Beschloss, Michael R(ichard) 1955-
BESCHLOSS, Michael R(ichard) 1955-
PERSONAL: Born November 30, 1955, in Chicago, IL; married; wife's name Afsaneh (director of the World Bank Pension Fund); children: one son. Education: Attended Andover College; Williams College, B.A. (with highest honors), 1977; Harvard University, M.B.A., 1980. Hobbies and other interests: Tennis, running, playing digital piano.
ADDRESSES: Home—Washington, DC. Agent—c/o Russell and Volkening, 50 W. 29th St., New York, NY 10001.
CAREER: Writer and historian. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, historian, 1982-85, adjunct historian of American diplomacy and politics, 1985—; writer. Annenberg Project on Television and American Foreign Policy, director; Cable News Network (CNN), foreign affairs analyst. Also held appointments at St. Anthony's College, Oxford University, and the Harvard University Russian Research Center. Brookings Institution, guest scholar, 1985-86. Regular contributor to The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, PBS; appeared in the documentary The Kennedys, PBS, 1992; appeared in and contributed to a two-part documentary on Dwight Eisenhower which aired on The American Experience, PBS, 1994.
MEMBER: PEN/Faulkner Foundation (treasurer).
Kennedy and Roosevelt: The Uneasy Alliance, with foreword by James MacGregor Burns, Norton (New York, NY), 1980.
MAYDAY: Eisenhower, Khrushchev, and the U-2 Affair, Harper (New York, NY), 1986.
(Editor, with Thomas E. Cronin) Essays in Honor of James MacGregor Burns, Prentice Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1989.
Eisenhower: A Centennial Life, illustrated with photographs edited by Vincent Varga, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1990.
The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Khrushchev, 1960-1963, Edward Burlingame Books (New York, NY), 1991.
(With Strobe Talbott) Sudden Victory: Bush, Gorbachev and the End of the Cold War, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1992.
(With Strobe Talbott) At the Highest Levels: The Inside Story of the End of the Cold War, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1993.
Presidents, Television, and Foreign Crises, Annenberg Washington Program, Communications Policy Studies, Northwestern University (Washington, DC), 1993.
The Digital Libraries in Our Future: Perils and Promise, Annenberg Washington Program, Communications Policy Studies, Northwestern University (Washington, DC), 1996.
(Editor and author of annotations) Taking Charge: The Johnson White House Tapes, 1963-1964, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1997.
(Editor) The American Heritage Illustrated History of the Presidents, Crown (New York, NY), 2000.
(Editor and author of commentary) Reaching for Glory: Lyndon Johnson's Secret White House Tapes, 1964-1965, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2001.
The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman, and the Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1941-1945, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2002.
Contributor to the book Character Above All: Ten Presidents from FDR to George Bush, edited by Robert A. Wilson, Simon & Schuster, 1995. Contributor of book reviews and articles to newspapers and periodicals, including Vanity Fair, New York Times Book Review, TV Guide, U.S. News and World Report, and Washington Monthly.
ADAPTATIONS: MAYDAY: Eisenhower, Khrushchev, and the U-2 Affair was adapted for an episode of The American Experience, PBS.
SIDELIGHTS: Michael R. Beschloss has examined leadership styles, campaign politics, and international relations in his acclaimed works about American presidents and their political foes and allies. Described by Adam Clymer in the New York Times as "one of the leading practitioners of the diminishing art of diplomatic history," Beschloss possesses a reputation as a meticulous researcher and perceptive analyst whose historical narratives blend information from once-classified documents with the public record. According to Chris Goodrich in Publishers Weekly, Beschloss "wants to synthesize, not debunk, previous understandings of the past, incorporating research of his own to form a coherent whole."
Beschloss's first book, Kennedy and Roosevelt: The Uneasy Alliance, is a study of the unlikely political alliance between Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph P. Kennedy. Although the first encounter between the two men was a stormy one, Kennedy became a staunch Roosevelt supporter during the 1932 election, his personal and financial backing helping Roosevelt win the Democratic nomination. In turn Kennedy expected, and received, prestigious political appointments: he was named the first chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission and later ambassador to London. By the 1940 presidential election, however, Kennedy's public opposition to some of Roosevelt's war policies caused a permanent rift in their alliance. Despite this quarrel, Beschloss believes that the Kennedy-Roosevelt relationship benefited both men. In an interview with Jean M. White of the Washington Post, he said, "In the end Kennedy and Roosevelt were more effective [together] than they would have been on their own."
Kennedy and Roosevelt grew out of a senior thesis Beschloss wrote at Williams College. "A form of faint damning is to say that a book began as a thesis in pursuit of an academic degree," wrote Leonard Silk in the New York Times. "But this book is a real credit, not only to the author and his teacher, but also to the academic discipline…. Beschloss's thesis is that Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph P. Kennedy, the father of an assassinated President and a political dynasty that has not yet ended, were bound together in a love-hate relationship whose twists and turns and ultimate collapse reflected their powerful but opposing visions of the public good and how to achieve it." Robert Kirsch of the Los Angeles Times also admired Beschloss's account, calling it "a textbook, a case study in how political alliance works."
Beschloss turned his attention to post-World War II America and the escalating Soviet-American Cold War for his next book, MAYDAY: Eisenhower, Khrushchev, and the U-2 Affair. Deemed "part thriller and part political history" by Alexander Dallin in the New York Times Book Review, MAYDAY recounts the rise in tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union after the downing of an American U-2 reconnaissance plane over Russia on May 1, 1960. (This incident led to the collapse of a four-country superpower summit just weeks later.) The "U-2 affair" marked the low point in U.S.-Soviet relations during the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower; an attempted cover-up of the incident by Eisenhower and the State Department created problems domestically as well.
In addition to providing an account of the shoot-down, Beschloss traces the development of the U-2 program from its inception and profiles some of the key figures in the project's design. He also explores the political climate surrounding the failed summit, suggesting that the dashed peace initiatives of Eisenhower and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev resulted from foreign policy miscalculations by the two leaders. Reviewers were impressed with Beschloss's extensive research. The scope of the work prompted Washington Post Book World contributor James Bamford to call MAYDAY "the most comprehensive analysis of the U-2 incident to date," and Dallin judged that Beschloss "has done an excellent job of asking good questions, digging for answers wherever he could and making his way through the shoals of complexity and contradiction." Other reviewers commented on Beschloss's attention to political, as well as scientific, matters. John Ranelagh, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, noted that Beschloss "is as concerned with Eisenhower's search for detente as with the engineering and the intelligence role of the U-2."
Beschloss continued his study of the Cold War and Khrushchev's role in that history in The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Khrushchev, 1960-1963. Focusing on the often confrontational relationship between the Soviet premier and his American counterpart, President John F. Kennedy, The Crisis Years looks at several politico-military conflicts that erupted during the two leaders' administrations, including the ill-fated, American-backed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and the construction of the Berlin Wall. The book concludes with the leaders' dramatic showdown over the Cuban Missile Crisis—a chain of events triggered by the installation of Soviet missiles on Cuba that led the world to the brink of nuclear war.
Aided by newly available information about these events, Beschloss offers a fresh perspective on the role that each leader played. The author reassesses Kennedy's actions in particular, arguing that the American president, through a series of threats and counterthreats, forced Khrushchev to take a hard-line approach to foreign policy issues. "Mr. Beschloss tells a richly textured story of how the American nuclear buildup and Khrushchev's blustering were mutually reinforcing," stated Michael Krepon in a critique of Kennedy and Khrushchev for the New York Times Book Review. "The more Kennedy and his lieutenants clarified the hollowness of Soviet boasting, the more they placed Khrushchev in an untenable position with his military and its supporters in the Kremlin." Observer critic Frederic Paul Smoler agreed with Beschloss that the two leaders shared responsibility for the hostilities that existed, stating, "Both [Kennedy and Khrushchev] believed that only their willingness to risk apocalyptic war kept the peace and alliances intact and ruling domestic coalitions in power."
Beschloss later collaborated with arms control analyst Strobe Talbott on At the Highest Levels: The Inside Story of the End of the Cold War, which documents the momentous changes in Soviet-American relations that took place during the tenures of Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. president George Bush. Under glasnost—Gorbachev's policy of openness—Beschloss and Talbott were granted unprecedented access to top-level Soviet and American officials, allowing the two authors to witness firsthand the obstacles that Gorbachev faced in his attempts at domestic reform. Mel Small, reviewing At the Highest Levels in the Detroit Free Press, found that Beschloss and Talbott "uncover a good deal of information about the conflicts a weak and often 'frazzled' Gorbachev had with his military on the right and emerging democrats like Boris Yeltsin on the left."
According to National Review contributor Paul Wolfowitz, At the Highest Levels is a weak, "incomplete and very flawed [account] … of the foreign-policy record of the Bush Administration" that does not present what President Bush "was actually thinking," but nonetheless gives "an account of U.S.-Soviet relations during the Bush years that is full of fascinating details." "However, for all its dramatic 'you are there' realism … there is a basic unreliability introduced by the technique" the authors used, stated Wolfowitz, specifying, "The authors adopted the technique of getting senior officials to provide an ongoing and sometimes nearly contemporaneous account by promising those sources not only anonymity but the additional assurance that their secrets would not be published until long after the negotiations were over." "It is impossible to know how much skepticism to apply," criticized Wolfowitz. "Most damaging, the reader has no way of judging how direct the source's access was even to the piece of the picture being described, much less the whole picture."
In addition to recognizing that "for some, the [book's] problem of sources will be bewildering," New Yorker contributor David Remnick commented, "The book is filled with … details of vanity. When the authors rely on description rather than incident … they tend to lapse into breathless recitations of Time-ese detail that does little but buff the finish on power's sleek sides." "But," noted Remnick, "more often At the Highest Levels succeeds because of its almost perverse lack of ornament. It is that unusual thing a spare, fair-minded account of the facts and the way decisions are made. With extraordinary speed and confounding success, Beschloss and Talbott have produced an accurate first draft of the Cold War's last days."
Through his narratives, Beschloss seeks to educate readers about both the famous and the not-so-famous figures who have played a part in history. Beschloss hopes that his work not only informs, but also entertains and enlightens. In an interview with Goodrich, Beschloss stated that he is "motivated to make history 'relevant' to current events. What I hope to do is not only tell a story in an interesting way, but also to explain why it happened that way, and to use it as guidance for people in the current age." And according to John B. Judis in a Time review of At the Highest Levels, "No one has ever given as complete and compelling an account of the higher reaches of foreign policy—particularly only a year after the events themselves have concluded."
Taking Charge: The Johnson White House Tapes, 1963-1964, the first book in a planned trilogy based on the tapes, contains the "annotated transcript of phone and private Oval Office conversations secretly taped by Johnson…. [and] expertly selected, edited and footnoted by the Presidential historian Michael R. Beschloss," as Michiko Kakutani explained in the New York Times Book Review. These conversations, Kakutani believed, "form a fascinating record of the first nine months of Johnson's administration." Despite offering "no stunning revelations and no recorded moments of epochal importance," Alan Brinkley remarked in a New York Times Book Review assessment, "Taking Charge is a riveting book…. superbly edited and annotated by [Beschloss], who has made everything—even the most arcane references—accessible to ordinary readers."
Taking Charge "provide[s] new insights into his character and a revealing look at the day-to-day workings of his Presidency and the crucial decisions he would make on Vietnam and civil rights," observed Kakutani. "In editing this volume, Mr. Beschloss not only situates Johnson's conversations in a historical context but also provides illuminating footnotes that flesh out Johnson's thinking," Kakutani concluded, adding, "Because Mr. Beschloss writes so authoritatively about his subject, the reader is left wishing that he had added an introduction or afterword that provided an overview of this period in Johnson's life…. That aside, Mr. Beschloss has still done a masterful job of putting together a book that gives us a remarkably intimate portrait of a working President, while at the same time revealing the man behind the myth." As Donald Robinson noted in the Presidential Studies Quarterly, "Beschloss has produced a rich and valuable volume…. a telling portrait of one of the most consequential, baffling presidencies of the past half-century."
Following Taking Charge, Beschloss edited The American Heritage Illustrated History of the Presidents. In the book, according to School Library Journal's Claudia Moore, "Historians analyze the incidents, problems, and milestones of each leader from [George] Washington to [Bill] Clinton." In addition to biographical information about each of America's presidents, sidebars discuss other notable politicians of the day, and the book offers different perspectives on a variety of important issues. Moore concluded her review by calling the book "an excellent resource."
Beschloss's next book, Reaching for Glory: Lyndon Johnson's Secret White House Tapes, 1964-1965, the second in the trilogy based on Johnson's White House tapes, opens at the beginning of Johnson's second term in office. According to Mark Falcoff in Commentary, "At the beginning of this installment Johnson is on the cusp of the most resounding electoral victory in modern American history; in its final pages he realizes that his presidency is doomed to failure and ignominy, thanks largely to the Vietnam War." Falcoff continued, "As Reaching for Glory draws to a close, Johnson is facing a backlash from conservative voters over some of his social policies, including on race, and a serious defection of Vietnam within the liberal ranks of his own party." As with the first volume, Beschloss edits the tapes that give the world a glimpse into the mindset of a President. In addition to the Presidential tapes, Beschloss includes passages from Lady Bird Johnson's privately taped diaries. Washington Monthly's David Garrow commented that Lady Bird's diaries provide some of "the most powerful and insightful passages" in the book. Garrow wrote, "Her accounts are of arguably greater historical value than Johnson's recordings, because she was a thoughtful and perceptive observer of her husband and those around him." Garrow also noted, "Reaching for Glory demonstrates in powerful detail that the tragedy of Vietnam was also a personal tragedy for Johnson himself, practically from the outset of his second term."
In The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman, and the Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1941-1945, Beschloss examines, according to Richard Bernstein in the New York Times, "how to deal with postwar Germany as it raged within Roosevelt's administration, and then, after his death one month before V-E Day, within Harry S. Truman's." As Curtis Edmonds commented on the Bookreporter Web site, "The Conquerors is primarily the story of the Morgenthau Plan, an ill-starred attempt by Roosevelt's Treasury Secretary, Henry Morgenthau, to impact American policy in postwar Germany." Morgenthau's plan involved the destruction of Germany's manufacturing capabilities, the execution of Nazi leaders, and ultimately, reducing Germany's economy to the point where they could never again pose a threat to the world.
In John Lukacs's review of The Conquerors in the Los Angeles Times, he remarked, "Beschloss is an often successful popular historian of the kind whom academic professionals tend to deprecate or dismiss. They are often wrong….But here he is entirely out of his depth. I regret to say that The Conquerors is a book he should not have written." In his review in the New York Times, however, Thomas Powers called The Conquerors "Michael Beschloss's vigorously written history of postwar planning." Powers continued, "Beschloss is the author of half a dozen works of history with a special focus on how American presidents run the government and make decisions, and along the way he has learned to write with ease, confidence and a lively sense of character and scene." "Any scholar who has ever watched the approach of a library cart loaded with gray archival boxes will understand how much pure labor has gone into The Conquerors," wrote Powers. "But it was time well spent; this is history as it was spoken at the time, and there is not a dull page."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American History, April, 2003, Willie Drye, review of The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman, and the Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1941-1945, p. 62.
American Prospect, January 28, 2002, Eric Alterman, review of Reaching for Glory: Lyndon Johnson's Secret White House Tapes, 1964-1965, p. 34.
Biography, spring, 2003, Thomas Powers and Andrew Barrett, review of The Conquerors, p. 382.
Booklist, December 15, 2001, review of Reaching for Glory, p. 683; October 15, 2002, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Conquerors, p. 381.
Book World, February 4, 2001, review of The American Heritage Illustrated History of the Presidents, p. 11; December 16, 2001, review of Reaching for Glory, p. 7.
Business Week, November 11, 2002, Richard Dunham, "Laying the Foundations of a New Germany," p. 22.
Chicago Tribune Book World, April 27, 1986, p. 42.
CHOICE: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, June, 2002, S. K. Hauser, review of Reaching for Glory, p. 1867.
Columbia Journalism Review, March-April, 2002, Gloria Cooper, review of Reaching for Glory, p. 72.
Commentary, January, 2002, Mark Falcoff, review of Reaching for Glory, p. 63.
Foreign Affairs, January, 2002, review of Reaching for Glory, p. 214.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), August 16, 1986; June 29, 1991, p. C8.
History Today, May, 2003, review of The Conquerors, p. 84.
International Affairs, April, 1999, Keith Kyle, review of Taking Charge: Lyndon Johnson's Secret White House Tapes, 1963-1964, p. 421.
Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2002, review of The Conquerors, p. 1360.
Library Journal, February 1, 1998, Peter Josyph, review of Taking Charge, p. 131; November 15, 2000, Robert Nardini, review of The American Heritage Illustrated History of the Presidents, p. 58; January, 2002, Karl Helicher, review of Reaching for Glory, p. 121; November 1, 2002, Robert Nardini, review of The Conquerors, p. 103.
Los Angeles Times, May 14, 1980, p. 14; January 26, 2003, John Lukacs, "In WWII Reflection, the Battle Lines Blur," p. R-4.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 18, 1986, p. 10.
Maclean's, September 9, 1991, p. 46.
National Review, September 6, 1993, pp. 62-65.
New Statesman, August 30, 1991, p. 46.
Newsweek, May 26, 1986, p. 69; October 13, 1997, "Eavesdropping on Modern Times," p. 22; November 17, 1997, Meg Greenfield, "The Way It Really Was: Hard Evidence Like the LBJ Tapes Helps Us Cut through the Fog of 'Recovered Political Memory,'" p. 104.
New Yorker, August 26, 1991, pp. 77-79; January 25, 1993, pp. 105-108.
New York Review of Books, February 13, 1992, pp. 16-20.
New York Times, August 13, 1980; July 25, 1991; November 13, 2001, Michiko Kakutani, review of Reaching for Glory, p. E1; December 11, 2002, Richard Bernstein, "Snatching Complications from the Jaws of Victory," p. E7.
New York Times Book Review, June 22, 1980, p. 15; May 4, 1986, p. 7; August 23, 1987, p. 28; June 16, 1991, p. 3; October 10, 1997; October 19, 1997; December 30, 2001, George Stephanopoulos, review of Reaching for Glory, p. 8; January 6, 2002, review of Reaching for Glory, p. 18; January 13, 2002, review of Reaching for Glory, p. 22; June 2, 2002, review of Reaching for Glory, p. 27; June 30, 2002, Scott Veale and Adam Clymer, "Washington: New and Noteworthy Paperbacks," p. 20; November 3, 2002, Scott Veale, review of Reaching for Glory, p. 28; December 1, 2002, Thomas Powers, "Deciding Germany's Fate," p. 11.
Observer, August 25, 1991, p. 51.
Political Science Quarterly, fall, 1993, p. 544.
Presidential Studies Quarterly, September, 1999, Donald Robinson, review of Taking Charge, p. 713.
Publishers Weekly, March 14, 1986, p. 91; April 19, 1991, p. 50; May 31, 1991, pp. 56-57; November 3, 1997, pp. 41-42; September 30, 2002, review of The Conquerors, p. 59; November 18, 2002, Daisy Maryles, "Beschloss's Conquest," p. 18.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 16, 2001, Myron Marty, review of Reaching for Glory, p. F10.
School Library Journal, February, 2001, Claudia Moore, review of The American Heritage Illustrated History of the Presidents, p. 144.
Texas Monthly, November, 1997, Gregory Curtis, "Love, War, and LBJ," p. 9.
Time, May 6, 1991, p. 17; June 17, 1991, pp. 77-78; February 15, 1993, pp. 62-63.
Times Literary Supplement, May 14, 1993, p. 8.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), June 7, 1987, p. 4.
Washington Monthly, March, 2002, David J. Garrow, review of Reaching for Glory, p. 48.
Washington Post, May 22, 1980, pp. C1, C9; December 16, 2001, review of Reaching for Glory, p. T07.
Washington Post Book World, May 4, 1980, p. 5; April 6, 1986, p. 1; July 26, 1987, p. 12; November 2, 1997; November 3, 1997.
Bookreporter Web site, http://www.bookreporter.com/ (February 4, 2003), Curtis Edmonds, review of The Conquerors.
Public Broadcasting Service Web site, http://www.pbs.org/ (March 18, 2004), "Character Above All Biographies: Michael R. Beschloss."*