Shortly after my second book, The Odds, was published in March of 2001, I decided that my next project needed to be about something other than sports. My favorite books have always been gripping, non-fiction narratives that did two things: 1) Shed light on a previously unknown event that impacted American history, and 2) Profiled people who became so consumed with a goal they'd risk everything for the sake of achievement. One summer, after reading A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr, I spent days walking around Manhattan talking about the book with my wife, astonished at the sacrifices the lead character, Jan Schlichtmann, had made. I wanted to write about someone like that, someone who, over the course of intensive commitment, slowly re-evaluates their entire belief system.
For a year I surfed the Net, poked around libraries and read any book about history I could get my hands on, hoping to uncover a gem. Then, in March of 2002, after several false starts that took me as far as London to research dead end book ideas, I came across one of those on-this-date-in-history websites. I typed in 1900 and scrolled through the highlights for all 365 days. I found nothing. Then I did the same thing for 1901 and 1902 and 1903. Still nothing. I spent most of the afternoon squinting at the screen, hoping just one of the clipped, two-sentence descriptions would catch me. Then, midway through the year 1916, I came across this for July 30th: "German saboteurs blew up New York Harbor. Much of downtown Manhattan was destroyed."
This was six months after 9/11. Other than a few newspaper columns, no one had written a thing about this attack as it related to terrorism. I realized I had finally found my next book.