GLOVERSVILLE – Joseph E. Persico is moving ahead with his life, as he continues to chronicle some of the most influential people of that life.
The Gloversville native shows no signs of stopping writing, although the author says he budgets his time more and more.
“There are a number of interesting subjects, but in this stage of my career, it’s something I’d rather scale down,” the 82-year-old Guilderland resident said.
Persico’s latest book – published by Random House and released during the spring – is “Roosevelt’s Centurions – FDR and the Commanders He Led To Victory In World War II.”
He is the author of prior books about such 20th-century icons such as Army Gen. Colin Powell, TV news pioneer Edward R. Murrow, New York State Gov. and U.S. Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, and CIA chief William J. Casey.
Persico said four-term U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a man who didn’t have a great relationship with every military leader he worked with during World War II.
“It varied from one commander to another,” Persico said.
Persico said Gen. George C. Marshall was the chief of the Army throughout World War II and was expected to be named leader of the allied forces throughout Europe.
However, he said, Roosevelt “surprised everyone” by appointing Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower as the leader of allied forces throughout Europe.
As polarizing as FDR was and still is, Persico puts him up near the top of the list of the best presidents in American history, citing the New Deal and “saving the United States from the worst depression in history” as crowning achievements. He places George Washington first, Abraham Lincoln number second and FDR as third in his list of top presidents.
Persico noted Roosevelt was “the only president [I] knew” growing up in the 1930s and 1940s and for many people, there’s a special place for FDR in their hearts. He said there were pictures of Roosevelt hanging up in many people’s homes, including his home in Gloversville.
Persico said many people during Roosevelt’s era didn’t even know he had a disability, when the lives of presidents were kept incredibly secret.
“My mom said it was extraordinary what he accomplished,” Persico said. “Most people in the United States didn’t know [about his disability].”
Persico received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1952 in English and political science from the New York State College for Teachers, now the University at Albany. Following graduation. He joined the U.S. Navy. After that, he joined Gov. W. Averell Harriman as a writer and researcher. His work took him to such locations as Argentina, Brazil, and Washington D.C. as a foreign service officer.
From 1963 until 1966, he served as executive assistant to the New York state health commissioner and in 1966, he became the chief speechwriter for Rockefeller as governor and later in the 1970s when he became vice president.
In 1977, following the end of Rockefeller’s tenure, Persico published “My Enemy My Brother: Men and Days of Gettysburg,” an historical work of non-fiction covering the American Civil War. His literary career was off and running.
Persico said he never felt a sense of “duty” to be a writer as he was growing up in Gloversville. But over the years he said he has “earned a decent living” and he continues to love to write. One of his early influences, he said, was former Gloversville High School English teacher John Latshaw.
“Gloversville during the 30s and 40s was a fine place to grow up,” Persico said.
But he said his dreams and ambitions has taken him to many places in his life, including Mexico and Italy.
“I was always aware there was a larger world,” Persico said. “I wanted to see that world.”
Persico said he is also well aware that Gloversville – where he still has relatives – has suffered “serious misfortune” over the years. He said the economic base hasn’t kept up with that of other counties.
Gloversville Library Director Barbara Madonna said her facility has about nine of Persico’s books on hand in multiple formats for local residents to check out, including through large print. She said several of the area libraries have ordered the latest book, but the orders haven’t quite been processed yet.
She said Persico’s somewhat popular as a non-fiction writer, but perhaps not as popular as some of the fiction authors.
As far as his writing career, Persico answered “yes and no” when asked whether he embraces the newer technologies in assembling his material for publication. He said he always starts writing “longhand with a yellow legal pad” before his works are inevitably put on computer for processing. Persico said it usually takes him about three years to write a book, with the last taking four years.
Writing historical non-fiction books takes tremendous research. For Persico’s last book, his travels took him to the National Archives, the Library of Congress and Roosevelt’s home in Hyde Park.
For those interested in how to be a successful writer, he said the formula will always begin with the printed word.
“I’m often asked by young people, what do you recommend?” Persico said. “I say to them, ‘If you want to be a writer, be a reader.'”