NEW YORK — George McGovern was never elected president, but at least he gets to write a book about one.
Although he's hardly the first to take on the life of Abraham Lincoln.
"President Kennedy thought that only the president could understand the exact pressures and responsibilities of the job, and I felt that George's defeat in 1972 would give him a sense of the kinds of decisions a president has to make," said former Kennedy aide and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., general editor of the Times Books presidential series of short biographies.
Schlesinger is a longtime friend of the 84-year-old McGovern, the former senator from South Dakota who lost in a landslide to Richard Nixon in 1972. Schlesinger noted Thursday that McGovern not only had a political background but also a scholarly one: a doctorate in history and political science from Northwestern University.
McGovern's previous books include "The Essential America: Our Founders and the Liberal Tradition," published in 2004.
Others who have written for Times Books include such award-winning historians as Garry Wills (for a book on James Madison) and Sean Wilentz (Andrew Jackson), and two political veterans -- former Nixon aide John W. Dean (Warren Harding) and former Democratic Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado (James Monroe). A biography of President Ford, by historian Douglas Brinkley, is coming out next month.
McGovern wasn't the first choice for Times Books, an imprint of Henry Holt & Co. E.L. Doctorow had agreed to write the Lincoln biography but backed out because he was too busy working on his Civil War novel, "The March," which came out in 2005. Former President Clinton was also asked, but his literary representative, Robert Barnett, said earlier this year that Clinton never seriously considered the offer.
Times Books editorial director Paul Golob said he expected McGovern to be finished a year from now and hoped to have the book out by February 2009, the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth.