“Everyone has a book in them,” it is commonly said. For Mike Morris, growing up in Princeton, NJ, then Harvard College and Harvard Business School, such a book must involve American history, his favorite subject. Harvard Business School doesn’t teach you history, obviously, but it does stress the need to think creatively and differently. “In business and investing, you try to predict what’s going to happen in the future,” he says. “In reading history, you try to figure out what happened in the past. The two activities are essentially the same, they require the same mental skills.” Interpreting history, like trying to assess the potential of a new business venture, requires imagination, connecting the dots, seeing the big picture.
Working in New York for twenty years in business, he had no time to write. His favorite hobby was browsing bookstores and buying books faster than he had time to read them. The wonderful life of being a man of letters would have to wait for another day…
It came sooner than expected. Moving to Romania to search out business opportunities in 1994, he ended up staying for twelve years as a founder and owner of two businesses. Life in Europe is a lot slower than in America, and Bucharest does not have all the activities and distractions that New York does. Like in childhood when he read American Heritage from cover to cover, in Bucharest he read every history book he brought over from the United States. He kept copious notes, and filed away stories he found particularly intriguing. But writing a book?
The spur to action can come from an unexpected source. For Mike Morris, it came from his part-time activity as Harvard representative for Romania, responsible for interviewing Romanian high school students applying to Harvard. He was surprised by the interest these students had in America and how America came to be so much more successful than their own country. Their optimism and belief in America was a far cry from high school students in the United States who take America for granted. Clearly, if this was such a dream for them, he must know more about it. So every evening and every weekend, he plunged into his life-long hobby.
“American history,” says Gore Vidal, “has fallen more and more into the hands of academics.” Indeed, there exists in much of academia a blind obeisance to over-specialization at the expense of imagination and seeing the big picture. What are needed are people who can write intelligent but lucid history for the general public: “popular history.”
This he set out to do in writing a book about America’s hidden past. For a first-time author to be published by Random House is a perfect start for his second career. He has two other books now under development.
He lives in New York with his wife Gabriela. Every day he works in his magnificent new office, rent-free: the New York Public Library, a treasure trove even more interesting than the internet..