Finally got my paws on a copy of Jane Leavy’s new Mantle biography, The Last Boy. It’s insanely well-researched, and if you want to judge the quality of a book, well, there’s a good place to start. Whenever I’m in Borders or B&N digging through new non-fiction releases, the first thing I do is turn to the back few pages. That’s where the story behind the story is told. How deep did the author dig? How much time did she/he take? Is the bibliography longer than, oh, seven listings?

Leavy passes all these tests with flying colors. She clearly worked her ass off, and what I’ve read thus far has been wonderful. It’s definitely a book I plan on finishing cover to cover.

That said, one thing Leavy did caught my eye. It’s not wrong, by any stretch. It’s not right, either. It just is.

On pages 394-404, she provides a list of every single person she interviewed. Again, I have no problem with someone doing this. Truth is, many people do. Thus far, I haven’t, and it’s for a specific reason. Most detailed biographies rely on off-the-record or anonymous sourcing. Not always, and not often, but sometimes. Someone says, “You didn’t get this from me, but …” or “I’ll talk, but don’t use my name.” It’s all well within the rules—legit journalistic practices.

If you list all your sources, however, it actually could serve as an unintentional outing of an anonymous person. Let’s say you don’t cite the person’s name among those you spoke with—does that not scream, “I spoke to this person, but I’m not listing him”? Hmm … maybe it doesn’t. Just thinking aloud.

Again, the book looks amazing, and this is anything but a rip.

1 thought on “Sources”

  1. I think it’s a little different, though, because unlike your subjects Mantle’s heyday was over a half-century ago and he’s been gone for over fifteen years.

    When the subject is still living, it becomes important for people to maintain their anonymity. That’s not the case when a guy hasn’t been with us for some time and his presence doesn’t even seem real. He becomes a part of history and he belongs to the public. Descendants and old friends aren’t immune to it and know this, and as such they don’t become shy about revealing things they might not have revealed while he was still living.

    Know what I mean?

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