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Aside from investigating Big Tobacco, Brenner, 58, has unveiled the inner workings of Enron, the rise of anti-Semitism in France and the legal gamesmanship surrounding prisoners' rights in Guantánamo, Cuba. But her most difficult topic, she says, was much closer to home. "Apples & Oranges: My Brother and Me, Lost and Found," out now from Sarah Crichton Books/FSG, is Brenner's tale of her combative relationship with her older brother, Carl, a lawyer-turned-apple-farmer, who was diagnosed with cancer in 1999. In telling the story of the four-year journey she undertook to help Carl find treatment, Brenner also manages to uncover the surprisingly fascinating history of the apple in America, current research on sibling conflict and the story of her fractious, larger-than-life Jewish Texan family, which included an aunt who befriended Frida Kahlo and posed for Edward Weston.
Upon meeting Brenner, a tall San Antonio native with a passing resemblance to Ellen Barkin, it's immediately clear why she's so successful in getting sources to talk to her: She's curious about everything and listens with intense focus and sensitivity. "I'm very people-oriented," Brenner says, pouring tea and proffering a plate of cherries in the breakfast nook of her Upper East Side town house. "I think that if you understand the person, you understand the event."
Brenner describes herself in "Apples and Oranges" as a quintessential Manhattanite: a stressed-out, black cashmere-wearing BlackBerry addict who can't stomach George W. Bush. (Her brother, on the other hand, she describes as a hot-headed, gun-owning right-winger with an inexplicable mania for cultivating fruit.) She describes her high-powered pals, Peggy Noonan, Deeda Blair and real estate mogul Leonard Stern. Lesley Stahl and Tina Brown are among her closest friends, and the book party Brown threw Brenner last week, drew Kurt Andersen, David Remnick, Mike Nichols, Diane Sawyer and Lesley Stahl — the very crowd Carl would have scornfully called "her ACLU friends in New York."