The real Michael Dobbs
Michael Dobbs "argues that while many academics have studied the [Cuban missile] crisis, the human story has been lost. The author, who has written political thrillers such as 'House of Cards,' details some little-known tales within the larger drama."
--Wall Street Journal "Summer Reading" feature, May 23, 2008.
My book on the 1962 Cuban missile crisis comes out today--and I am already being confused with the other Michael Dobbs, a distant cousin who has written a series of political thrillers set in Britain, including one called "House of Cards" that became a smash hit BBC television series. Being mistaken for someone else has its humorous side. We have thought of merging, or even exchanging, identities, but it is probably time that we sorted out which Dobbs is which. Clue: neither of us is related (as far as we know) to Lou Dobbs.
If there are two of you, and you are likely to be mixed up, it is important to get your foot in the door first. I discovered this rule a decade ago, after a trip to Hong Kong to report on the imminent handover of the British colony to China for The Washington Post. I had interviews with all the usual suspects, including the then-governor, Chris Patten, and Hong Kong's leading pro-democracy activist, Martin Lee.
A couple of days after my departure, my namesake showed up in Hong Kong, on assignment for a British newspaper. He asked for interviews with all the people I had just met--and got a less-than-welcoming reception. "Why should we give an interview to you" was a typical comment. "We gave an interview to you last week."
Sometimes, a mix-up in identity can be flattering. A few years ago, I took my family to London for a holiday. We were greeted by a poster emblazoned across the side of a red double-decker bus promoting the latest book by the "best-selling author," Michael Dobbs. My standing in the eyes of my children shot up immediately.
At other times, it is just confusing. Earlier this year, the other Michael Dobbs visited Washington for a book signing at Barnes and Nobles for his latest trilogy of Winston Churchill novels. Prominently displayed together with his novels were several non-fiction books that I have written, including Down with Big Brother: Fall of the Soviet Empire, a biography of Madeleine Albright, and Saboteurs: The Nazi Raid on America. I took the opportunity to sign a few of my own books, but my cousin was not amused.
How to tell us apart? We both trace our roots to the village of Abbeyleix in Ireland, and have a common 17th century ancestor (which makes our bloodlines about as close as Barack Obama and Dick Cheney.) We both have a journalistic background, but the other Michael went into politics, becoming a top adviser to Margaret Thatcher. This experience gave him lots of material for his political novels, and his most famous creation, the ruthless British prime minister Francis Urquhart.
My alter ego writes fiction. I prefer non-fiction. He has more hair than I have. Apart from that, we are interchangeable.
The Pinocchio Test
While the Wall Street Journal should have avoided this elementary mistake, I cannot bring myself to award any Pinocchios on this occasion. Being mistaken for the other Michael Dobbs is evidently good for my Amazon ratings. When the article appeared I zoomed up to 475, as you can see from this chart. (I have since dropped back a little.)
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