USA Today Reviews Most Famous Writer Who Ever Lived

Terrific review here.   And a feature story from my hometown paper here. 

Naked in the Arena

Christmas 1959When you write an extremely personal book you kind of assume the fetal position when it comes out. It feels like that dream when you walk Ito a huge lecture hall and suddenly realize you are naked. So I can’t begin to describe the overwhelming relief and gratitude I felt when I scrolled through the Washington Post this afternoon and saw this incredible review from Susan Cheever.






My grandfather, my first bicycle and me.

My conversation with Psychedelics Today



Library Journal Reviews The Most Famous Writer Who Ever Lived

Journalist Shroder (Acid Test) proves poring over one’s lineage brings to life parallels. His maternal grandfather, MacKinlay “Mack” Kantor, is the Pulitzer Prize–­winning author of Andersonville and numerous other books. Shroder explores the lives of his great-grandfather John Kantor, a villainous swindler and author; Mack, who at times shows his own charming charlatan side; and his novelist mother. He details his family’s history as his grandfather traveled, researched, and imbibed through the lows and highs of being a best-selling author. He outlines Mack’s participation in the infamous Sarasota Liar’s Club with John D. MacDonald, friendship with Ernest Hemingway, and Hollywood experiences with Gregory Peck and James Cagney, among others. The appeal of this memoir is Shroder’s personal appreciation of writers today who have endured many of the same struggles experienced by his family of authors, including the superhuman skill of focusing on daily writing amid a barrage of distractions. VERDICT Shroder’s intricate family story centers on what it takes to be a successful published author. Sprinkled with an abundance of helpful advice, it will be appreciated by aspiring writers.—Joyce Sparrow, Kenneth City, FL

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That Moment When the Hardcover of Your Book Arrives





A True Story of My Family

By Tom Shroder

“The urge to investigate one’s origins is on powerful display in Shroder’s exploration of his famous grandfather, Pulitzer Prize–winning author MacKinlay “Mack” Kantor…. Shroder draws on family letters, photos, and stories; his own memory; and Mack’s papers at the Library of Congress, in the process realizing how little he really knew his complicated grandfather…. The book is more than a biographical excavation; it’s a journey of understanding. Shroder’s visceral reactions and moving discoveries as he comes to terms with his grandfather’s life make for a trip well worth taking.” –Publisher’s Weekly

“A grandson of writer MacKinlay Kantor (1904-1977) unravels the tangles of his grandfather’s life and finds many of those same threads (the good, the bad, the ugly) in his own life…. A compelling account, suffused with both sympathy and sharpness, of a writer who’s mostly forgotten and of a grandson who’s grateful.” Kirkus Reviews

Tom Shroder has accomplished something extraordinary. With equal measures sympathy and dispassion, he has investigated the life of his grandfather and used it as an unforgettable lesson in fickle fame and the contradictions of modern life.” —David Maraniss, Pulitzer-winning journalist and author of Once in a Great City, Barack Obama, and Clemente


“Tom Shroder’s account of his twisted-genius grandfather MacKinlay Kantor reminds us of the perils of fame, ego, self-love, and all-id living. The old man may not have been the Most Famous, but in the ‘50s, particularly after the great Andersonville, he was a writer god. As Shroder tells us in vivid detail, he was one of those beautiful monsters, charismatic from afar, beastly from up close, like Hemingway or John Ford. He was hardest of all on his family and his lack of grace left him to die alone; Shroder’s tale should give pause to everybody who thinks he’s better than he is—that is, everybody.” —Stephen Hunter, New York Times bestselling author of the Bob Lee Swagger series


In THE MOST FAMOUS WRITER WHO EVER LIVED (Blue Rider Press; October 4, 2016; $28.00), noted author and journalist Tom Shroder unveils the unexpected life of his grandfather MacKinlay Kantor, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the seminal Civil War novel, Andersonville. As genealogy captures our collective interest—it is the second most popular American hobby after gardening, and the second most visited category of websites after pornography—Shroder launches an investigation into his own lineage that explores the rise and fall of literary celebrity, and the fleeting, ephemeral nature of fame.

Shroder’s career as an investigative journalist, writer of human interest stories, and editor of the Washington Post Magazine—which has taken him from interviewing children who believe they’ve had past lives in Old Souls, to examining the life of a former Marine being treated for PTSD through the use of psychedelic drugs in Acid Test—never prepared him for his most fascinating story: that of his larger-than-life grandfather, MacKinlay Kantor. What secrets, what forgotten calamities and unremembered truths, could be pried from more than 158 boxes filled with 50,000 items at the Library of Congress? What, ultimately, would Shroder learn about his family and himself?

Fame aside, Kantor suffered from alcoholism, an outsized ego, and an episodically overbearing, abusive and publically embarrassing personality where his family was concerned. He blew through several small fortunes in his lifetime, dying nearly destitute and alone. Shroder revisits the past, revealing Kantor’s upbringing, early struggles, and career trajectory—and writes not just the life story of one man but a meditation on fame, family secrets and legacies, and what is remembered after we are gone.

A special 60th anniversary edition of ANDERSONVILLE (Plume; On-sale 9/9/16; 9780147515377; $26) will be released this fall from Plume Books, timed to this year’s 150th anniversary of the Civil War’s end.


About the Author:

Tom Shroder is an award-winning journalist, editor and author of Old Souls and Acid Test, a transformative look at the therapeutic powers of psychedelic drugs in the treatment of PTSD. As editor of the Washington Post Magazine, he conceived and edited two Pulitzer Prize-winning feature stories. His most recent editing project, Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte, was a New York Times bestseller.


Contact: Suzanne Williams, Shreve Williams Public Relations

908.375.8159 /

Mary Pomponio, Blue Rider Press

212.366.2218 /


Richard Thompson, RIP

Richard ThompsonA genius is someone who looks at the same thing you do, and sees something infinitely more wonderful. That was Richard Thompson. It was one of the great honors of my journalistic career to have had a chance to work with him and laugh at the truly funny things he said and the even funnier things he drew and, once about every two years, even have lunch with him. There’s no measurement that can assess how much we have lost with his death. Read this obituary by Michael Cavna, who knew and loved Richard so well.

Hot Off the Design Table

Book jacket blurbs

First Blurb for The Most Famous Writer Who Ever Lived

“Tom Shroder set out to understand the life of his once-famous grandfather, best-selling author MacKinlay Kantor. But what started as an attempt to rescue an illustrious ancestor from obscurity turns into a far more intimate and compelling journey into the meaning of fame, family, creativity and the things we carry from childhood to the grave. Shroder introduces us to many fascinating characters—from Kantor himself, to Ernest Hemingway, to Shroder’s larcenous great-grandfather. In the end, however, the character whom Shroder truly discovers is himself, a writer who comes to cherish just how much he owes the grandfather he never really knew.”
—Glenn Frankel, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend


The Most Famous Writer Who Ever Lived, Uncovered

When your publisher sends you an email with the early designs for your cover, that manuscript you’ve been sweating over for months or years suddenly becomes a book, something that will one day, and for years to come, look out at you from a bookshelf, or a book store, or an Amazon listing, becoming a permanent part of who you are, almost like a snapshot of a child. In some ways, it’s an even more exciting moment than when the first copies arrive in a box at your door — because by then you already know what it will look like. Seeing a cover design for the first time is a revelation. Everything after that is just confirmation.




A Course in Miracles

Jon Berry of the New College program at the University of Alabama is using Acid Test to teach the history of psychedelic therapy to some very engaged students. Here’s the course listing:

NEW 490 – 320 Psychedelics: From Stoned Ape to the FDA (CRN 13341) Spring 2016—Jonathan G. Berry—Tuesdays 7:00–9:50 pm—Lloyd 319 Course Description and Objectives This course will look at the history of psychedelic substances and plants beginning with theories of their earliest protohuman usage to the current FDA approved psychotherapeutic studies. As these substances continue to increase in both sanctioned and unsanctioned use, it is important that we educate ourselves about their role in the development of human language, consciousness, and culture as well as their potential to heal when used in responsible clinical settings. Special attention will be paid to the misuse of these substances during the revolution of the 1960s and their continued misuse in a variety of settings. The question of responsible clinical and religious use of a variety of psychedelic compounds and plants will also be discussed. Learning Outcomes An understanding of 1) the history of psychedelic substances and plants, 2) their possible place in human evolution and the development of human language, 3) their role in early shamanic cultures and the development of religious and spiritual systems, 4) the decline of their use with the growth of large cultural centers and mass religious movements, and 5) their resurgence in the past century in social, artistic, and spiritual movements, and finally their psychotherapeutic usages. There are no prerequisites for this course. This is a New College seminar. New College seminars are highly interactive courses that enable students to critically engage content in responsible ways. Each seminar is designed to explore interdisciplinary approaches to a particular issue, theme, or problem. All New College seminars include the following: • Student-led discussion • A research task • Meaningful and active in-class engagement with course materials • A range of learning activities • Multiple forms of evaluation and assessment • Oral and writing communication • Complex and critical thinking opportunities • Reading and writing as essential components of the class Instructor Information Jonathan G. Berry 224 McMillan 205-239-7016 (text or call) ● Office Hours: Wednesday afternoons 4:00 to 6:00. Please contact me to confirm availability. I’m also available by appointment. Required Text for the Course Acid Test: LSD, Ecstasy, and the Power to Heal.