Trope Stories: In the Arena

Trope Stories: In the Arena

In this special episode, authors Peter Shea and Tom Maday connect from Boston and Chicago to discuss the making of In the Arena, a collection of essays and photos examining the careers and legacies of 34 American leaders who captured their party’s nomination, but failed to reach the Oval Office. 
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In the Arena, Trope Publishing Co

In the early days of the concept of the book, did it change your path or the perspective with the concept of people that ran for president and lost?

Peter: It’s interesting because the original idea was to revisit these figures that many of whom seem that they were lost to obscurity. Stephen Douglas, the monument in particular that we visited in Chicago - here we were, interested in history and it wasn’t even on our radar that a very grand, very expensive monument and memorial and tomb was here in Chicago. So it was interesting to see over the course of our project, all of the sudden the memorials and monuments and streets and schools are named after. All of the sudden it became part of the national conversation in a way that we had not anticipated.

Business failure is a very popular topic. How did you fail, how did you overcome it, what were the problems and how did you manage to get past it? Those are so popular in their incredible case studies, but failing personally, and in a very public way, is a very less studied group. 

Peter: Just as failure in business can be an incubator for greater business success, failure in politics or some significant failure in life can be an incubator for political greatness. We have retained that idea in business but we lost it somewhat in politics and that’s one of the things we’re trying to draw attention to at this point. There’s something skewed about that way of looking at failure. 

Tom: My sense is Peter and I had a vision and a realization that each one of these individuals had some level of greatness and that they were, in many cases, largely forgotten. It was disappointing and unfair. So the individuals in this book should not be judged by the singular failure to achieve the Presidency, they should be reexamined with the overall arc of their life and political career and assessed accordingly.  

I’ve listened to your guys’ stories, reading the words combined with the power of the visuals and I get a sense that there’s humanity now. You’ve humanized a lot of these historical figures. 

Peter: We’re talking more and more about our national narrative, it’s time to also include these people as well. Rather than hiding them away in the basement, come out and talk about them and hear their stories.