RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Was Andy Warhol simply a collector of all things beautiful and mundane, or was he a full-blown hoarder? Did Abraham Lincoln suffer from melancholia, or was he clinically depressed? Did Albert Einstein have autism? These are the questions award-winning journalist Claudia Kalb seeks to answer in her new book. It is titled "Andy Warhol Was A Hoarder: Inside The Minds Of History's Great Personalities." She joins us in our studios in Washington. Thanks for coming in.
CLAUDIA KALB: Thank you, Rachel.
MARTIN: Let's start with Andy Warhol.
MARTIN: He was a hoarder, I'm presuming, since you put it on the cover of your book. What more can you tell us about his condition?
KALB: Warhol had this intense desire to shop and collect, and it started fairly early in his life. And as he moved to New York and became a working artist in the city, he would shop daily at everywhere from a five-and-dime store to an upscale boutique. The other big thing about Warhol was his time capsules, where he had about 600 boxes, cardboard boxes, where he put everything into them. He swept stuff off his desk. He put old receipts, he put bills he had not yet paid, he put junk mail, even old pizza crust. Threw it into these boxes, collected over the years about 600 of them. And...
MARTIN: ...Did he write dates - I mean, did he anticipate that someone was going to be curious about that chapter in his life and unpack them at some point?
KALB: He did put dates on them. He anticipated at some point potentially selling them. He thought maybe these would be sort of a collection of artifacts that people would be interested in. After all, it's Warhol. At the same time, he had such difficulty getting rid of anything. He said in his journals and in his writings, I can't throw anything out. And he even said I'd love to have a really clean space. But he never could do it.
MARTIN: Let's have you read a little bit of that chapter on Andy Warhol.
KALB: Sure. (Reading) Plenty of people like to browse and buy, but Warhol's zealousness was unparalleled. The extent of his acquisitions became starkly apparent after his death in 1987. Hired to handle his estate, Sotheby's appraisers set up shop as best they could to document the goods in his home, a five-story brownstone he had moved into on East 66th Street. Staffers found rooms jammed with boxes and shopping bags. A Picasso was stashed in the closet. Gems were found tucked away in the bed. There were heaps of cheap watches, dozens of perfume bottles, 175 cookie jars, as well as Tiffany lamps and paintings by Lichtenstein, Johns and Rauschenberg.
MARTIN: So Andy Warhol is one of a dozen people you chose to profile in this book. These are famous people, so we know a certain amount about them, but most of them are people who have been dead for a very long time. So how did you get back in and figure out what they had and how it affected their professional life?
KALB: It was a wonderful task of looking both at biographical material as well as medical journals. So for Darwin, for example, his letters and journals are online. It's an amazing resource. And you tap in there, you can look at what he was writing, what he was saying, how he was expressing his anxiety and the physical symptoms he suffered. And then at the same time, looking at the medical literature that has been published, there are hundreds of studies about what ailed Darwin. What was wrong with him? Why did he have these stomachaches, this dizziness, these headaches? He was doing this all as he was writing "On The Origin Of Species." And then the third component was interviewing current-day mental health experts to talk to them about these conditions and to assess how the symptoms of these particular historical figures lined up with current-day diagnoses.
MARTIN: Although you are - you are drawing conclusions. I mean, you're interviewing experts, but you are speculating to some degree about what these people would have been diagnosed with at the time.
KALB: Right. Trying hard to stick to the theories and thoughts of medical experts themselves by looking at the other evidence that's out there, looking at the biographies and the biographical letters and journals, and then laying it out there. Some of these diagnoses were confirmed - Betty Ford talked about her addiction - and others are speculative, Einstein and Darwin two of them.
MARTIN: Did you ever feel a twinge of guilt in writing this, because it is a little bit voyeuristic. I mean, you're getting so deeply intimate into these people's mental states.
KALB: Right. I struggled with all sorts of emotions while writing it. I think ultimately, while writing it and thinking about it and talking about it, my overarching goal was to lay this all out for people in a way that they could look at it and say this looks like my friend or my family member or a little bit like me. I found this a way to maybe relieve people a little bit that if they are struggling, they are not alone.
MARTIN: Claudia Kalb is a journalist specializing in science and medicine, and a former senior writer at Newsweek. Her book, "Andy Warhol Was A Hoarder," is out this week. Thanks for talking with us, Claudia.
KALB: Delighted to be here, thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.