy, power, innovation and politics. And this week, this episode is going to be a lot of politics with my friend, Peter Osnos, who is the author of a new book called an especially good view watching history happened, Peter, welcome to the power hungry podcast. Thanks very much, Robert. Now, Peter, I didn’t warn you, but I have guests introduce themselves. So if you don’t mind, imagine you’ve arrived at a dinner party. And I know from reading your book, you’ve been to a couple that introduce yourself and say 30 or 45 seconds if you don’t mind?
Peter Osnos 0:42
Well, I think first thing I should say and in circumstances, I’ve been Robert Bryce’s publisher now for a year. I think one of the reasons why I’m honored to be here today is a fella you want to work with if you got a book to publish. The story is basically I’m a fellow in eighth decade and have a very, very long history. Now, in publishing and journalism, which includes a lot of I would hopefully, describe as colorful and interesting episodes, the book is called an especially good view, watching history happen, because that’s in fact, what it is, it’s a story of someone whose participation in life was curiously matched by being very much an observer, or as Yogi Berra actually did say, you can observe a lot by watch.
Robert Bryce 1:34
Well, so now you You flatter me by saying you’re my publisher, I, you know, I’ll get my conflicts of interest out of the way. I’ve written six books all have been published by public affairs, which was the imprint that that Peter founded in 1995 797. Okay,
Peter Osnos 1:50
we’re 24 years old, and I still say, no longer a startup and not yet an antitrust case.
Robert Bryce 1:57
So, Peter out now it’s my turn to you know, I read the entirety of your memoir. And I’ve had a lot of authors on this podcast, and I will admit, I haven’t read their books cover to cover, I read yours. read every word. And I found that to be really compelling, and I enjoyed it quite a lot. And if I didn’t know you, I’d swear he made the whole thing up. I don’t know. Is it zelly? who shows up everywhere that that except that I’m not Woody Allen? Yeah. But you’re but your book is stuffed with boldface names. So the obvious question is, why did you write it?
Peter Osnos 2:36
Well, I wrote it. As I say, at the beginning of it, I wrote it, when I started working on it when my grandson, teenage grandson, Ben Sanford, said to me one day, tell me the story of your family and World War Two. And I said that it’s our family. And that’s when I realized that unless I were to go into the history of my family and my life, then a lot of it wouldn’t never last. It just doesn’t the way the world works. Here, I have a ton of clippings. But that’s not really the issue. The issue is, what what went on and what it felt like. And so I embarked on what essentially as a reported memo, memoir and autobiography and the various ways that language is used, memoir tends to sort of mean memory. But in my case, because I’ve been a reporter for my entire adult life, I wanted to do all the reporting. So I went back and literally reported all the way back before Well, before I was born. And almost until today, and with my wife, and sometimes with my grandsons and friends, we traveled the world, went to Poland, where my family was from, went to India where I was born left in a basket. So I did not ever really live there. And now I was able to do this and and find out a great deal. I went to Cambodia and stuff in Vietnam, because that’s where I’d been a reporter. And I interviewed a whole lot of people, because my sense of memory is that memory is tricky. So I wanted to be sure that when I was saying things that I was reflecting reality in that memory. So I did a whole lot of reporting. And that’s why I think as memoirs go, it’s a little unusual, insensitive is very important. And when you mentioned names, I say in the in the introduction, that one of the things I’ve learned, there’s no index in this book, you know why there’s no index in this book? Because I know that too many people just go right to the index, and then they put the book down if they’re not there. So I so where I’m at in publishing a long time, I know the tricks. So but I say in the beginning, that what I discovered that when you use names The only things people notice is if their names are not there for one reason or another. And why why am I not there? Why isn’t I important? So I say if if a lot of names bother you skip over and get to the ones you want to know about. I, again, my one of my techniques is that as a publisher, editor and writer, is to address the reader and the readers own terms, meaning, what is it that the reader is going to believe when they sit? What is the reader going to think when they see all those names? Well, they’re going to know that somebody out there likes the fact that they care. And I also say that there’s almost, I assume, virtually no descriptions in the book that people would not recognize of themselves. If somebody is tall, thin, and blonde, and you call them short, fat, and bald, it’s just horrifying. So what I what I tried to do was make sure that I was not telling people something that they didn’t know about themselves, but maybe helping them understand where they were. And we’re talking here about the really literally the full spectrum of human, the human race here, from my, you know, personal most infants and so forth, to multiple major, major world figures, the presidents of the United States, the presidents of the Soviet Union, in Russia, really, hugely significant figures in every aspect of life, which is my privilege to encounter plus two of the most important divorce of the latter part of the 20th century, places. The latter part of the 20th century was Vietnam, where I’ve covered the war until were the Soviet Union, which at that time was in the middle of the Cold War. Right. So I, again, it the full panoply, the full spectrum of stuff is vast, I acknowledge. And the reason for doing it is that now it’s there. And I say at the beginning of the book, a book is better than a building, it’s got your name on, it can’t be torn down. And I like that we expect that people long after I’ve gone to my reward will have the opportunity, certainly among my family, to read the book, in addition to which Robert, there is a website, which we created called, especially good view, calm virtual attic, which I can describe to you is a real innovation, my own sense of it is
it’s everything you’d find in an attic, placed on a website, to illustrate things in the book, but also to tell a very much greater story of my family and history by history and so forth. And it’s well worth your time. And it’s free, and there’s no password.
Robert Bryce 7:53
No, I looked at the website, and there’s a tremendous amount of material there. So you described, I thought it was interesting, you described yourself as a reporter, because I guess that’s how I see myself and you know, that I still basically consider myself a journalist and a reporter. You know, I’ve written books, but I’m still right, like I, you know, I report, but you’re also 78 now 7777, and you’re a first time author at age 77. That in itself is rather remarkable, isn’t it? Given that you’re you were
Peter Osnos 8:30
referred time authors on the first time, it’s the first time that I’ve, I’ve written and published a full book I’ve been writing relentlessly, of course, for, you know, literally 60 years in every conceivable format, except a full book. And the explanation for that, is that the logical times for me to have done that probably would have been after Vietnam. And after this Soviet experience, that’s typically American journalists, finish their Soviet experience, and then go up, take a lead and write a book about how, what are Russians really like, right. And the truth is, I had a very good idea, which imploded because I had written doesn’t matter. I wrote a little something that was about the family that I wanted to write a book about. They were offended, so they gave some of the book to somebody else. And then I became the foreign editor of The Washington Post, which is to say, I was busy, but I have been writing almost weekly. For years and years and years. I call it brain exercise. It’s It’s my way of framing ideas. Clearly, because I, you know, I’m allowed to have opinions and so forth, but none of this seriously, Robert, did I ever do for a living? You know what I mean? How do you mean how do you never I was never dependent on the car. As your publishers or editors, I guess that was sort of deliberate. I think one of the things that I’ve recognized about myself is that almost really from the beginning, I’m kind of self directed. instinct leads me to do things. I’ve changed careers. I have come to recognize that. I mean, in fact, in publishing the book is a perfect example of that when I finished the book, writing the book exactly a year ago, we’re in Lakeside, Michigan, which is where we spend the summers, and my wife’s family’s been for 100 years. I finished it. And I said, when I knew I, you know, I told people I was writing it, but I never said what I was gonna do with it, because I didn’t know. And when we finished, and I thought about an agent, and I actually, you know, contacted one agent to see what the instincts were. I realized I couldn’t do that, I could not find an agent, have the agent send the book around. God forbid, it was turned down by 40 people, maybe one would want it or two, and then there’d be an option. I said to my wife, that’s just not gonna happen. I said, What we’re going to do instead is we’re going to create our own Publishing Company, which there’s, this is not a self published book. This is we created a publishing coach, go platform books, LLC, fully established. And what I did to put the book together is what you would do if you were making a movie, or a play. It’s just put together a team. So I put together a team of the very accomplished people I’ve worked with over the years who were in a position to work with me. And it was really tough to hear. And Robert, your editor, Lisa, Catherine was the first person to read the material and was immensely helpful.
Robert Bryce 11:57
She she is she is remarkable. And I just truly remarkable, I you know, if I had my books have had any success. It’s all due to her honestly.
Peter Osnos 12:06
Well, not it’s true. That’s not really the case. It’s if you hadn’t written them, they wouldn’t have been a success. But that’s all another lunch. Right? Is that that what we did was published the book, right? Which is different from self published. In other words, I didn’t hire somebody to put covers on it and stick it on Amazon. We’re fully published, the book is available for sale everywhere. Right. Now, I just say this. Roger, as of today, the audio is available. That took a little longer than I anticipated, because I ended up reading it myself.
Robert Bryce 12:40
Right. Let’s talk about the book because as I said, it seems remarkable. I mean, if I hadn’t read it, and I didn’t know you, I would say wow, I mean, it’s just almost too incredible to believe. But let’s let’s start about from the beginning and your parents escaped from Warsaw. Your father went to Bucharest after the Nazis invaded and sold cars save money. And one of the things that I noted from that was that he had a suit made and the head of humbug hat made. Tell him tell that story.
Peter Osnos 13:11
Well, the truth What happened was that the Nazis invaded in September 1 1939, my father’s military unit that he was assigned to, by the time he got there, outside of east of Warsaw, it basically disbanded. He couldn’t get back to Warsaw, my mother and my brother who was eight at the time, were in Warsaw, and they all assumed that this would be over quickly. So he did get to Bucharest, where were my mother and while my mother and brother endured the really the worst of it, the Nazis arrived, there were bombings, there were, you know, terrible incidents of brutality, which my mother and my brother adored, although with extraordinary courage of a certain kind, and men, my father had the notion that rather than show up at the Romanian foreign ministry to get a visa from my mother, it’s called promesa which is basically to get into Romania and just be treated as a bedraggled refugee. He did. He had a suit made custom made and hambourg had a father was an imposing though. Black hair, jet black hair, blue eyes, dark skin, and and spoke perfect French because they have lived in Paris for the first half and 30s so he shows up at the at the Romanian foreign ministry has a name is to Popescu and he’s sad to see Popescu turns out. Popescu is the foreign minister. And, you know because my father doesn’t look like a bedraggled refugee with nothing to offer, the foreign ministers office and foreign ministers is look the consular officers named Popescu and it gives him a note take care of this man. So was that note, which was the premise, which enabled my mother and brother to get into Romania. But remember, they had to get out of Poland couldn’t get out of Poland, just like that you had to find a way to get an exit visa. The first thing they had to do is convert. They were baptized. And they they managed to get from Warsaw to Berlin, which at the time was extraordinary. Nobody was doing that. But they did it. Once they got to Berlin, my mother actually had a cousin. And she took my brother there and said to the cousin, listen, where you need some help and getting on to Bucharest, and the cousin said, why would you want to leave now? It’s considered the cousin, you know. And incidentally, this is what’s reporting. I found the great grandchild, great granddaughter of that cousin. And I said, Why in God’s name? Did that person want to stay in Berlin in 1939, nearly 40. And a woman said, she said she lives in California. She said, Well, this is the thing you see, he had a much younger wife, the family my family myth was that she just had plastic surgery. I can’t prove that. But she had a much longer wife. She didn’t want to leave all their possessions behind. She had all these beautiful rugs and they had lots of money, right? And they end up dead. He was going to loan my mother that money which she never had to repay because he was in debt but she she literally walked out on the balcony with my brother and her arms. And she said either you give us the Mario jump. And then he did and they get they get to Bucharest where my brothers my father’s at the station with with roses. Then they manage to get from Bucharest when there’s an earthquake in the at the time of the earthquake. My father encounters the Consul General of Turkey. Both of them in their PJs, presumably he gets a transit visa to Turkey. For the family. Then they get to from Turkey they go to the rack
Robert Bryce 17:19
to bag or they bag to Baghdad right?
Peter Osnos 17:21
That’s right, where they meet a man who is extensively told as an English Brit, Brit john Meech, m i s with some kind of emphasis. And he’s apparently an English language teacher. Probably almost certainly am I six. And he says well are you can go, I can get you into India, at least for a while. That’s what happens. They get to India and he has been late spring of 1940. And I say in the book, they arrived with really nothing more than their wits. We’re staying in India until the very end in 1943. I was born in October 43. I always assumed the reason there’s a 12 year difference between my brother and me is that was the moment which they felt safe enough to, to have a second child. When we went to India and visited all the places that they had lived in worked. It’s an astonishing story. I mean, they got there, as I say it was nothing more than their wits and they left they had a beautiful apartment overlooking the best cricket place in Bombay. They had you know, it’s not a big deal in India, in fact, servants, they had five survey good jobs. And, but they managed to get again, through Wiles and geils. And luck, ultimately, they got a very, very, very hard to get visa to the United States. In the visa, the announcement, they got the telegram in April, they left in December, at the end of the year. That year, that quota of Jews getting into the United States 1943 44 was about 8% of the of the whatever the numbers that could have been, there was very, very few people got in, they did they cross the Pacific on a trip ship. There were civilian passages on a ship that was first transporting Italian POW students to Australia. And then from Australia, to California, they were bringing home returning GIS. So again, they got to California, they got to New York, once again, they were now about 40 with just their wits. And by the time I was old enough to know what was going on. They were building their first weekend house. So I mean, these are people who coped, and and thrived despite extraordinary odds and have to remember forever and this Why I tell the story in the detail that I do. I was not part of that life, I came along when they were safe. And I grew up in entirely half of their lives were spent in a very different culture in a very different place through events and traumas that I cannot even imagine. And then I come along and grow up in this country, with a family that is, is here and in every measurable respects successful. So I wanted to tell that story in detail. Sure, because if my grandson would never know it, there’s a whole lot of stuff and also about my mother’s family, which was very interesting to me, my father’s mother’s family. So the point is that story, which is not a unique story. I say that anybody who made it out of Poland in 1939 9040, has a story. Sure, otherwise, they wouldn’t be out. So that was the first part of it. And then the rest of it seemed logical. I mean, not quite chronological, because, but I decided that I had to tell the story of my wife growing up, because if I didn’t, you wouldn’t really understand how the hell I got to be the person I am. So I told the story of my background. And I still that told the story of my schooling and sort of early career. And then I focused on Vietnam, and Russia and the Soviet Union. And my career as a newspaper journalist, right, and the move I made to publish,
Robert Bryce 21:33
right? Well, that part of that you just discussed, I thought was really interesting. Because you you you said that in the book, you refer to your parents, as Europeans and yourself as an American. And you and it seemed to be that you also kind of felt that way. Something about your like brother, Robert, who I guess passed just last year, right that he was that that was a key difference between that there was a divide even in your home as a child between how you’re right, is that fair? And for you identify?
Peter Osnos 22:02
Like it was like it was negative? No, I don’t I don’t leave anywhere. We were strangers with the same DNA. There you go. And that was really the essence of it. For me to remember that my brother from the ages of eight to 12, when they arrived for four and a half years, lived through unspeakable challenge. I mean, the traumas, and even in India, after they’ve been there a while they sent him off to a boarding school, a perfectly good boarding school. And where he was told, don’t tell anybody you’re Jewish, we’ve had enough true and interesting in a boarding school, which I went to visit which is up in the hills about several hours away from Bombay, its most famous graduate of this school was called at that time, the European boy school is still there very much now. Well, Indians, of course, most famous graduate was Freddie Mercury queen. No kidding. Yeah, it’s pictures all over the place.
Robert Bryce 23:06
So well, is that what drove you? I mean, because that’s the other thing, Peter that I, as I read the book, that this incredible history of your family, and that in during those unspeakable things that happened in Warsaw and fleeing the Nazis and having, as you say, the wilds and gowns, but was that what drove you? Because I mean, that’s the other thing that to me, is I read the book. And I mean, this No, you know, no flattery here. But you had an incredible amount of drive throughout the whole thing to do you know, you, you had good jobs, and then you left them you, you know, you left the Washington Post you you know, you could have I hate to say it this way, but loafed a little more, but I don’t know,
Peter Osnos 23:50
Robert, and you knew as someone who’s written six books, you would know that an awful lot of what you are, is baked in. And I, what I understand, again, one of the purposes of writing this book, was to get acquainted with who I am. As I say, in the beginning, you know, that’s risky. What if I didn’t like the person I found? What if I thought I turned out to be vain or arrogant or any of these other things. The truth of the matter is, what I discovered is really kind of one of the main discoveries of the book is the degree to which I have always been sort of self motivated, or self directed. I’m very personable. I like people. I’m gregarious, but it turns out that a whole lot goes on. That is below the surface, which is why I could leave the Washington Post when I did is why I could leave Random House when I did. So I can leave public affairs when I did.
Robert Bryce 24:52
Let me interrupt you there because it’s interesting that you say that. A journalist that I knew here in Austin, it’s a long time ago said she said we You right? You don’t pick what you write it picks you. And I thought that I thought about that a lot. So this was just what we were supposed to do, then. I mean, there’s some there’s no, there’s something in the memoir that just feels it feels like well, you were supposed to be there, right. But this was when I don’t believe necessarily in fate, but that you had this sensibility about yourself throughout your career, it seems that, well, I’m going to make this happen. And whatever the odds are, is that
Peter Osnos 25:29
I would say in retrospect, that is the case. But the point about it is really the rubber you I mean, I knew early on that I look back at my sixth grade yearbook. I didn’t know what to call it. But basically, I was calling a journalist. Right. I mean, I was you know, my European father never once said, Let’s go in the backyard. I’ll throw a ball. Right just never did that. morning he did do is read the New York Times and, and the world telegram in the house.
Robert Bryce 26:05
Right. And you and like you I grew up with newspapers, I still love the newspaper. You know, I read a lot of digital stuff. But I’d still love the paper. And that was one of the things that I really resonated. Let me jump back. And so you’re the story of your father’s clothes. And you you identify in the story, and I’m going to jump to some discussion of books and so on. But you talk about your father’s clothes in the book and how important they ended up in fact, may have saved you saved your family. You became then known as a sharp dresser and I’ve seen your clothes are even nicer than mine. That’s good. I’m guessing you No, no, no hoodie?
Peter Osnos 26:45
Well, you know it, you know, it’s funny. You have hoodies I do it. No, I tell you what it is I did not again did not appreciate the impact of DNA. You know, some of the things that are in you that you’re not aware of? I mean, no one ever told me his child. You want to have a crease in your pants, my father and having said that, why is it that in junior high school I insisted on only wearing, you know, pants that had a front crease? Why? How did they end up being called by Sally Quinn, the arbiter of style and why Washington in that era, the best dressed man at the Washington Post? I always used to joke that it was a low bar. But the truth is, is that’s something she said I didn’t say about myself. So you know, I spent a huge amount of time and energy on the subject. Yeah. When I lived in Asia, and eventually the UK. Yeah, I did. You know, I had a tailor. And I did have shirts made?
Robert Bryce 27:45
Peter Osnos 27:46
I like to say to my wife when she said that’s awfully expensive is Yeah, but at least it’s not crack cocaine. So anyway, the or a mist or a mistress, right? Yeah, well, that’s certainly true. But the thing is that I don’t know where that came from. But I have to assume that I was seeing my father look elegant, right. And therefore, on some level elegance of a certain kind was instilled in me, as was a kind of, you know, curiosity and intellectual tradition. In my particular mother’s family. My mother’s family goes through hundreds of years, they were the one of the leading literary families in Poland. They had the largest one of the best publishing houses. And so there are things that you don’t know you have. They’re just there. And if you if life does not clobber you in some unexpected direction, you tend to go to where those instincts that you don’t even know you have really lead you. And, again, think about it. My ability to make certain really dramatic shifts at various points in my adult life and career particularly. Were not all that different from my father getting out of from my parents and getting out of Poland and my parents getting out of India and coming to New York and starting again and creating businesses. My mother was a black chemist, my father and two other fellas taught in New York in the summers and they picked up on air conditioning and that firm is still around. All these years later, when I just sit there air Ville is the Compare of La irfa I think my father always does that. I always thought one of my father’s greatest joys and pride was not just his sons. It was the fact that he was the sponsor of the 8am weather report on the New York Times radio station Wk Expo. A loving sponsor of the weather report at eight o’clock on WTF sir. So I would say that they Some of these things you, you do, you’re on your own. And some of these things are just there. And they’re gonna happen if nothing gets in the way. Meaning, if you don’t get collaborate along the way by some form of illness, or you choose a way of life, that’s, you know, gonna change the way you live. And then that happened to me. And so I became what I think I was destined to be, which is an observer and a reporter. And a person who is genuinely, again, another thing that’s surprising, Robert, that I imagine I didn’t fully appreciate. I also, even though I’m a talker, turns out I’m a listener. Ross, I couldn’t have written this book. It’s an awful lot of stuff in there, which comes from just having listened. absorbed. Right, and even in ways I didn’t fully appreciate and that’s again, something that you don’t know about yourself until you have to confront confronted. Right?
Robert Bryce 31:08
Well, let me come back to that because you talk later about your your own bouts with with depression in you know, over the last few years, which I thought was some some really brave and revealing reporting on yourself. But let me let me jump back to this your your that identity issue because you wrote in the book, you said that about what it means to be a Jew, not as a member of a synagogue or fraternal group, but rather, through an awareness of our history of travail and Trump family is my community. Believing in the power of resilience has become this is one of the things you in the book with, but you say believing in the power of resilience has become something of a cliche, to offset our embedded gloom and strife at events and crises. If the human race for all it has been through over the millennia, we’re not resilient, we certainly would not have gotten this far. That it said so often, because it is right. Was that? And I’ll tell you I’m you know, I grew up Catholic in Oklahoma. I mean, it’s about as far away from being a Jew in New York, as you know, culturally, not necessarily distance wise. But the way you wrote about it, that was very moving was was that outsider status? Was that one of the things that drove you as well, I mean, just that time,
Peter Osnos 32:17
I think it is I’m sure it is although outsider. Yeah. One of the things that people who write memoirs are accused of is saying, well, I you know, I was always an outsider. And somehow nonetheless,
Robert Bryce 32:28
it always snowed and it was always raining. Yeah, right.
Peter Osnos 32:30
Look, I, I was a participant in everything I did. But Curiously, I was also watching, which, which is why I start the book with a wonderful little anecdote about my son and me at a baseball dinner. in Greenwich, Connecticut, which was, you know, a dinner the Portuguese and the Americans and Chinese Americans, the cops that, you know, he was a hilltop Texaco. And the next few weeks everybody coming in the house, I would describe in great detail, the Xi’an zt. And this and that, and finally, my son, who was 12 says, you know, Dad, you’re rolling and Jane Goodall, you go to the dinner with your tape recorder? notebook, and you say, isn’t it amazing? They show affection for her? Yeah. And that that was a that is a characteristic I, I will go to an event. And we’ll characterize the event in my head sociologically, as well as being present it just, you know, it just goes with the territory. I went to where we are out here in Lake Michigan is a, you know, Country Club, which we’re not members, but the my family, lots of them are members. And they had a big event on July 4, fireworks and stuff. And I go to the event, and other people are there to have the fireworks and eat the food. And I go there, I come back. So you know, it was amazing. The 1000 people there and in virtually all of them. There were maybe, you know, three, four or five people who were not white in the classic sense of what Right, right. One was an adopted black kid who was actually in our family. And the other thing I noticed is this upper middle class fear of people here on the shores of Lake Michigan. There was no obesity. Whereas if you go to the Walmart, right in Michigan City, half the people are obese, right? So I come away from an event and this just happens. This would be a Jane Goodall moment. I’d come away with that event. I don’t like that. I eat my dinner and watch the fireworks. But I was assessing who that 1000s of people were in Lakeside, Michigan, doing a little anthropological, anthropological. A lot of people who do that who don’t realize they do it, right. And in the book, I talk about my experience with Vernon Jordan who was you know, truly a massively charismatic figure. That was so good. Most people know who he was. He was a civil rights leader and a eventually became a major figure in business politics. Very, very striking, handsome black man. And what he could tell you six months after any cocktail party, how many people in that room were black? Who were not waitstaff, right. That’s the way it is. So there are different levels at which we operate. And my level is presence, but also observation.
Robert Bryce 35:33
Sure. So we mentioned before boldface names, and I can’t list them all here, but you you, you know, four presidents Carter, Clinton, Obama, Trump, you publish their books, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Aton Sharansky, Robert McNamara. The list goes on. I won’t attempt to list them all. We ever starstruck.
Peter Osnos 35:54
No, I think that was one of the one of the advantages of coming in as a reporter. Reporters, the reporters are starstruck and gets in their way. Right. And one of the things I mean, I all I mean, I knew, you know, as a reporter, I’ve covered a lot of big time, folks, but it was as a editor and publisher, that I really, really came into contact with people. And I always used to say that being an editor and a publisher in particular, I was never an employee. These were people who wanted something from me, right was the support that they needed to be able to do something they wanted, which is have a book.
Robert Bryce 36:37
So you’re on so you’re in a more equal footing with
Peter Osnos 36:39
them. Right, especially as I got older. And the thing is that I because I could really go into it without a sense of insecurity about the, you know, I had this and put it this way, as a dentist, and they came to me with a toothache. I would know what to do. These are people who came to me, who came to me who either wanted to write a book or wanted to publish your book. And I in after I figured out how the business worked, felt that I was able to do that. And so that would made the results made the relationship. No, not I wouldn’t say 100% because it’s not the case. But I would say overwhelmingly, I was able to deal with the people I was dealing with no matter what level they were, without a sense that I was, you know, out of my depth. And that’s merciful. Right.
Robert Bryce 37:34
So you mentioned Vernon Jordan, who obviously had a lot of charisma, who and this I’ll just ask it, so who had the most Elvis Oh sweat the most Elvis’
Peter Osnos 37:45
me, that’s my eldest is my grandfather net. This is another case of me chasing when, when my first grandkids were born, and I said, Yeah, I want to be known as poopy or ob or up operating. And I said, so call me Elvis. They didn’t know was funny. Now they know it’s funny. But I am Elvis to five grand.
Robert Bryce 38:04
Okay, we’ll see. No, there’s no setup here. I have no idea. Okay.
Peter Osnos 38:11
I am, it will always be Elvis to my grandkids. I think that well, I would have to say that in different ways. I mean, there are different ways, obviously. You know, I said, I mentioned burn, people like Vernon Jordan, and Magic Johnson. In particular, really, any room they were in, nobody could look anywhere else, you know, for a while. The striking thing about let’s go to the President, because that’s really probably the most important historically. Jimmy Carter I encountered first when he was recently been defeated. He was back in plans, right? I mean, get started. And I in a nutshell, my time with the car, I did a bunch of books, including one poetry, children’s book, and I really got to spend time with he and roselyn sitting in their kitchen holding hands, same grace, all that other business. Jimmy Carter was the person you that who he pretended to be. He also somewhere in his sort of sense of self was tremendous ambition, and a tremendous sense of mission. But he’s a real human being in the full sense of the thing. For better, I think for better but, you know, in some sense as a politician, he ended up with one term.
Unknown Speaker 39:42
Peter Osnos 39:44
was somebody who clearly had natural, I mean, immense natural charisma. Right? Which I but I also the first book I did with him was it was very easy was it was 1992 political manifesto he and gore. And it didn’t require really any engagement. But the second book invite involvement. And when I saw was a guy who was immensely charismatic, and in some sense, infuriatingly undisciplined when it came to, he could be cruel in ways he didn’t want to be. And I think that, you know, he he, well, his marriage to Hillary I think would be a perfect example. I haven’t I am not reflecting any of that, right? Yeah. But I’m trying to get the book out of him in 1996, when I was under the gun to get the book was really hard. It was the president. He kept telling me how much he wanted to do the book. And I kept, you know, waiting for something to happen. And we did eventually do it. That’s the whole that’s all in the book. Obama is another one, you know, unexpectedly great story. Obama was the first African American president of the Harvard Law Review, got a big contract from Simon and Schuster. Not that he asked for, but that they gave him. I’m sure he had loans to pay. It missed his deadline to cancel the book that came to me and said, you want to pick up this book that’s been cancelled for $40,000. I did it strange to my father. And so 4 million copies. I never got a T shirt. But on the other hand, on the other hand, I knew when I met him that this was an extra. I mean, I met him in 1994. The young community organizer, right, I knew who I knew then that I was, I was dealing with somebody who would be extraordinary. I don’t know why I just did. There was something about his presence, something about his, the way he handled himself and the nature of our conversation. And then Donald Trump, Donald Trump. I met Donald Trump because I was tasked early on in my Random House period, by the owner of the company, who said, This Trump fellow is a
Robert Bryce 41:52
car, let’s do a book. And that was signed new house,
Peter Osnos 41:56
the new house and his best car on the New York fixer side didn’t really interfere much and made sure you know, acquisition of books, but that was what he wanted to do. And I was the one who was given the,
Robert Bryce 42:09
and you tell the great, and you tell the great story about showing up and you showed him a mock up of the cover and immediately says, My name’s not big enough for the big
Peter Osnos 42:17
enough. One of the things I came to understand about Donald Trump is that iron is not part of his iron is not right, this Yeah. But you know, so I did have a chance to really literally a five year period, to see Trump up close. So when everybody started having really strong opinions about Trump, I was able to have my opinions based on experience. And what I say, again, to keep it simple, is the person I saw as a New York developer in late 80s. And early 90s. The same person became the president knighted states. I mean, he was the president united states, and not a developer, right. And they had many of the same characteristics, much sort of exaggerated. And that’s what we’re living with. Now. He has an uncanny ability to reach a certain kind of people against every expectation. Why? I mean, again, it’s an anecdote that a year or so after we published the book, but before he was on the apprentice, he my son, and I were wrestling, professional wrestling in Atlantic City because Evan had a brief interest in watching it, and 18,000 people in the arena, Trump’s the promoter of this event, and then he comes in, people cheer and they roar, and that’s before the apprentice, right that is strictly on the basis of the book and his reputation. So Donald Trump, even then 1988 89 could reach an audience which eventually became enough of an audience in this country to make him president united states. It’s just incredible. It is what it is, is what that what that intangible is with him. I still don’t think we fully No, I am not one who believes that. You know, it’s wrong to say that he has the same gifts as other sort of autocrats or you know, Mussolini made the trains run on time. Trump built the Wollman rink ahead of schedule. I mean, those are things that those things that and and you know why it is that so many people in this country would choose to vote for him. Even knowing after he’d been president for four years, what he was like is an astonishing fact, which I cannot I still to this day, cannot fully explain.
Robert Bryce 44:53
Well, let’s come back to that because it’s a broader political discussion. But you also mentioned Aton Sharansky, and the book and your admiration for him as I think it’s really the only person in the book that you identify as something of a hero to you. Why? Well, you met him when you were you met him when you were in Moscow.
Peter Osnos 45:13
I was a reporter in Moscow. He was introduced to me shortly after I got there as a quote spokesman for for Jews who wanted to immigrate and I looked at who’s in his mid 20s is short, you know, it’s kind of dumpy guys, and you’re the spokesman. Anyway, the point of it is, over time, and it’s been 40 years, I saw in a time in various ways, show extraordinary integrity, extraordinary courage. In 19th, march of 1997, and march of 1977, he was arrested by the KGB and taken took a photo of the prison, stripped naked, told he was being charged with a capital offense, treason. And the thought that goes through his mind is they cannot humiliate me only I can really get myself in senses, the ultimate existential insight. And I
Robert Bryce 46:07
never I never heard that put that way. But I thought that was an amazing. I don’t know, it’s just a very powerful thought.
Peter Osnos 46:14
Well, it is. And, you know, nine years later, they let him out in a pretend spy trade, although he’s not a spy. And they tell him to cross the Atlantic a bridge in Berlin in a straight line. So what he’s doing is holding up his pants, he crosses in a zigzag line. It’s not belligerence, it’s a belief in himself. And in Israel, he became a star became a politician. And he’ll tell you that he was a much better political prisoner than he was a politician.
Robert Bryce 46:50
And became closely aligned with Netanyahu correct.
Peter Osnos 46:53
Yeah. And there’s a whole story about that. I was, like I mentioned very quickly, but the point is, he says, You know, I was in three prisons, I never resigned for many years in three governments, I resigned from all of them. Yeah, he likes to say, you know, as a political prisoner as inspiration, and dissident as inspiration as a politician, I was a disappointment. He’s very much aware of the fact that his association with in what in in Israel is the right way, not the far right. He’s a secular person, even though his wife is very observant is boil it down. his belief is that you cannot make peace with with the Palestinians or anybody else until there is a real foundation of democracy. And he believes that things like the Oslo accord were giving gifts to the Palestinians that they had not earned. Now, you may argue with that, as a contention, with that’s his belief, and I understand why he feels that way. But finally, and this is really very important. The KGB decided that he and I were partners in crime, as he puts it. And I was attacked pretty much relentlessly in the last year or so when we were there, as his handler. And in the end, I went home and he went to prison. So I, I’ve always felt whether I can actually you know how exactly to describe it. We were linked, then, both Jews were both more or less the same age. His life was defined by his determination to live in freedom. And one of the people who was, you know, part of that process was me as a journalist, because I wrote about him, and then later as an editor and publisher because I published his books.
Robert Bryce 49:03
So how many how many books did you do with him?
Peter Osnos 49:06
For the first one was fear, no evil, which was his prison book. Which was a magnificent book, which is still in print, but commercially a disappointment because it came at a time when Reagan and Gorbachev were hugging and kissing and Red Square and a dissident prison book was not fashionable at that moment. It didn’t find Now, the second book he did was called the case for democracy. And the story there is that I, George W. Bush, got a copy of the book because I sent it to to a friend of mine who was his partner in the Rangers, Texas folks. So like this. George HW Bush got the copy of the book is in the White House. He reads it. He says this is the most important book I’ve ever read, uses as the basis for a second inauguration. As the book book became a big bestseller, and the town’s private comment was, he thought it was the best book you ever read, because he only read the first 200 pages. It is a very good book. It’s it’s the case for democracy, which is what I was describing before, which is that you can’t have democracy until you have real civic institutions and social justice. And he did a book on identity. And most recently, he did a book called never alone, which is a kind of the three big phases of his life, which is his life as a dissonant and political prisoner, his life as a politician and his life in the last episode of his career, which was as head of the Jewish Agency, the purpose of which is to try to build relationships with diaspora at a time when relations between the Israelis and the Diaspora have really deteriorated. Very much mean, the degree to which Israel now represents a divisive factor in American Jewish life instead of a source of inspiration. So anyway, that’s the book is your grandfather’s seven or eight times over now. And he’s still a little guy still bald, and I still a hero.
Robert Bryce 51:09
That’s a great story. Wait, let me ask you about some other another Russian that I find fascinating is Garry Kasparov, you published him as well, right at public affair I
Peter Osnos 51:18
did. But I had nothing to do with him. He was published by public affairs. And but by that time, I was only you know, I was only 10 change. I’ve met him, of course, but I never wouldn’t dream of playing jurasky you could play chess with him. But I wouldn’t even sit down with him on that score, so I can’t really talk about it.
Robert Bryce 51:35
Okay. Well, so let’s look in, zoom out a little bit here, Peter. And again, my guest is Peter Osnos. His book is called an especially good view watching history happen, which came out in June, if I recall. Right. So you’ve been in publishing, as you mentioned, for 50 years, you’ve been a reporter for 60, as you mentioned, and by the way, in high school, you met Stokely Carmichael. I mean, it
Peter Osnos 52:01
was James college, James Meredith, and Stokely came later, standing on the board working, that’s a whole nother. Okay. All right. Let me tell you, if you think there’s nothing to read in this book, you’re not paying attention? Well, I
Robert Bryce 52:15
mean, you end up in all these places, I think I’m going down. How is this possible? But anyway, so you worked at the Washington Post, you you you’re familiar with big media outlets, The New York Times The Washington Post now are attacked regularly as part of the you know, the big media the and and are they as important now as they were? And if so, is the age, I guess the question that I wrote down? Is the age of those big media outlets over?
Peter Osnos 52:40
No, absolutely not. I think there are two things about the way information is presented. One is content. And the other is distribution. content of one kind or another is pretty much eternal, going all the way back to the very beginning cave paintings, which changed over and changes and changes and changes the way information is distributed. And the major change and information in the last half century save in particularly the last 30 years, is that each one of us has become editor in chief. We choose what we want. Someone listening to this podcast is making a choice. They don’t have to listen to this podcast, right. And so the way it now works is that distribution is no longer supported by advertising. Distribution is supported by the engagement of subscribers. And that’s a fundamental change. So with the New York Times is today is a newspaper intended to be read by as many of the English language readers in there are in the world, which there are 100 million outside the United States. So they have a major Bureau in Australia, and Canada. They don’t have a bureau in the Bronx. It’s an global English language newspaper. It’s also there’s a whole other thing which is going on at the times, which is how do we appeal to the next generation, which is why they cover you know, certain kinds of culture and gender issues very, very carefully. That that’s a different issue. It’s a global newspaper, The Washington Post when I wish there was a Washington newspaper. The Katharine Graham’s great line about that was that the washington post is Woodward and Bernstein. It’s also Woodward and Lothrop, which was the department store downtown. And Woodward and Lothrop went out of business. So the post had to find a new way of reaching people. That’s when basis came along and bought it and turned it into another global brand. It’s an international A brand which has many, many more subscribers, most of them are digital than it ever had when I was there. So its power and impact comes from scale. But we are as a as a culture. Now we are in a position, which I think is both a major responsibility and obligation to choose where we get our information from. And because on the local level in places like Austin, Texas, you know, we don’t have a truly good sustainable business model for local journalism. Which is why it’s having to be reinvented Why so much of it has been demolished, and we’re starting to rebuild it. One of the great successes in the New Age of journalism is the Texas Tribune, which was started now, I guess, almost 20 years ago. Right. And, and the truth is that the Texas Tribune understood something that it needed to be an asset to the community, it’s served without advertising. So what does it do? It provides you with a variety of ways to support it, philanthropy, membership events, and that’s how it pays the rent, right. And one of the things that journalism media, public book publishers, everybody needs to find a way to pay the rent. book publishers never had advertising. We didn’t lose it. book publishers were always thought to be on the verge of extinction. And never happened. The truth is that we have always had an engagement with our readers, otherwise, we wouldn’t exist. And journalism has had to develop the same characteristic engagement with readers, the network’s no longer have the audience and power they once had, because they were based on advertising. So now I pay whatever I pay to get Netflix and all the others, you know, things that I get. There’s no advertising. I’m paying for it. I’m a subscriber. One of the things that I get a lot of laughter out of people when I talked to them about the cable industry, cable news. Sure.
When I talked to him and kind of audience I would talk to, I’d say, so how many of you, you know, read the New York Times? How many of you read the New Yorker? How many of you read you know, the Atlantic? How many of you subscribe to Fox News. Every week was off tried to Fox News. Everybody subscribes the fact most if you have cable, right, you don’t know it. But you’re paying them a significant amount of money for the pleasure and privilege of having foxnews that’s been given to you. But you don’t have to watch it. You choose to watch it.
Robert Bryce 57:56
So what do you have your major your point is just the way the revenue, the revenue, his side of the business has worked? Or is that’s the main that’s the main change.
Peter Osnos 58:05
The main change in cotton distribution, is that it that you have to get people to engage with money and not advertisers. Right? Because the advertisers are less valuable to you than they once were. So chooses what they want, instead of being told what they can have.
Robert Bryce 58:25
Soon as the fact that Bezos owns the post, and that there’s a the the biggest media outlets are controlled by me. I could use the word oligarchs in the US it’s not exactly the right word, but that Loreen jobs owns the Atlantic Murdoch, of course owns the post that the Wall Street Journal and all his News Corp, etc. Fox News. Does that concern you at all that that these these massive outlets are controlled by the billionaires?
Peter Osnos 58:53
Well, a New York Times it’s not. Yeah, New York Times is the only New York Times is let’s face it, the leading news organization in this country still in terms of prestige and right. And what about it? Every other family owned news organization in the country folded the graves of the post chambers in Los Angeles. The bingo was in Louisville, the tailors in Boston. The tables in Baltimore, everybody clashes in Vienna, the knights and the readers they all gave up, but not the cells workers. And why didn’t the Salzburg just give up? Well, probably and I think the only way to describe it is that they believed deeply in the mission that they had, they were willing to forego their dividends. They really, you know, they they batten down the hatches. They were walking around in proverbial barrels for a while. And then they understood that there were two things they had to do to save the institution. One was to create a paywall, which they have and two was to make it a truly national So sitting out here in rural Michigan, I get the papers same time as I do on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. And I’m a paper reader class, they have less Angel readers. Alright. So the times is an exception, which you would argue proves the rule. And maybe it does on the global level, on the national level. But what’s happening on the local level, is not moguls. If a community wants to really support good journalism, the community has to step up and do that. Right. By extraordinarily gifted and competent and loved Darren law, is the chief executive of something called the American journalism project, which is actually started by john Thornton, the same fellow who started the Texas Tribune. And what it does is it provides money and, and and resources and mentoring for local journalism, to rebuild local nonprofit journalism. You know, the truth is, Robert, you’re doing a podcast, podcast, podcast, podcast is radio, what is radio? radio is the ultimate analog broadcast. And yet, here we are today, you’re doing a podcast. News of one kind or another has always been there. And always will. Is it as good as it could be? Never will be? But is it good? You know, what you’re looking for? You can get great coverage of almost anything. Sure. And, but it’s a responsibility that a great many people just don’t know how to deal with the civic responsibility of supporting journalism with your readership and your money is major. Don’t expect Woodward and Lothrop to pick up the tab, you may have to pick up the tab.
Robert Bryce 1:01:54
So that was one of the questions I read. It was the biggest trend in media now. And you’re in what I guess if I paraphrase what you said is this atomization of the business, right? There’s,
Peter Osnos 1:02:06
at some level, it’s atomization. But really, the biggest trend is the that we moved from we’re going to give you what we want to give you supported by advertising to you’re going to take what you want, but you got to figure out a way to support it.
Robert Bryce 1:02:21
So it’s gone, gone, gone from publisher push to consumer pull?
Peter Osnos 1:02:25
Absolutely. I think that’s the most, you know, I think that’s in any number of ways the biggest development and media. And it’s the reason why so much of the media has been in people. Because what was always assumed to be the major source of income has very largely dried up.
Robert Bryce 1:02:44
So you mentioned the New York Times in that you get it you’re in Lakeside, Michigan. And so what publications Do you read on an average day besides the New York Times?
Peter Osnos 1:02:54
Well, I’m not typical. So I mean, it’s really unfair. I mean, I, you know, I read the times and the journal in print, I read the FT and the washington post online. Obviously, I read the New Yorker, my son is a writer. And, you know, the New York Review of Books I’m not you know, I don’t I can’t pass a matchbook without reading. So and I’m, you know, I have slightly when it comes to what my you know, preferred platform is, there’s some things that I prefer. I mean, I really am a print book reader. But there are some books, I don’t need to put on my shelf that I’ve just download and look that I’m not an inveterate podcast listener, although I must say I think that the daily at the times is a very helpful thing to have. And again, I’ll tell you something about that, though, Robert. If you ask people that the New York Times, which is now a digital first write digital first, what do they really care about most? One thing they care about still is their first time on the front page of the paper, because they get it in trind in some sort of brass, you know, key, right. And the second is being on the on the daily. Because in the New York Times journalism today, usually four or five by lines on every story on a daily, just you people love being noticed on the front page, and love being interviewed on the day way. Yeah, human nature has its consistencies. And one of them is people are. You know, they like to be proud of what they do. Yeah. I think that’s why the way in which journalism will always endure. I mean, there are people who should not be proud of what they do. And God, you know, that’s their problem. Right. But an awful lot of journalists are proud of what they do. proud of what they’ve been able to achieve proud of what they’ve been able to contribute. And to me, that’s very encouraging and I think that will always be the case.
Robert Bryce 1:04:58
I have been reading It’s been remarkable when I, you know, it took me a while to get the podcast started. But I’m doing more than a year now. And it’s a very people really react to it. I mean, they really listen. And it’s been remarkable. And some of the, the response that I’ve had, and I’ve just stopped with this, but in a deeper level than some of the things I’ve written, I mean, you know, just that they’d really do listen closely. So we’ve talked about the future, but publishing and I’m with you, I read a lot of my Kindle, I read your book on the Kindle, only because I wanted it right away. And I wanted to get started. And there’s some things about that, that I like, but I still, you know, I like the old fat. I love the paper, I love to be able to underline it and come back and open the thing itself. I like the thickness of the book. But let’s talk about platform because we’ve been talking for right about an hour now, Peter. So you formed this new imprint platform? And you’re you published your book was the first book to be published by platform? Yes. Do you have other books in the queue? There are you what else you’re
Peter Osnos 1:05:54
publishing, I’m not trying to reinvent public affairs. I’ve done that. And public affairs, as I said, is 24 years old and is now part of in shit. But we’re going we’ve got another book in the works. It’s going to be published in partnership with the Harvard Business Review press coming next spring. It’s a full extensive view of the life person and life and experiences of George Soros. Well, George Soros a life in full and when I, I published his books and Public Affairs, or what I concluded was, no one was going to be able to pull off a really good biography of him because there’s too many other aspects. He’s a finance series, a philanthropist. He’s a political figure. He, he, he’s a, you know, his multiple phase is a Holocaust survivor. So what we did was we got people who would be the best people to write about those various aspects of his life. And what we did was we got his promise and assurance that he would not read the book until it was done.
Robert Bryce 1:07:00
So it’s a series of vignettes series of vignettes about Soros, then
Peter Osnos 1:07:03
not vignettes, these are 15,000 word essays are great assets. They are okay, by people like Sebastian Mallaby on finance and DARREN WALKER on philanthropy. I mean, it’s classy, otherwise, I wouldn’t do it. And because I wanted it to get a certain kind of distribution, we’re partnering with the Harvard Business Review press. And we’ll do but I’m not you know, I’m in what we call Robert, the Encore or repairs, I call it repositioning phase, which is I don’t like the term retirement because retirement implies you’re done. Right. And what I say in the book, and I’ve gotten a lot of interesting response to this is that if you make it to 65, in today’s world, odds are you’re going to get to 85. And that means 1/3 of your adult life is going to be spent after what was thought of as the, quote retirement age, right? What we need to do is figure out how to make use of that time that the traditional work arc, which was this has to be reinvented to this. So that I am no longer I knew that there was a point in which I could no longer lead public affairs and shouldn’t, right. And I had to understand that I was stepping back. It wasn’t disrespect that the people wanted to do it on their own. They just needed to write.
Robert Bryce 1:08:28
So and you make that point in the book that you you were at some point seen as meddling and that they they needed to do it themselves. But let me follow up on the issue of Public Affairs here because it’s the only I’ve had an unusual career in book publishing. And I’ll make this very mad the same agent, same editor Lisa Kaufman isn’t the same agent Dan green, who’s in you mentioned in the memoir with regard to Molly Ivan’s who wrote the foreword to my first book, pipe dreams. But I’ve had a very unusual career in book publishing, same editor, same agent, and same impressing same publisher. So but I was I didn’t know all the history of Public Affairs. And you you recounted the story of the founding and also the financing of getting the business started and admitting fully to your missteps and how it was set up, and that none of the investors get their money back. That’s, that’s, that’s one way of putting it. I wouldn’t say that I’d say the investors achieved what they what they, what they came to it for, to create a publishing company of consequence in value. Are mission driven. By profit driven? Okay. I guess. Let me just call that so. Would you do it again? Would you do public for Yeah, I
Peter Osnos 1:09:43
mean, I certainly wouldn’t do it any different way. I mean, the one thing I would do differently and again, it’s described in the book is I would probably take a tougher position on majority ownership. What it represent represents majority ownership, but they Other thing is that that I came to understand is very simple, Robert, if you want to run a successful company, in almost any line of work, and you’re mission driven, rather than profit driven, your goal is enough at the bottom line to pay all your expenses in a proper way. And that’s what we did. We were we never defaulted. We never, you know, screwed anybody. And you think, you know, did the investors get that? No, no, none of the people set for me, was putting money into the company that was consequential. And what did I get? You know, all the years I was there, which turned out to be, you know, almost, you know, 16 1820 years of one kind or another. There’s nothing I could have done with my book, that would have been more rewarding, and really more profitable. You know, what, the reason why you did six books or public affairs is because somewhere in your sense of what matters, it wasn’t just about the money. And I’d say all the time to people, if you’re only in this for your, the size of your advance, find another publisher, right? Because you probably get more money somewhere else. One of the things I always said from the beginning to publish the kinds of books that we were going to do, we had to recognize the finite nature of our audience. It’s a great big country, with lots of interests. And the number of people who were going to buy one of our public affairs books was maybe 10% of the entire population. Right? We’ll just say this about my own book, Robert, in the course of publicizing this book, I’ve been on NPR and PBS, and I’ve done scores of other events and, and c span mainly over and over and over again. And there were reviews in the Wall Street Journal last week, probably 15 to 18 20 million people, you know, one way or another, the number of people who are actually going to buy the book is going to be 0.01%. Right? Because of the nature of the book and the nature of the of the mission, you have to recognize that there’s a difference between what you want revenue return, and what is possible. Right. One of the reasons why public affairs exists, is I get it, I say in the book, but there’s also a wall street journal that I cut out and gave to everybody was the average company doesn’t last 20 years. What does it take to get to be 100? And we’re 24. Right? And one of the reasons we are at 24 is whether I knew it or not, I was navigating the business, outside the realm of whether it would have a profit return that would make people happy. If they wanted to be happy, you know, you know, buy a bond, if you want to be a public affairs, as long as we paid those bills, but believe me, Robert, if we weren’t paying our bills, we would not have made it. Nobody was doing us a favor. Sure. So we, the source of pride I have is that complicated. But at the end of the day, I shot one of the major book companies in the world. Not only did they want to own public affairs, but they treated it with immense respect. They did not change the business model. Nobody lost their jobs. It’s what it is. It’s just I’m not sure. But the point is, the point is that that I work again, and these are instinctive things, Robert, I just understood that if I was going to be a book publisher, it had to be a certain kind of book published in certain kind of way to pay our bills. I didn’t want anybody to come along and save us. And it was it was targeted for a certain kind of audience. Exactly. Right. Right. So many people listening to your podcast or reading your books.
Robert Bryce 1:13:54
I hope so. So just a couple last questions, Peter. My guest is Peter oz knows he’s the author of an especially good view. Watching history happen and he also has it on audiobook. So we talked a lot a lot about what you’re reading what and so you mentioned the periodicals what do you what books are you really?
Peter Osnos 1:14:14
Oh, right the moment it’s interesting, I’m reading I just finished for some reason I got three books last three, you know, nighttime read before I go to sleep one was mmrs his book on Teddy as president it our second one was a book by the 1912 campaign called let the people rule by Geoff Cowan. I’ve had my teddy period. I’m now halfway through the by new biography of Jimmy Carter. So I guess I’m you know, my daytime MRI and then the other thing I’m doing for my reading group of old men. Is War in peace.
Robert Bryce 1:14:56
Oh, really? Yeah. And how how far are you through it?
Peter Osnos 1:14:59
flyme I’ve got 20 hours to go in the audio but and I’m on page 700. The thing, what I’m doing is in order to read war and peace properly, you need to listen, you need to have the book in front of you, you need to compare the thing, and you need to keep looking back at the characters. So the challenge for me is, as one of my summer projects is, is is to read workpiece You’re so you’re I always, I’m sure you are the same. I always have a book or two by my side, and almost completely nonfiction is that’s my thing. Yeah. And usually history biography.
Robert Bryce 1:15:42
Sure. So last question, what gives you hope you’ve had a remarkable career. We didn’t you had ups and downs, which you also detail in the book, and we don’t have to recount all those. But you’re 77, you’ve had a remarkable career there, you’re you’re planning on keep going? What What gives you hope?
Peter Osnos 1:16:02
Well, that’s exactly the point, you know, if you don’t get hit by a bus, or V equivalent in some other way of cancer, dementia, something is just keep going. And the real issue for me about my generation is that we do have this extra time. And then we should use it. We’re a generation for the first time in human history, that is living as long as we are with our wits. And even though all of us are going to have health problems, one kind or another, still very much able to function properly. Unless, you know, dementia cancer, one of the other things. So what gives me hope is that there’s this enormous time, in which you’re not really doing it, because you want to, you know, put your kids through school, or, you know, you need to get prestige of a certain kind of career. As I said, I think we need to understand, there’s a point at which you stop your passage of the greasy pole, either made it or you didn’t, but then get off and start doing other things, things that give you inspiration or motivation, but are not necessarily going to make you, you know, rich and famous. It’s called encore for a lot of people. There’s a lot of different ways to describe it. I call it repositioning. And it’s very important to me, and to my entire you know, listen, I grew up with a bunch of fellas, mostly who ended up running stuff, right? We’re all in our 70s and none of us are, are shrimpy. So what are we doing? And the hope that I have is that we will do things that are worthwhile, in which our experience is valued. And rich people come to us and say, you know, you’ve been around a while. What do you know? And please tell me, and that’s where that’s my hope.
Robert Bryce 1:18:19
Well, that’s a good place to stop, then. My guest has been Peter Osnos. He’s the author of an especially good view. Watching history happened. He was a publisher at public affairs for all my books. So I owe him a debt of gratitude not only for coming on the podcast, but helping me get into the publishing business. So Peter, many thanks for both of those things. And to all of you in podcast land. Thanks for tuning in and tune in to the for the next episode of the power hungry podcast. So until then, thanks again.