He graduated from high school in Yonkers, New York, spent a year studying at the Sorbonne and graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio in 1934. Upon graduation, he received a job offer from the Coatesville Record, in Coatesville, Pennsylvania. He spent the next 20 years working in newspapers, eventually becoming the political columnist for Cowles Publications. From 1951 to 1964, he satirized national politics and government in a nationally published column called "Potomac Fever".
In 1960, he wrote a chapter on John F. Kennedy for the book Candidates 1960. This seemed to ignite a passion for writing books and he turned his hand to book-length works. He wrote fifteen books, most of them fiction, and all of them dealing with politics. His best-known novel is Seven Days in May (1962), (co-written with Charles W. Bailey), about an attempted military coup in the United States. The book was a huge success, staying at number one on the New York Times bestseller list for almost a year, and was made into a successful film also titled "Seven Days in May" in 1964.
Knebel was married four times from 1935 to 1985. He committed suicide after a long bout with cancer, by taking an overdose of sleeping pills in his home in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1993. He is the source of the quote: "Smoking is one of the leading causes of statistics."
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