David Alan Johnson has been a working non-fiction writer for more than 40 years. He received his B.A. in English during the early 1970s and began looking for work in the publishing field. Unfortunately, this was the depths of an economic depression, and positions in publishing were non-existent. After working at several unrewarding jobs, he decided that the only way to enter publishing would be as a writer. In 1977, he began his first book.
The Second World War had always been of great interest, especially stories about wartime London, so he decided to write about the London Blitz of 1940 and 1941. Two years of writing and research later, The City Ablaze was signed by William Kimber & Co., a small London publisher. It is an eyewitness account of the German fire blitz of 29 December 1940, which was one of the most devastating nights of the war for London.
Reviewers loved The City Ablaze. It was called ‘a riveting account, told with precision and commendable accuracy,’ and ‘an eminently readable and palatable work.’ When it was published in the United States as The London Blitz, Publisher’s Weekly said that the book was ‘a gripping panoramic recreation of the disaster,’ and even the often-grouchy Kirkus Reviews praised the book as ‘a vivid evocation in the sturdy you-are-there manner.’
Johnson’s second book was also well-received on both sides of the Atlantic. V for Vengeance is the story of Hitler’s V-1 flying Bomb and V-2 rocket attacks against London from June 1944 until March 1945. ‘The book is at once compelling and chilling reading,’ was one reviewer’s opinion. The US edition is called V-1/V-2, and was just as well received as it had been in Britain.
After this promising start, several false starts and disappointments followed. A project on Hitler’s plans to build an atomic bomb could not find a publisher. After that came Yanks in the RAF, about the Americans who joined Britain’s Royal Air Force. It was written under contract, but the contract was cancelled when the publishing house was sold.
The next idea for a book took shape in the late 1980s. American counter-intelligence has always insisted that all German spies had been captured, and were either executed or put to work by sending false information to Germany. Johnson, a natural-born cynic and sceptic, doubted this. A senior editor at William Kimber & Co. suggested that Johnson write a book based upon his doubts.
When Mr. Kimber fell ill and sold the firm, Germany’s Spies and Saboteurs was published in the US by Motorbooks International. It never made the best-seller lists, but a portion of it was included in the History Channel’s ‘Sworn to Secrecy’ series. Johnson appeared in the series to talk about his book.
Things definitely were picking up. An editor at Combined Books read an article by Johnson about American volunteers in the RAF and asked him to write a book on the Battle of Britain in 1940. Johnson wrote a day-by-day account of the 114-day battle, and also concentrated on Winston Churchill’s battle to win the isolationist United States as an ally. It was an unusual approach but it worked. More good reviews followed – ‘an excellent narrative of the four-month campaign’ was one comment.
The subject of his next book, Righteous Deception, is how anti-Nazi intelligence officers tricked Hitler regarding the time and place of the Allied landings. The publisher dumped the book on a discount outlet, resulting in no reviews – except one generated by the author – and no sales. The lesson learned: always check on a publisher’s reputation before signing any contract.
The ‘Operation Pastorius’ segment of Germany’s Spies and Saboteurs gave Johnson the idea of writing an entire book on how J. Edgar Hoover railroaded George Dasch into prison. He wrote Betrayal: The True Story of J. Edgar Hoover and the Nazi Saboteurs under contract. In February 2005, the publisher cancelled the contract for business reasons. Fortunately, Hippocrene Books made an offer for the book, which was published in December 2007.
For his next book, David Alan Johnson returned to one of his childhood interests: the American Civil War. He discovered that not very much has been written about the presidential election of 1864, when Abraham Lincoln very nearly lost the White House to Democratic candidate George B. McClellan. Union troops were bogged down in both Virginia and Georgia, and the North was growing tried of both the war and of Abraham Lincoln. This election seemed like an excellent topic -- is as much about battles and strategy as it is about politics, which gives it something for everybody.
The book , DECIDED ON THE BATTLEFIELD: Grant, Sherman, Lincoln and the Election of 1864, was published by Prometheus Books in January 2012. So far, reviews have excellent, sometimes brilliant. The Christian Science Monitor thought the book was colorful and readable. Publisher's Weekly thought DECIDED ON THE BATTLEFIELD was not only readable but fascinaing. The American Library Journal's Booklist, which can sometimes be very crabby, called DECIDED "Lively," and went on to say that the narraative "flows well and is not overly scholarly." Library Journal said that the Epilog is "a masterpiece of alternative history," and highly recommended the book. Based upon these reviews, there has been quite a bit of excitement regarding the future of DECIDED ON THE BATTLEFIELD.
The good news for 2014 was that YANKS IN THE RAF finally found a publisher, and was published in June 2015. It is as much social history, about how the British and the Americans thought of each other in the early days of the Second World War, as it is a history of the war itself and of the three Eagle Squadrons that were formed from the several hundred Americans who joined Britain's Royal Air Force. It has received excellent reviews -- and excellent sales, both in the Unived States and Britain.
David Alan Johnson's most recent book is also about the Civil War, this time focusing on how the lives, backgrounds, and personalities of Robert E. Lee and US Grant affected the outcome of the war. The title is BATTLE OF WILLS: ULYSSES S. GRANT, ROBERT E. LEE, AND THE LAST YEAR OF THE CIVIL WAR. BATTLE OF WILLS was published in October 2016. (It is not really a psychological study, since the author is not a psychologist.)
His next book will be a day-by-day account of President Abraham Lincoln's last days, from his Second Inaugural on March 4, 1865 to his assassination at Ford's Theatre of April 14, 1865. It will be published by Prometheus Books on October 2, 2018.
BOOKS BY DAVID ALAN JOHNSON
The City Ablaze
The London Blitz
V for Vengeance
Union: The Archives Photographs Series
The Battle of Britain: The American Factor
Germany’s Spies And Saboteurs
Righteous Deception: German Officers Against Hitler
Betrayal: The True Story of J. Edgar Hoover and the Nazi Saboteurs
Decided On The Battlefield: Lincoln, Grant, Sherman, and the Election of 1864
Battle of Wills: Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, and the Last year of the Civil War
Yanks in the RAF
The Last Weeks of Abraham Lincoln