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Airing for sixteen seasons, “Booknotes” is among the longest running U.S. cable television programs. During its long tenure this program had a profound effect on shaping the C-SPAN network.
A journalist himself, Brian Lamb welcomed fellow journalists into his studio to talk about their books and what went into writing them. Whether an author’s journalism career put them behind a typewriter, in front of a camera, or in the control room, he or she was a welcome guest on "Booknotes". The show featured such well-known figures as Morley Safer, Neil Sheehan, Peter Jennings, Dan Rather, Katherine Graham, Carl Rowan, James Reston, and Don Hewitt, just to name a few.
Brian Lamb and the C-SPAN team worked hard to ensure “Booknotes” covered diverse subject matters. But Lamb naturally has personal interests in certain topics, and these topics were often covered more frequently on the program. One passion is learning about President Abraham Lincoln. Lamb interviewed nearly a dozen authors about Lincoln. This in-depth analysis over a fifteen year period by such a prolific reader as Lamb provides insight into the President reveals how authors have researched and thought about Lincoln over time. Lamb’s interest in Lincoln had a profound influence in shaping the “Booknotes” program and C-SPAN.
The “Booknotes” era was framed by both the cooling of the Cold War and the heating up of the War on Terror. The Cold War, with its arms race, international crises, war, and espionage both inside and outside of the United States, was a popular topic, as was national security. "Booknotes" featured nearly two dozen authors of books dealing with aspects of national security, espionage, and intelligence. Several "Booknotes" interviews pertaining to these topics took place in the weeks and months after the 9/11 attacks, which made for some timely and interesting discussions.
Political leaders often write books on diverse topics, including foreign affairs, their years of public service, and history. Several high-powered national and international political leaders appeared on “Booknotes”. Politicians were attracted to the program’s serious audience, fair and balanced reporting of issues, and the care Brian Lamb took in preparing for interviews. “Booknotes” provided the distinct opportunity to hear major public figures discuss the issues, their lives, and their writing styles in an uninterrupted, hour-long format.
Though it was originally conceptualized as a program about history and the political process, in its fifteen year run, “Booknotes” covered books on many diverse issues. Brian Lamb and his production team always sought out new topics to explore. Several of the works featured on the show dealt with science and the role of inventors in society. “Booknotes” attention to these books help to show the stories behind modern inventions which people take for granted.
Brian Lamb was known for asking questions beyond the book’s subject matter. He was especially interested in the ins-and-outs of the writing process. Many authors related this was outside the norm for television interviews. Lamb believed that learning about how an author wrote provided insight into the book world for his audience of avid readers. He also thought these questions helped to show more about the author as a person. The attention paid to the process of writing highlighted the hard work that went into writing a book and celebrated the authors’ accomplishment.
“Booknotes” host Brian Lamb had a sincere respect for and curiosity about an author’s craft, and he believed that his audience did as well. He asked nearly every author who appeared on “Booknotes” about their own particular processes of gathering information and writing. This made the program about much more than the merits of that week’s featured book. Each episode offered a small window into the world of authorship. This passion for books inspired Lamb to become a writer on his own. “I immersed myself in the ...book world...so much that I wanted to do my own book,” he said in his 2015 oral history interview.
Before embarking on a successful media and communications career in the private sector, Brian Lamb served in the armed forces as a Lieutenant in the United States Navy from 1963 to 1967. His military service ran concurrently with the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Approximately one out of every six Booknotes interviews dealt with works of military history. Among them there were several which were about the Vietnam War.