Bierman, John 1929(?)-
BIERMAN, John 1929(?)-
PERSONAL: Born c. 1929.
ADDRESSES: Home—Cyprus. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Penguin Books, Ltd., 80 The Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England.
CAREER: Author, documentary filmmaker, editor, and journalist. Editor of daily newspapers in Britain, East Africa, and the West Indies; Maclean's, foreign affairs writer; Observer (London, England), correspondent and editor; British Broadcasting Corporation, television correspondent.
Odyssey, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1984.
Napoleon III and His Carnival Empire, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1988.
Dark Safari: The Life behind the Legend of Henry Morton Stanley, Knopf (New York, NY), 1990.
(With Colin Smith) Fire in the Night: Wingate of Burma, Ethiopia, and Zion, Random House (New York, NY), 1999.
(With Colin Smith) The Battle of Alamein: Turning Point, World War II, Viking Press (New York, NY), 2002, published as Alamein: War without Hate, Viking (Lonodn, England), 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: Veteran British journalist John Bierman is the author of several biographies and has cowritten others with journalist Colin Smith. Bierman has covered several wars and conflicts for British newspapers and worked as a television journalist for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
Bierman's first book, Righteous Gentile: The Story of Raoul Wallenberg, Missing Hero of the Holocaust, is the story of Swedish businessman Raoul Wallenberg, who, appointed to President Franklin Roosevelt's War Refugee Board, saved more than 10,000 Hungarian Jews from Nazi death camps in 1944. Wallenberg used every tactic he could, including issuing thousands of false Swedish passports and citizenship certificates, in an attempt to prevent the Nazis from deporting Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz. In January 1945, after the Russian army liberated Budapest from German control, Wallenberg scheduled a meeting with the Soviets in order to appeal for a postwar plan for Hungary, as well as for food and supplies the country's citizens desperately needed; shortly after the meeting he was taken into Soviet custody. Wallenberg's fate after he was taken prisoner has been shrouded in secrecy. Bierman's book analyzes the Soviet government's contradictory statements regarding Wallenberg's imprisonment; the thirty-year effort to rescue Wallenberg from his assumed imprisonment; statements made by former Soviet prisoners who claim to have known Wallenberg while in prison; and theories of Wallenberg's alleged murder at the hands of the Soviets. Cathleen Schine, of the New York Times Book Review, called the book "a readable, undistinguished account" and wrote that while Bierman "offers little insight into this energetically selfless man, … he does provide a clear account of the facts." Leonard Schapiro, in the New York Review of Books, commented that Bierman tells the story of the suffering of Jews in Budapest "most skillfully, with much detail." The research Bierman conducted on the topic led to him produce a documentary film about Wallenberg for broadcast on the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Bierman's 1984 book Odyssey is the true story of a group of some five hundred Jews who, in 1940, escaped Nazi-occupied Slovakia in the paddle steamboat Pentcho. The group traveled down the Danube River with hopes of reaching the Black Sea, which could lead them to the Aegean Sea, into the Mediterranean Sea, and finally to the coast of Palestine. Their captain was a one-legged morphine addict and alcoholic who nevertheless showed amazing skill in guiding the boat. After having made it through the Black Sea, the steamboat's engines failed and the ship was wrecked in the Aegean Sea. Rescued passengers were taken prisoner by Italian forces, but after four years, 350 of the refugees were allowed to enter Palestine. New York Times Book Review contributor Robert P. Mills described the book as "a tale of adventure and of people reacting in highly individual ways to adversity." A Publishers Weekly reviewer called it "an incredible tale, gripping and moving."
Napoleon III and His Carnival Empire is a biography of Louis Napoleon, president and self-proclaimed emperor of France from 1848 to 1870. Louis Napoleon was a hedonistic but lovable womanizer who eventually married Eugénie de Montijo of Spain. Together they perpetuated a number of ill-conceived wars and oversaw a foreign policy born out of ignorance. Yet, Napoleon III rebuilt Paris and developed it into a much-admired city. He also bravely stood with his army during the Prussian invasion of France. In a review of the book for Maclean's, John Bemrose wrote, "Briskly and intelligently told, Napoleon III is one of those rare works that turns history from a dusty list of kings and dates to an irresistible narrative." A Publishers Weekly reviewer commented that Bierman's "populist portrait strips away the tawdry trappings of the Second Empire far more revealingly than many scholarly studies." A contributor to the Economist viewed the book in a more negative light, saying that although Bierman's account is "spirited" and that he "sensibly emphasizes" Napoleon III's grasp of the politics of his day, the author's "focus is so relentlessly biographical … that it lacks context" and "leaves Louis Napoleon as Mr. Bierman found him, an enigma." However, in a review for Library Journal, William C. McCully called the book a "balanced and readable portrait of a frequently misunderstood ruler."
Bierman's 1990 work Dark Safari: The Life behind the Legend of Henry Morton Stanley is the biography of Sir Henry Morton Stanley, the Welsh-born journalist and explorer who became famous after he journeyed to Africa in 1871 to find the reclusive missionary Dr. David Livingstone. Stanley was born John Rowlands, the son of a housemaid, and was abandoned at a workhouse for the poor at the age of five. He escaped the workhouse at age fifteen, and three years later boarded a ship for New Orleans, where he met a kindly benefactor, Henry Hope Stanley. Shortly thereafter, he changed his name to Henry Stanley; he later added the middle name "Morton" for distinction. He fought briefly in the American Civil War and afterward became both a journalist and explorer, traveling to and writing about the American West, Africa, and Turkey. Stanley took on the assignment of exploring Africa in order to find Dr. Livingstone because his publisher at the New York Herald wanted the spectacular scoop for his newspaper. With a large entourage of porters, Stanley made his way across the African terrain before locating Livingstone and arranging to meet him. Upon first greeting the doctor, he uttered his famous line, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"
In a review of Dark Safari for the New Republic, Christopher Hope observed, "Among the most valuable qualities of Bierman's book are its constant reminders that Africa existed, to European and Arab, merely to be plundered: Africans were caught between the gun-happy, whip-wielding European explorers and the death-dealing business of the Arab slavers." However, commenting on Stanley's greeting to Livingstone, Hope said, "Bierman's embarrassment at Stanley's character is one of the few things about his book that leave me uneasy." A contributor to the Economist noted that the book has "verve and pace." In a review for Publishers Weekly, Genevieve Stuttaford called it a "stimulating, well-documented biography."
Bierman and fellow journalist Smith collaborated on Fire in the Night: Wingate of Burma, Ethiopia, and Zion, the biography of British General Orde Wingate, whom some have viewed as a military extremist and others as one of the forefathers of modern special operations. The authors drew on newly released personal papers of Wingate's, as well as interviews with retired soldiers who served with him. Wingate grew up in a strict fundamentalist Christian family; in the late 1930s he became a dedicated Zionist. While stationed in Palestine, he helped Jewish immigrants defend their settlements against Arab protesters. He and his small force, known as the "Patriots," also played an important role in returning ousted Emperor Haile Selassie to the throne of Ethiopia. Wingate was sent to Burma during World War II to counter the Japanese occupation, and testimonial accounts describe Wingate's actions as a chief factor in Japanese withdrawal. Wingate was killed in a plane crash in Burma in 1944, at the height of his career.
In a review of Fire in the Night for the New York Times Book Review, Annette Kobak called it a "fastpaced but conventional retelling of Wingate's story" by authors who "know the geographical and military terrain well and understand the lot of the ordinary soldier." A Publishers Weekly contributor concluded, "With balanced judgment and a sharp eye for revealing details, Bierman and Smith bring a neglected warrior back to life." Gilbert Taylor, of Booklist, called the book a "wholly interesting narrative." Hugh Toye, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, described the book as "an illuminating study" and added that "the authors are to be congratulated on an excellent, readable book." In the American Spectator, Edward Grossman concluded that Fire in the Night "may rank as the best" of several books about Wingate and that it combines "vivid storytelling with a grasp of the most important thing in Wingate's life, the 'political idea that made him whole.'"
Bierman and Smith joined forces again to write The Battle of Alamein: Turning Point, World War II, in order to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary, in 2002, of the battle that decided which world power would control northern Africa during the war. The famous battle between German, Italian, and African troops against the American and British allied forces took place in the Egyptian desert. In compiling their account, the authors conducted interviews with surviving veterans and thus are able to provide a detailed account from the point of view of both soldiers and leaders. Los Angeles Times reviewer John Lukacs found the authors' research to be "faultless." The book also discusses the role noted German spy Laszlo Almasy played in the struggle for control of northern Africa.
In a review of The Battle of Alamein, a Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that "The descriptions of the battles are well-crafted and easily accessible to the nonspecialist." A contributor to the Virginia Quarterly Review commented that the book, although not a must-have for serious students of World War II, "makes good casual reading for military history buffs." James H. Clifford, writing in Armor, praised The Battle of Alamein, saying that the "narrative … will hold the reader spellbound from beginning to end…. Personalities come to life on these pages making Churchill, Hitler, Mussolini, Rommel, Alexander, and Montgomery more than historical figures. Here they are real men fighting a real war." Robert S. Redmond, writing in the Contemporary Review, pointed out that the authors had made two small errors in details but that apart from those, "the book is a masterly and worthy account of a crucial period in our history." Writing for the Journal of Military History, Colin F. Baxter concluded that "the authors offer the reader a fast-paced, fascinating panorama of the events and people that surround the Battle of El Alamein," and concluded that the work is "military history at its best."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Spectator, March, 2000, Edward Grossman, "Code Name: The Friend," pp. 60-62.
Armor, May-June, 2003, James H. Clifford, review of The Battle of Alamein: Turning Point, World War II, p. 52.
Booklist, November 15, 1999, Gilbert Taylor, review of Fire in the Night: Wingate of Burma, Ethiopia, and Zion, p. 595.
Contemporary Review, October, 2000, George Evans, "The Eccentric Hero: Orde Wingate," pp. 247-248; June, 2003, Robert S. Redmond, "A Masterly Account of Alamein," pp. 372-373.
Economist, April 15, 1989, review of Napoleon III and His Carnival Empire, p. 100.
Economist (U.St.), March 9, 1991, review of Dark Safari: The Life behind the Legend of Henry Morton Stanley, p. 88.
Forbes, November 27, 2000, Steve Forbes, "Fact and Comment," p. 39.
Journal of Military History, April, 2003, Colin F. Baxter, review of The Battle of Alamein, pp. 603-605.
Leatherneck, January, 2001, Bob Loring, review of Fire in the Night, pp. 61-62.
Library Journal, September 1, 1988, William C. McCully, review of Napoleon III and His Carnival Empire, p. 167.
Los Angeles Times, November 24, 2002, John Lukacs, "Where the Beginning of World War II Came to an End," p. R11.
Maclean's, October 3, 1988, John Bemrose, "Empire of Hedonism," p. 51.
Military Review, January-February, 2001, Peter Molin, review of Fire in the Night, pp. 103-104.
New Republic, March 25, 1991, Christopher Hope, review of Dark Safari, p. 36.
New Yorker, November 9, 1981, review of Righteous Gentile: The Story of Raoul Wallenberg, Missing Hero of the Holocaust, pp. 209-210.
New York Review of Books, November 5, 1981, Leonard Schapiro, "A Good Man," pp. 3-4.
New York Times Book Review, January 10, 1982, Cathleen Schine, review of Righteous Gentile, p. 12; April 21, 1985, Robert P. Mills, review of Odyssey, p. 25; January 16, 2000, Annette Kobak, "The Naked General," p. 9.
Publishers Weekly, October 12, 1984, review of Odyssey, p. 44; June 17, 1988, review of Napoleon III and His Carnival Empire, p. 55; September 28, 1990, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of Dark Safari, p. 92; December 6, 1999, review of Fire in the Night, p. 65; November 4, 2002, review of The Battle of Alamein, p. 72.
Spectator (London, England), February 26, 2000, Philip Ziegler, "Zealous for Zion," p. 40.
Times Literary Supplement, August 18, 2000, Hugh Toye, "The Comet's Trail," p. 30.
Virginia Quarterly Review, spring, 2003, review of The Battle of Alamein, p. 46.
Washington Post, November 17, 2002, Victorino Matus, "A Daring Raid, a Desperate Escape, and a Determining Battle," p. 12.
Penguin Books Web site, http://www.penguin.co.uk/ (October 18, 2003), "John Bierman."
Random House Web site, http://randomhouse.com/ (October 28, 2003), "John Bierman."*