"Cross-Examining History: A Lawyer Gets Answers From the Experts About Our Presidents."

September 28, 2016

12:00 p.m. - 1:00 p.m.


"Cross-Examining History: A Lawyer Gets Answers From the Experts About Our Presidents."


Litigator Talmage Boston probes the expertise of 31 of our top presidential biographers and insiders on their understanding of the office.  His hard-hitting questions cover all aspects of the political and private lives of our most notable presidents and reveal the qualities that create the most positive impact.

In this soon-to-be-released book, David McCullough, Ken Burns, Douglas Brinkley, Henry Kissinger, James Baker III, and dozens more wise rational minds share their understanding of the presidency in Cross-Examining History.

If we have ever needed this informed perspective before casting our ballots, it is now.


Talmage Boston has practiced law as a commercial trial and appellate litigator in Dallas, Texas, since 1978. He has been board certified in Civil Trial Law since 1988, as well as board certified in Civil Appellate Law since 1990, by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Since 1997, he’s been a shareholder at Winstead PC. He has been recognized in Texas Monthly as a “Texas Super Lawyer” every year since 2003.  He has also been recognized among the “Best Lawyers in America,” and “Top 100 Attorneys in Dallas/Fort Worth Region.”

A leader of both the State Bar of Texas and the Dallas Bar Association, Talmage has served as a State Bar of Texas director, as well as chair of the State Bar Litigation Section, Council of Chairs, and Annual Meeting Planning Committee.  He has also served as the Dallas Bar Association advisory director and chair of the Dallas Bar’s Business Litigation Section.  For his service, he received Presidential Citations from State Bar of Texas presidents every year from 2005 to 2011, and from the Dallas Bar Association president in 2009.

In addition to maintaining his full-time law practice, Talmage has written Raising the Bar: The Crucial Role of the Lawyer in Society (TexasBarBooks 2012), which includes a foreward by Dick Thornburgh, former Attorney General of the United States under Presidents Reagan and Bush, and dust jacket endorsements from former U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III; former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson; CNN Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin; Baylor University President Ken Starr; and lawyer turned best-selling novelist Richard North Patterson.

Talmage has also written two critically acclaimed baseball history books, 1939: Baseball’s Tipping Point (foreword by John Grisham, Bright Sky Press, 2005) and Baseball and the Baby Boomer (foreword by Frank DeFord, Bright Sky Press, 2009), and has been inducted into the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame as a Media Member.

In recent years, Talmage has become one of the best known onstage public interviewers in Dallas, conducting interviews in front of large audiences with the likes of Henry Kissinger, James A. Baker III, David McCullough, Jon Meacham, Ken Burns and Douglas Brinkley, to name a few.

Learn more about Talmage Boston by clicking this link.

Cross Examing History.

Enhancement:  the process of taking something good and making it better.  Think food.  Icing on the cake.  Butter on the bread.  Whipped cream on the milkshake.  Add one complementary ingredient and thereby ratchet up the taste.

Now, think presidential history.  Start with something very good:  the written work of a master historian or presidential insider.  Add the complementary ingredient of interviewing him, using probing questions to encourage the author to go beyond his book and add new angles of insight to expand his message.

Sounds like an idea with possibility, but who should ask the questions?  Perhaps someone who has spent his career digging below the surface with penetrating inquiries – someone like Perry Mason -- with an instinct for the jugular?

Sadly, Perry Mason was not available for this project when it began in 2013.  Someone else needed to step up to provide the interviewing expertise ingredient necessary to enhance public appreciation of history beyond our best presidential biographies.  I volunteered.

As a commercial litigator for almost forty years, my goal in every case I’ve handled has been to seek the truth, then use it as a sword to achieve resolution.  The quest to find out “what really happened” requires asking the right questions and getting responsive answers, most importantly in the cross-examination stage when a witness’ credibility is ultimately revealed.

A presidential biography reflects the author’s direct examination of his protagonist.  Regardless of how thorough the research and how clearly stated the author’s conclusions, even the best works of history inevitably raise questions that require answers before a subject’s assessment can be completed.  Hence the need for the professional cross-examiner to button up the loose ends and take the presidential historian to places he didn’t go when he pursued the direct examination of his particular Commander-in-Chief.

What kicked off this effort?

In May 2010, Michael Lewis came through Dallas at the end of his national tour for The Big Short:  Inside the Doomsday Machine (W.W. Norton & Company, 2010).  In that book, Mr. Lewis profiled some of the intriguing winners and losers in the 2008 subprime meltdown.  Because I had played a role in having the World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth land him for the event, and because Mr. Lewis preferred the interview format for his presentation, the Council’s CEO Jim Falk asked me to be the interviewer in front of a sold-out ballroom at the Fairmont Hotel.  When the program ended, Michael Lewis said to me, “Talmage, nobody on this tour pushed me harder than you did about Goldman Sachs’ conduct.”  Seventeen days later, the SEC sued Goldman for the alleged fraud in its subprime transactions.  Affirmation is good for the soul.

A year later, Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough passed through town on his tour for The Greater Journey:  Americans in Paris (Simon & Schuster 2011).  He and I had only shaken hands before the program, meaning he knew nothing about me when our onstage conversation began.  For my third question, I asked him to compare what he had done in writing Journey with what Samuel F.B. Morse had done in selecting the figures for his painting “Gallery of the Louvre” (a subject profiled in his book).  At first, the question seemed to stun him, because after hearing it, he pivoted his head away for a pregnant pause.  Then he turned back around, looked me in the eye, and asked, “What do you do for a living, Talmage?  You’ve asked me something about my book I’ve never thought about before.”  That moment went past affirmation.  It was a time of pure ecstasy. 

In February 2013, I did a program in Dallas with another Pulitzer Prize winner, Jon Meacham, about his then best-selling biography Thomas Jefferson:  The Art of Power (Simon & Schuster 2012).  At mid-interview, I asked the following question:  “If the Jefferson Memorial had never been built, and a Congressman submitted a bill today that called for funding with federal tax dollars the construction of a Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., given what we now know about Thomas Jefferson and his slaves, would that bill pass?”  Jon paused, smiled, answered “No,” and then explained why.  After the program, he told me it was the best question he had been asked on his national tour.  With feedback like that coming from Jon Meacham, on top of my experiences with Michael Lewis and David McCullough, I began wondering exactly where public interrogations might lead me.  One thing was clear:  I needed to start recording and transcribing the interviews to preserve what appeared to be increasingly important conversations.

The tipping point in understanding where the interviews might take me came in May 2013 when the opportunity arose to interview Henry Kissinger in front of a thousand people at Dallas’ Hilton Anatole ballroom.  As a newly minted public interviewer, the prospect of examining a person of Dr. Kissinger’s stature before a huge highbrow crowd was like climbing Mount Everest.  The preparation consumed six months of my free time; the edited transcript of that conversation can be found in this book; and the reader can judge the final product.  After the program, former U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson and Kissinger biographer Jeremi Suri (both in the audience that day) sent me congratulatory notes saying I had gotten Henry Kissinger to say things they had never heard him say before.  Dr. Kissinger was also complimentary to the extent we exchanged correspondence and he later hosted my wife and me for coffee at his office in Manhattan.

Those circumstances started the ball moving down Cross-Examining History’s playing field, sparking the thirty-one play drive toward the goal line that comprises this bookOne thing I knew before the ball snapped on the first play:  America has an abundance of high-powered historians and presidential insiders whose insightful words have the power to open up new levels of understanding about our past.  What I learned from watching prominent authors interviewed on television over the years by Brian Lamb and Charlie Rose was that not only do they write elegantly about our history, they also talk about it with serious storytelling firepower. 

My process for the interviews contained in these pages was the following:

  • Line up the program with the expert at a time and place where a crowd would be present;
  • Read the prospective interviewee’s work thoroughly – underlining and making margin notes regarding any information that might frame a potential onstage question;
  • Prepare a detailed summary of my notes;
  • Draft and edit interview questions until they were ready for prime time;
  • Conduct and record the interview in front of the crowd without letting my guest know the questions in advance, since spontaneity brings a higher energy level to the conversation, thereby enhancing the audience’s experience;
  • Have the interview tape transcribed;
  • Edit the transcript to remove “uhs” and “you knows,” eliminate false-starts/stops/start-overs, break up run-on sentences, divide long answers into paragraphs, and clarify and sharpen the text (consistent with what was said at the program) to ensure the final version reads as smoothly as possible;
  • Transmit my final edited version to the interviewee with the instruction, “Make any changes that you believe will make this the best final product of our conversation.  All your tweaks will be accepted because I want everything that appears in this book to be wholly pleasing to you”; and, finally,
  • Accept the interviewee’s changes, and then forward the final product to my publisher for copy editing.

Those interviewed for this book fall into two categories:  esteemed biographers of our most significant American presidents, as well as some public figures who have been presidential insiders.  For those who may wonder why a few notable presidential historians were not interviewed for this book, rest assured they were contacted, but for different reasons were not able to participate.  Similarly, for those wondering why certain presidential insiders were interviewed while others were not, recognize that in every presidential administration many people qualify as insiders.  My simple selection process was that I interviewed those insiders who became accessible to me.

By my assessment, America has had twenty historically significant presidents -- Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Jackson, Lincoln, Grant, T. Roosevelt, Wilson, Coolidge, Hoover, F.D. Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, L.B. Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, Bush 41, and Clinton.  For those wondering about the basis for some of these twenty being deemed “significant,” the interview transcripts about them in the book will explain why they were chosen.  A case can certainly be made to include a few others into the “significant” class, but this book is plenty thick as it is.  I chose not to interview any biographers of Presidents Bush 43 or Obama because I believe more time must pass before a capable historian can put their performances into context.

My presidential biographer interviewees include Pulitzer Prize winners and finalists, Emmy Award winners, New York Times best-selling and “Notable Book” authors, scholars of the highest order, and a few newcomers well on their way to gaining national recognition.  They are all respected by the serious history-reading crowd, and in their unique ways, have transformed our major presidents into flesh-and-blood fascinating people.  As with my previous three books, each chapter in Cross-Examining History stands on its own.  The reader can select reading about those presidents who interest him (and ignore those who don’t), without fear of losing continuity. 

Those interviewed who are designated as “presidential insiders” have served in the Cabinet, as White House Chief of Staff, as White House Counsel, as National Security Advisor, and experienced life as a president’s daughter.  They are all great storytellers and big picture historical thinkers.

Because all the interviews in this book were performed in front of a live audience, each lasted 45-90 minutes, depending on the event.  During the allotted time, my job as interviewer was to gently ramp up the conversation’s energy and engage the crowd with meaty content in hopes that those in the room would hang on the conversation’s every word.  It’s my hope that some of the excitement experienced during these interviews rises up out of these pages. 

Given the realities of limited time onstage, my goal for each program was to cover as many subjects in some depth as time allowed.  This sometimes caused choppiness between an answer and the next question (a problem I’ve attempted to address by the outline headers interspersed throughout each chapter); but as the clock ticked toward, “Time’s up!” -- when given the choice between smooth Q&A transition and maximum topic coverage, I always opted for covering more ground.

Now at the end of Cross-Examining History’s sustained drive, the goal line has two components:  to answer many questions in history lovers’ minds about what it was that made our major presidents tick and what influenced the trajectory of their lives; and to provide fresh insights on America’s past to help us better understand the present and have a more informed expectation about our future.  These are ambitious goals for someone with my limited credentials as a presidential historian, but when taking on the challenge of filling in for Perry Mason on this unique three-year “greater journey” (to borrow two words from David McCullough), why not shoot for the moon? 

At age twenty-three, during his first campaign for political office, Abraham Lincoln expressed his “peculiar ambition”: to become recognized by the end of his life as “being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem.”  In keeping with young Abraham’s earnest statement of purpose, my peculiar ambition for this book is for it to be deemed truly worthy of the reader’s esteem because it offers enhancement to our understanding of American presidential history.

This book will be available to purchase as the lecture as well as prior to the lecture at the University of Pittsburgh Book Center.

Talmage Boston

Dallas, Texas

November 30, 2015