R.I.P. William Safire: Lord of the Language Arts, 1929-2009

Mr. Safire had no college degree, yet he went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1978 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2006. Already in his forties when he joined the NYT staff, Safire had previously worked as a U.S. Army correspondant, as a publicist, and as a radio & television producer. He also wrote speeches for Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew and was outraged to discover that Nixon's administration had been secretly taping his phone conversations. For more on those times of his life, check out Before the Fall: An Inside View of the Pre-Watergate White House. As to his own politics, he was a self-described libertarian conservative.

The writer penned numerous books that demonstrated his playful love of the English language, including Let a Simile Be Your Umbrella and Quoth the Maven. He also delved into fiction. Fans of historical novels may care to try Scandalmonger. Set in 1790s New England, Scandalmonger sets forth the life of James Thomson Callender, a man whose scandalous writings on the reported affairs of great men such as Jefferson and Hamilton rocked the new nation.

Sleeper Spy allowed Safire to blend more of his own Beltway experiences into a tale of a Soviet agent turned prosperous American businessman. He penned dozens of books during his career, and no matter the medium--nonfiction, speech writing, newspaper column, thriller or historical novel--Safire delivered his prose with verve and good form.