Like all world-shaking events, the Kennedy assassination abounds with what-ifs.

What if Ruth Paine hadn’t told Lee Harvey Oswald about an opening at the Texas School Book Depository? What if President Kennedy hadn’t asked the Secret Service to remove the plastic bubble top on the presidential limousine before leaving Love Field Airport? What if Jack Ruby hadn’t exited the Western Union across the street from Dallas Police headquarters just as Oswald was being transferred to county jail?

Here’s another: What if Edward Jay Epstein hadn’t driven his stepfather’s Oldsmobile from New York City to Ithaca on November 22, 1963? Although the timing of his arrival would forever alter our understanding of the biggest murder investigation in American history, Epstein’s only objective that day was to convince the dean of Cornell University to re-admit him.

Epstein, who grew up in the Midwood area of Brooklyn and Rockville, Long Island, had matriculated a decade earlier. But in 1955, despite his good marks in a 19th-century European-literature course taught by Vladimir Nabokov, and in a class on the U.S. Congress taught by the political scientist Andrew Hacker, he was asked to take what he calls “an involuntary leave of absence.”

“I was told he flunked out,” Hacker says.

A still from Epstein’s never-completed Iliad film adaptation, from 1961.

Epstein spent the next few years, and the $6,000 he received upon turning 21, trying to film The Iliad in a heroic attempt to impress a fellow student who dreamed of playing Helen of Troy. With a little hubris—he expressed his intention to cast Marlon Brando as Achilles in a way that implied it was a done deal—and a set of business cards identifying himself as a producer, Epstein commissioned a partial shooting script from his cousin’s friend, Mario Puzo, raised $7 million from an independent production company, and secured the full cooperation of the Greek government.

But he returned home with no usable footage, no Helen, and a Diners Club card that was “fatally encumbered with debt.” Hacker, whom Epstein had kept in touch with, advised him to resume his studies.

“When I arrived on campus,” Epstein writes in his endlessly interesting new memoir, Assume Nothing: Encounters with Assassins, Spies, Presidents, and Would-Be Masters of the Universe, “I found that the admissions office was closed. So was every other office in the building. The entire campus seemed eerily deserted except for a lone coed sitting on the steps of Willard Straight Hall.” When Epstein approached her, she told him the president had been killed.

The timing of Epstein’s arrival on the Cornell campus would forever alter our understanding of the biggest murder investigation in American history.

“That was a problem for me,” Epstein, 87, recalls over a Niçoise salad at Jean Claude 2, on the Upper East Side, “because I was supposed to have dinner with Hacker that night, and I had to return the car the next day. I thought, I’d better not call him because he might say today’s not a good day. Better to just show up on time.”

To Epstein’s relief, he was welcomed inside. “About three-fourths of the way through the meal,” he says, “I couldn’t resist. I asked Hacker about the assassination, and we got into this whole discussion.”

The following September, Epstein was granted permission to complete his undergraduate degree while simultaneously pursuing a master’s in political science. Hacker, who had helped persuade the dean to give Epstein a second chance, would supervise his thesis. But when the professor asked if he had chosen a topic, Epstein was momentarily “stymied.”

“I had not taken a government course in nearly seven years. I was unfamiliar with all the current jargon,” Epstein writes. “So I proposed the only subject that I had reason to believe might interest him: the Kennedy assassination.”

An Inkling Turned Inquest

The President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, headed by Earl Warren, former governor of California and sitting chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, had just released its 888-page report, concluding that Oswald had acted alone. Epstein set out to examine the process by which the commission had reached its verdict.

Hacker wrote letters on Epstein’s behalf to each of the seven commissioners, whom Lyndon Johnson had chosen for their commanding stature: Warren; Georgia senator Richard Russell Jr.; Kentucky senator John Sherman Cooper; House majority whip Hale Boggs; House minority leader Gerald Ford; former C.I.A. director Allen Dulles; and the former high commissioner of occupied Germany, John J. McCloy.

Chief Justice Earl Warren hands President Johnson his commission’s report on the Kennedy assassination.

“It seemed like a long shot,” Epstein writes, with characteristic understatement. None of the commissioners, or the lawyers who reported to them, had given a single in-depth interview. And Epstein, then 29, had never conducted one. “I had still not graduated from college,” he writes. “I had no experience in journalism. I had never even worked on a school newspaper or known a reporter.”

To his enduring surprise, and their everlasting regret, all but Warren agreed to see him. The letters had been written “on Cornell letterhead,” Hacker says. “Cornell is not quite Harvard, but it’s second-tier Ivy, and that seemed to open the doors.” He added that “in those days, people were less surrounded by armies of P.R.”

From the commission’s general counsel, J. Lee Rankin, Epstein got access to the payroll records, which showed how many days each of the consulting lawyers had worked on the investigation—or how few. He discovered among other things that Francis W. H. Adams, the senior lawyer tasked with reconstructing the crime scene, stopped showing up after just a few weeks and never went to Dallas at all. (Rankin also gave him a photograph of the commission’s first meeting, signed by each member, which now hangs over Epstein’s bathroom sink.)

From junior lawyer Wesley Liebeler, who had felt guilty for keeping him waiting six hours, he got two boxes filled with memos, draft chapters, and an F.B.I. summary which said the first bullet that hit Kennedy had penetrated a few inches and fallen out. According to the Warren Report, that same bullet passed through the president’s body and wounded Texas governor John Connally, who had been riding in the front seat.

Lee Harvey Oswald’s mug shot, taken on November 23, 1963, the day after President Kennedy was assassinated.

When he went to see Arlen Specter, the junior lawyer responsible for the single-bullet hypothesis, Epstein asked whether the autopsy photos indicated the path illustrated in the report. “I assumed that they did,” Specter replied. When pressed, he admitted that he never saw them. And neither, as Rankin confirmed, had anyone else on the commission. At the urging of Robert Kennedy, Warren had declared the pictures off limits.

According to the Warren Report, there was “very persuasive evidence” for the single-bullet hypothesis. Yet some of the commissioners were never fully persuaded. That qualifier, Epstein learned, was the result of a hard-fought compromise between “compelling” and “credible,” known internally as “the battle of the adjectives.”

Epstein concluded that the commission’s investigation had been constrained by time, manpower, limited access, and Warren’s insistence on unanimity. The problem of the conflicting autopsies could be resolved only by an open and independent examination of all the forensic evidence, he believed. Until then, a conspiracy could not be ruled out.

Epstein’s thesis might have moldered in academic obscurity if it hadn’t come to the attention of Viking Press through an improbable series of events involving a conspiracist stooge posing as a British book editor and the philosopher Hannah Arendt hitching a ride to campus. Inquest: The Warren Commission and the Establishment of Truth was published in June 1966. “It’s a beautiful double entendre,” Hacker says of the subtitle.

A Warren Commission photo exhibit recording the location of eyewitnesses to Oswald’s movements in the vicinity of the murder of Dallas policeman J. D. Tippit, killed 45 minutes after the president.

Anticipation had been building since April, when The New York Times ran a small item on the book’s unlikely origins. Tom Wolfe, Gloria Steinem, Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, Arthur Schlesinger, and Paul Newman were among the guests at the party thrown for its release by Clay Felker, the editor of New York, then the New York Herald Tribune’s magazine section, and his wife, the actress Pamela Tiffin.

“I had no experience in journalism. I had never even worked on a school newspaper or known a reporter.”

A New York Times critic called Inquest “the first book to throw open to serious question, in the minds of thinking people, the findings of the Warren Commission.” Former Kennedy speechwriter Richard Goodwin went further, declaring that it “not only raises questions but demands explorations and answers.”

“Here we have something which should make scholars proud and journalists envious and ashamed,” Richard Rovere, The New Yorker’s longtime Washington correspondent, wrote in the book’s introduction. “Mr. Epstein’s scholarly tools happen to be those employed day in and day out by journalists. But the press left it to a single scholar to find the news.”

Epstein in 1966, the year Inquest, his debut book, adapted from his Cornell thesis on the Kennedy-assassination investigation, was published.

It was both a precocious debut and a circuitous start to a career that has spanned more than half a century and taken Epstein from a mountainside diamond mine in Lesotho to the N.S.A.’s Kunia Tunnel in Oahu, to Club 55 in St. Tropez, to the inner sanctum of the Vatican. He was the first journalist to interview Yuri Nosenko, the ex–K.G.B. officer at the center of the C.I.A.’s decade-long mole hunt, and the last person to see Oswald’s mysterious friend, George de Mohrenschildt, alive. “It’s extraordinary,” marvels Lewis Lapham, the former editor of Harper’s and the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly, “the number of people he managed to get to talk to him.”

“Decade in, decade out, Ed was doing some pivotal thing, making some journalistic statement that was formative for a lot of people,” according to Michael Wolff, the author of Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. Along the way, the former New York Times bureau chief Richard Bernstein says, “He has genuinely exploded any number of myths.”

“Sometimes he’s wrong. How not? But when he’s right, he’s the only one who’s right,” says the essayist and novelist Renata Adler. “There is no other Ed.”

And yet: What if? “If I had picked another topic, it certainly wouldn’t have become a book,” Epstein says. “If that hadn’t come along, I would have had a different life. I might have gone to law school. I might have gone into my stepfather’s shoe business—though I just couldn’t imagine living in the suburbs.”

On Assignment

In March 1967, Epstein was summoned to the office of New Yorker editor William Shawn. Jim Garrison, the district attorney of New Orleans, had just made headlines by charging a local businessman named Clay Shaw as an accomplice in Kennedy’s assassination. Was it possible, Shawn asked, that Garrison had uncovered something the Warren Commission had missed? Epstein said it was and accepted his first assignment as a reporter.

Clay Shaw (smoking), the businessman wrongfully accused of assassinating Kennedy, exits a New Orleans courthouse.

Epstein quickly saw Garrison for what he was: a McCarthy-style demagogue, making baseless accusations—and even arrests—to keep his name in the news. At that point, much of the media was either publicizing the D.A.’s increasingly inventive theories—the number of gunmen started at 2 and topped out at 16—or promoting them.

“These publications had previously rejected the conclusions of the Warren Commission ostensibly because they had found the commission’s investigation defective,” Epstein wrote in The New York Times Magazine, “yet these same magazines embraced the New Orleans investigation wholeheartedly, choosing to pass by its glaring mistakes and Garrison’s own transparent flimflammery.” When Garrison finally tried his case in a courtroom, a jury pronounced Shaw not guilty in less than an hour.

Epstein occupies a lonely place in the crowded field of assassination writing. To the skeptics, he is either a dupe unwilling to question Oswald’s guilt, or a fifth columnist undermining their movement from within. To the commission’s defenders, he is a gadfly, if not a useful idiot of dangerous paranoiacs.

“Sometimes he’s wrong. How not? But when he’s right, he’s the only one who’s right. There is no other Ed.”

Historians give him a grudging respect for his thorough reporting (tracking down more than 100 marines who served with Oswald in Japan, for example). And they will grant that the Warren Report had its flaws. Still, they argue, didn’t it get the big things right?

Inquest is not about the Kennedy assassination,” Epstein says. “It’s about an organization.”

In 1976, another organization—the House Select Committee on Assassinations—began its own investigation, which lasted three times as long as the Warren Commission’s, hired nearly 10 times as many staffers, and empowered a panel of independent experts, using newly developed forensic methods, to study the original autopsy photographs and X-rays. The resulting report conclusively traced each bullet to Oswald’s rifle.

“In the light of the methodical and open nature of this examination,” Epstein later wrote, “there was no mystery left.” But this unsensational endorsement received little notice.

Epstein occupies a lonely place in the crowded field of assassination writing.

In February 1966, a month after completing his master’s, Epstein began his doctoral degree at the Harvard-M.I.T. Joint Center for Urban Studies, overseen by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who became a friend. Once again, his thesis would become a best-selling book.

This time, Epstein embarked on a field study of television news. For four months in 1969, he roamed the halls of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, traveled with network camera crews, and attended meetings with NBC executives.

He found that the nightly broadcasts were shaped almost entirely by structural pressures—FCC regulations, logistical considerations, and audience viewing habits—rather than political bias, as critics on the left and right often alleged. (He allowed that “controls tend to be disregarded when executives, producers, and correspondents all share the same view and further perceive it to be a view accepted by virtually all thoughtful persons.”) News from Nowhere: Television and the News was published by Random House in January 1973, and excerpted by The New Yorker.

Epstein now had a Ph.D. from Harvard—“By the way, he is Dr. Epstein,” Hacker says, “though he’s never talked about it”—and a small army of mentors at the university. But he quit academia after a single semester teaching American politics at U.C.L.A.

“The career route was, you became an assistant professor somewhere. You taught for a few years, you wrote a peer review, and then you looked for a tenured job,” Epstein says. “But it could be anywhere. It could be Kansas, or Michigan—they had a great government department—or Texas. Well, I didn’t want to be in any of those places. I wanted to be in New York, ever since I met Clay Felker. He knew the whole world.”

Clay Felker, who edited New York magazine from its founding, in 1968, until 1976 and became a close friend of Epstein’s, with his wife, the actress Pamela Tiffin.

And so, very soon, would Epstein. “The social habits of writers are … often used as a kind of shorthand to describe the cultural history of an era,” Wolff observed in New York. “Beginning in the late seventies, a possible next generation of [the Partisan Review crowd]—richer, better-dressed, less political, but intellectuals nonetheless—began to congregate at Ed Epstein’s East Side apartment.”

Epstein’s orbit encompassed high society, finance, government, intelligence, publishing, and the arts. And when “there seemed … few people inclined toward mixed or moderate views,” as Adler once wrote, it transcended ideology. According to Wolff, “Ed’s politics are the joie de vivre of skepticism.”

“I wanted to be in New York, ever since I met Clay Felker. He knew the whole world.”

“Even having lunch with him is an experience,” Bernstein says, “because he’s always got some insight, some way of looking at things that you haven’t heard from anybody else or read in the papers.”

Yuri Nosenko, a K.G.B. officer who defected to the U.S. in 1964. Epstein was the first journalist to interview him.

“That whole life lived among the people that he was writing about, which is entirely out of fashion at this point, also has been a life that then turns around and really informs his journalism,” Wolff says. One of Epstein’s biggest scoops—the 1976 revelation that Nosenko, a defector suspected of being a double agent, had been imprisoned and tortured by the C.I.A.—came while making small talk with Stanley Pottinger, a former Justice Department lawyer on the arm of Gloria Steinem, at a birthday party for Warner Communications chairman Steve Ross.

That Epstein occupies one of the city’s great apartments is, like his height (six-foot-two in his youth) or eye color (blue), an empirical fact. Fifty years ago, when he first moved to his pre-war duplex penthouse, with its two terraces and panoramic views of the East River, Epstein paid $650 a month, electricity included. The best part was, it was rent-controlled—and still is. “The downside was, I can’t move,” he says. For Epstein, a lifelong bachelor, the apartment gave him not just a place to live and entertain, but also “a sense of invincibility.”

“Ed’s politics are the joie de vivre of skepticism.”

“That’s what fueled his career,” Wolff says. “Other people have trust funds.” Epstein has “never been a salaried employee of anybody,” Bernstein points out. “He’s probably never gotten a W-2 in his life. He was never restricted by some editor who wanted to hear x and Ed wanted to say y. He could afford to think the way he did.” But, Bernstein adds, “he would’ve thought that way anyway.”

Esptein, Laure Bouley, Jimmy Goldsmith, and friends in Bhutan, 1991.

Epstein’s mother was an abstract sculptor, whose works in wood and stone are displayed around his foyer and sunken living room. Relics from his ill-fated Iliad adaptation decorate the walls of his office, where a portrait of the author painted by the late Esquire editor Byron Dobell hangs above his desk. The Warren Report’s 26 volumes of hearings and exhibits take up nearly an entire shelf on the short side of his L-shaped, floor-to-ceiling bookcase.

Watergate’s Dark Horse

Epstein is an insider everywhere but his own profession. He entered journalism late, as a political-scientist-in-training, for whom the media was just another institution to be analyzed, each news story another potential case study.

In 1971, writing in The New Yorker, he investigated the widely reported—and, as he discovered, wildly inaccurate—charge that 28 Black Panthers had been murdered by the police. (The true number was 10, of which 8 had died after wounding or shooting at officers answering 911 calls; two—Fred Hampton and Mark Clark—were killed in a “planned raid.”)

Adler noted in The New York Review of Books that “while two, or even four, such killings are serious, two or four is neither twenty-eight nor genocide; Epstein’s report, moderate in tone, said no more than that. It created, however, an enormous animus.… Just to mention the piece was to set off an ideological player piano of beliefs—which would play its program to the end, invulnerable to an actual reading of the piece itself.”

“That Black Panther piece was really about The New York Times and The Washington Post,” Epstein says.

A year later he wrote an unsparing critique of the American business press, which had reported every detail of the playboy Ponzi schemer Bernie Cornfeld’s over-the-top lifestyle while missing one of the biggest financial scandals of the decade. Epstein had begun to think of himself as a spiritual successor to A. J. Liebling, who wrote the magazine’s long-running “Wayward Press” column.

But Shawn had other ideas. “He said, ‘We only have a few good newspapers,’” Epstein recalled. “I said, ‘But they’re the only papers that matter.’ All those papers Liebling wrote about had disappeared. Then he said, ‘Why don’t you just do long articles, and not cover journalism?’ I said, ‘Okay.’”

So it was in the July 1974 issue of the intellectual journal Commentary that Epstein dared to ask: Did the Press Uncover Watergate? Though it seems almost heretical to question the David-and-Goliath story of All the President’s Men, published the previous month, Epstein makes clear that what Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein revealed were the findings of the government’s investigations into the break-in and cover-up, not the scandal itself.

Epstein’s version—Nixon brought down by nameless bureaucrats—failed to capture the public’s imagination. But as the historian Max Holland later wrote, Time’s lead Watergate reporter, Sandy Smith; Earl Silbert, the chief Watergate prosecutor; star witness John Dean; and Watergate historian Stanley Kutler “have all concurred with Epstein’s point.”

Epstein was also the first to bust another cherished myth: that Woodward’s secret source, code-named “Deep Throat,” leaked to stop an out-of-control president. Later in the same article, Epstein guessed that Deep Throat was, “in the best traditions of the New Journalism … a composite character,” but he reported that prosecutors at the Department of Justice suspected former F.B.I. deputy associate director Mark Felt. (Felt confirmed it to Vanity Fair in 2005.)

Former F.B.I. associate director Mark Felt, later found to be Bob Woodward’s secret Watergate source, in 1978.

According to the prosecutors’ theory, Epstein wrote, Deep Throat acted “not to expose the Watergate conspiracy or drive President Nixon from office, but simply to demonstrate to the President” that L. Patrick Gray, the bureau’s new director, “could not control the F.B.I.”

“The theory was correct,” Holland confirmed in the 2012 book Leak: How Mark Felt Became Deep Throat, “although the real goal was not simply Gray’s ouster but the elevation of Felt to the exclusion of anyone else.”

Epstein is an insider everywhere but his own profession.

“In the academic world, which I’d come out of, you always disclosed your source,” Epstein says. “No one conceals sources except for journalists.” Without knowing who leaked, and why, you had only half the story. This, he wrote in a subsequent article for Commentary, reprinted in the 1975 collection Between Fact and Fiction, my favorite of Epstein’s books, was the “problem of journalism”: since reporters lack the power to compel testimony, punish perjury, or subpoena evidence, they are “almost entirely dependent” on the willing participation of sources.

Fifteen years before Janet Malcolm declared that “every journalist … is a kind of confidence man, preying on people’s vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse,” Epstein made the opposite case. “Every source who has supplied a journalist with part of a story,” he wrote, “has selected that bit of information, whether it is true or false, for a particular purpose.” In other words, the journalist is not the con man, but the mark.

Epstein on CNN in 1986.

In the end notes to his 1977 book, Agency of Fear: Opiates and Political Power in America, an early critique of Nixon’s War on Drugs, Epstein named more than 70 sources as well as “the circumstances and interests behind the disclosures.” Thomas Powers, who reviewed the book for The New York Times, judged it “practically a textbook of responsible journalistic technique.”

Fifteen years before Janet Malcolm declared that “every journalist … is a kind of confidence man,” Epstein made the opposite case: the journalist is not the con man, but the mark.

In his 1989 book, Deception: The Secret War Between the KGB and the CIA, Epstein made the case that “by virtually any … measure—economic, military, or political—the Soviet Union is a greater threat today than it was in 1948.” At the second of two parties for its release thrown by the billionaire financier Jimmy Goldsmith, Epstein gave a short speech about the Soviet threat. “The Berlin Wall,” he writes in his memoir, “was being torn down as I spoke.”

But even when, in his own words, Epstein “could not have been more wrong,” he is not easily dismissed. Deception was dated almost as soon as it was published. Yet three decades later, this chronicle of Kremlin-sponsored underhandedness is unfortunately all too timely.

Epstein also changed his mind about Nosenko. When he first wrote about the case, in 1976, he took the view of counter-intelligence director James Jesus Angleton, among others in the C.I.A., that Nosenko, who claimed to have been Oswald’s case officer, was a K.G.B. “dangle” sent to throw the agency off the scent of a well-placed mole. In 1992, he reconsidered. “Not because the evidence changed, but because the time frame changed,” he says.

“He’s probably never gotten a W-2 in his life. He was never restricted by some editor who wanted to hear x and Ed wanted to say y. He could afford to think the way he did.”

Nosenko “lied about everything.... I don’t believe he was ever Oswald’s case officer, or even read the file,” Epstein says. But the fact was that no subsequent Soviet defector had corroborated the theory. (Epstein has never believed that Russia was involved in Kennedy’s assassination.) Two years later, the broader argument Epstein had made about the C.I.A.’s vulnerability to K.G.B. penetration was unexpectedly vindicated by the arrest of Aldrich Ames, a U.S. intelligence officer who had been spying for the Russians since 1985.

In the past, he had to wait for a new edition or collection to update one of his books, but thanks to self-publishing and Amazon, Epstein is able to make changes whenever new information becomes available. “It takes literally 10 minutes,” he says. “When you’re wrong, you don’t mind. You don’t say, ‘I have to prove everything I’ve written in the past.’ You simply have to correct it. And once you correct it, you might have to correct your thesis, by the way. It might destroy your entire thesis. But in any case, you do that and then you move on.”

Epstein is often drawn to subjects that are difficult if not impossible to fully settle, puzzles with missing pieces. What he doesn’t know literally filled a book called Annals of Unsolved Crime, which he published in 2012 and adds to regularly. Epstein will go to great lengths in his investigations—flying across the world, filing Freedom of Information Act requests, paying thousands for troves of documents. When he reaches an impasse, he speculates, using phrases like “it cannot be precluded,” to the irritation of his critics.

In the 2017 book How America Lost Its Secrets: Edward Snowden, the Man and the Theft, Epstein explains how a counterintelligence investigation “starts with a tabula rasa” and “builds alternative scenarios to test against the known facts.... The point is to assure that any alternative that fits the relevant facts, no matter how implausible it may seem to be, is not neglected.” This is, not incidentally, a pretty good description of Epstein’s own approach.

Epstein in Hong Kong. The time Edward Snowden spent there is the focus of Epstein’s 2017 book, How America Lost Its Secrets.

“‘Assume nothing’ is one of the Moscow Rules, that set of maxims meant to guide intelligence assets working in Russia during the Cold War,” says Wolff, who suggested the memoir’s title. “Apt, I thought, given both Ed’s interests and his reflex to question every given of the conventional wisdom.” Lapham points out that it also echoes the motto of Michel de Montaigne: “‘What do I know?’ Ed was always asking that question.”

One mystery that continues to vex Epstein is the trajectory of his own life. Why did he and his younger sister, Linda, turn out so differently? Born two years apart, they grew up in the same household, went to the same schools, and even the same college, where she was also a student of Nabokov and Hacker. But Linda had “a clear vision,” became a social worker, and never looked back, while Epstein “stumbled into” the first of what turned out to be many investigations “by pure chance.” There are no clues to be found in his daily diaries going back to the early 1950s, and forensic analysis won’t yield any answers.

Near the end of his new book, Epstein references the 2005 Woody Allen film, Match Point, in which the main character says, “There are moments in a match when the ball hits the top of the net, and for a split second, it can either go forward or fall back.” If he had returned to Cornell a day earlier, or later, Epstein’s future could have gone in any number of directions. Maybe he would have picked the same thesis topic anyway. Maybe he would have gone to law school. And maybe he would have gone to work for his stepfather’s shoe business. But in no conceivable alternate reality does Epstein live in the suburbs.

Ash Carter is a Deputy Editor for AIR MAIL and a co-author of Life Isn’t Everything: Mike Nichols as Remembered by 150 of His Closest Friends