Brad Meltzer and me

What I learned from Brad Meltzer. Also, 7 other things worth your time.

I interviewed the author Brad Meltzer for today’s newsletter. He has a new book out (checks notes … TODAY!), so let me make darn sure I mention that upfront:

The Lincoln Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill America's 16th President--and Why It Failed

Before we get into Brad—and he has great things to say—I want to give you some quick background on something else. It guided my conversation with him and inspired me afterward.

I wrote an article for recently about why even the smallest businesses should take time to come up with two key written documents:

  1. a mission statement they can be passionate about, and

  2. a set of core values that matter most to them.

So, I practiced what I preach, and I wrote (drafts of) both, for this [website-slash-newsletter] that you’re reading now. As a loyal reader, I’d be interested in your take.


“The goal of Understandably is to connect smart, hungry readers with trustworthy people, to share things worth knowing, and experience things worth experiencing—all in a fast, fun, entertaining way.”

It’s a work in progress. I’m sure I’ll edit this before I say I’m done. But, I see four components: (a) a certain high class of readers, please take that as a compliment, (b) working to be worthy of trust, (c) sharing things worth knowing, and (d) experiences worth experiencing.

You’ll notice that it goes beyond “create a killer daily email newsletter.” I have a lot of plans… But let’s get to the core values:

CORE VALUES: Trust, empathy, utility, alignment, and value.

Brad’s waiting, so I’ll just drill down briefly on a few of these:

  • Trust. We all make mistakes, but it’s a wonderful North Star to have “trust” up front like that. No matter what else you do, if you lose people’s trust the ballgame is pretty much over.

  • Empathy. When I first bought the domain, I was thinking of building a how-to site. I still think there’s room for that, but maybe the deeper human need is for a way to understand other people better. I feel that every day.

  • Alignment. Oh man, I could write an entire book on this. But the ultimate Achille’s heel in so many ventures, to my mind, is that the stakeholders’ interests aren’t aligned. Basically: does the thing that profits the business also profit the consumer, and the employees, and the investors (if any)?

A few readers have emailed me recently to say that with the new format I’ve been trying lately, you get less of Bill Murphy Jr. pontificating. I think they were saying that as in, they miss it. But, you’re getting that back in spades today, aren’t you?

So let’s move on to Brad. We first met long ago, when a friend/law school classmate named Jamie Diaferia and I teamed up to start a national magazine for law students called “JD.”

Among our first big stories on “JD” was this total coup, about a recent law school graduate who had achieved the secret dream of many law students—by publishing a bestselling legal thriller instead of practicing law.

The author was Brad, the novel was The Tenth Justice, and I think we were among the very first to interview him back then.

Since then, he’s written more thrillers, made the bestseller list multiple times, created TV shows and comic books, and ultimately added “bestselling children’s book author” to his resume, with his “Ordinary People” series.

With his new book coming out, I thought: Hey, I'm running another media brand now. Maybe we can do another interview. So I emailed his publicist.

“The publicist says there's this guy that says you might not remember him,” Brad told me as soon as we got on the phone. “But I remember everybody that helped me in the start. Your name is permanently imprinted in my brain. Like, as soon as I saw it, I was like, I know exactly what that is. So thank you.”

So that was cool. Really cool. In fact, we talked about a lot of cool things.

If you or your kids are fans of Brad’s children's book series, for example, which follows the lives of famous, noteworthy leaders, largely when they were children, he told me about the next two books coming out:

  • One about Ben Franklin, and

  • "Probably the most important book we'll ever do in the series"—one about Anne Frank.

The idea of writing about a children’s book about Anne Frank is so challenging and interesting, and I will definitely want to talk with you again when it comes out, Brad.

But, let’s look at why he and his coauthor on The Lincoln Conspiracy, Josh Mensch, have been writing nonfiction lately—especially choosing this story about Lincoln today:

"The reason we took on the story was it's a time in American history where the country is completely divided. Half the country hates the other half and thinks they're complete and utter morons and horrible people.

Does that sound familiar to you?

What does a great leader do in that time? Because I can tell you, my friends who work at Fox News and my friends who work at CNN have one thing in common: ... They all agree on and that is the way we are talking to each other as a culture is horrible. ...

We are doing it wrong, we're doing it wrong.”

Oh man, I thought: I just wrote a mission statement about that exact thing!

Because isn’t that part of what we need right now? A way to find sources that we trust, and a way to talk to each other with empathy—even when we disagree? Especially when we disagree?

Brad is right: We’re doing it wrong. It won’t be easy, but I hope we can find a way to start doing it right again.

7 other things worth your time

  • How Wyoming and West Virginia are now marketing themselves as “safe,” because they’re rural. (Wall Street Journal, $)

  • Hall of Fame NFL coach Don Shula died, at age 90. (ESPN)

  • Yesterday I included a story about what it was like to go to the movies in Texas post-lockdown. Apparently, here’s what it was like to go to the beach. Spoiler alert: crowded. (Express-News)

  • The U.S. Supreme Court held its first ever arguments by phone. (Associated Press)

  • A federal agency predicts deaths from Covid-19 will rise to about 3,000 per day by June 1. (NYT via MSN to avoid paywall)

  • How SpaceX's Starship became NASA's ace in the hole to get to the moon by 2024. (The Hill)

  • Congratulations to my former colleague at Stars and Stripes, Meg Rose, who was part of a three-person team at Pro Publica that won the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting yesterday, for their work covering a series of Navy accidents in the Pacific. (ProPublica)

Photo credit, © Luigi Novi. If you liked this post, and you haven’t already, please sign up for the daily email newsletter, with more than 3,500 5-star ratings from happy readers! (You can also just send an email to

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