Angels of Our Better Nature

In the photo above, taken circa 1952, you see that boy in the middle? The one who looks so happy and carefree? He isn’t. He’s terrified. How do I know this? Because I’ve spent the last year working with him on his story. People have asked me, what’s it like to write someone’s memoir? My answer: It’s somewhere between being a medium, an actor, and a ventriloquist. Last month I was asked that same question while being interviewed for an article about memoirs (and the people who write them) for New York magazine. Here’s how my answer came out: “I think it might be something like what it’s like to be an actor, playing someone’s life story on the screen. … You’ve got to find a place inside yourself that really connects with that person. If you’re going to do a good job at this, you have to get into this person and look at the world through their eyes.” Looking at the world through that little 7-year-old boy’s eyes has been quite an experience. This is perhaps the most intimate, controversial, and courageous memoir I’ve ever been a part of. It chronicles the life, multiple-times near-death, and ultimate redemption of one Bob Beckel, who survived a painful childhood of alcoholic neglect and abuse only to struggle through most of his adulthood with the demons of addiction and self-destruction. It just came out today. It is, as one commentator on CNN put it, “A hell of a book.” Its title: I Should Be Dead. When you read about his life, you’ll understand why. Beckel is a veteran of American...