Manchester spent the early portion of his youth fighting health problems that compelled him to spend significant time inside. Because of this, he became an enthusiastic reader and eventually a prolific writer. Manchester composed his first poems in the age of 7, and by 11 was churning out short stories.
That autumn, he registered in the University of Massachusetts, where he joined the swim team and majored in English. He interrupted his studies in 1942 to follow a household tradition and join the Marines. Manchester fought in the Pacific War, where he was almost mortally wounded, and earned a Purple Heart. It was during his recuperation that Manchester met another injured American military man: John F. Kennedy. It was the beginning of a camaraderie what would cross another two decades, before the president’s assassination in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963. A master’s in the University of Missouri followed, along with his marriage to Julia Marshall in 1948.
Manchester subsequently spent many years working as a newspaper reporter before he took work as a secretary for writer, H. L. Mencken, who was the matter of Manchester’s master’s thesis. Along with his mentor’s encouragement, Manchester tried his hand at composing novels, and over the following decade he churned out some fiction titles. In 1959, he released his first nonfiction book, A Rockefeller Family Portrait. Keeping his close ties to Kennedy, Manchester became a regular visitor to the Kennedy family compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.
In the aftermath of Kennedy’s assassination, Manchester was the clear pick of the former First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, to write in regards to the tragedy. But, the simple connection between the author as well as the Kennedy family immediately soured when Jackie began worrying that Manchester would compose overly seriously about her disregard for President Lyndon B. Johnson. The animosity intensified when Look magazine offered Manchester around $650,000 to serialize the novel, prompting JFK’s widow to openly decry the writer’s commercial objectives.
Manchester ended up working together with the Kennedy family to create some minor edits of the novel. Finally, the tension enclosing the job proved releasing gold, with Death of a President happening to sell more than 1.3 million hardcover copies after its publication in the spring of 1967. Despite being ignored by some critics as hagiography, the novel earned Manchester the enviable Dag Hammarskjold International Literary Prize. It had been considered a milestone in reportage on the world-renowned assassination, but has later been superseded as new evidence has emerged. A tireless writer and researcher, Manchester’s post-Kennedy profession proved very profitable. For Manchester, the fascination with his issues was created from his own interest and fascination with power.
“Power is the only thing which has fascinated me ever since I was a child in Springfield, Mass.,” he once said. “What precisely is power? Where are its origins? How do some people get it and others miss it completely? A chain of debilitating strokes eventually reduced Manchester’s power to work, and he was made to pass the incomplete third volume of Churchill’s biography, Defender of the World, 1940-1965, to another writer. Manchester expired at his house in Middletown, Connecticut, on June 1, 2004.