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Billionaire Biographer Nancy Kriplen

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This week's episode features author Nancy Kriplen. Nancy Kriplen's newest book is The Eccentric Billionaire: John D. MacArthur -- Empire Builder, Reluctant Philanthropist, Relentless Adversary (New York: Amacom Books, 2008). It's the biography of the colorful, controversial insurance and real estate tycoon whose money funds the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. At the time of his death in 1978, MacArthur was the second richest man in the US (after the reclusive shipping magnate Daniel K. Ludwig). After making the first part of his fortune in Chicago with Bankers Life & Casualty Co., MacArthur moved his operations to Florida where he ran his empire from a table in the coffee shop of a modest beach-front hotel on Singer Island, north of Palm Beach. It was his hotel, of course. At the time of his death in 1978 MacArthur probably owned more land in Florida than any other single individual. Nancy Kriplen's previous biography was Dwight Davis: The Man and The Cup, the life story of the man who donated one of the sporting world's most famous trophies, tennis's Davis Cup, in 1900 while still a student at Harvard. He later served as secretary of war and governor general of the Philippines. Researching the lives of two such different men was fascinating, says Kriplen. Though both men were extremely wealthy, the similarity ended there. "Everyone wanted to talk to me about Davis. Many sources were reluctant to be interviewed about John MacArthur. Davis was polished, urbane, had a law degree, inherited his money and had a sense of noblesse oblige. "The shrewd, scrappy MacArthur was a high-school dropout who made it up from poverty on his own and could be rough and coarse as he gleefully battled his way to the top." Nancy Kriplen was formerly on the staffs of Time Magazine ahd Scripps Howard's Indianapolis Times. She has also written for the New York Times, Smithsonian, Opera News, American History Illustrated, Saveur and other publications. Krip

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