Chanoff, David 1943-
CHANOFF, David 1943-
PERSONAL: Born November 15, 1943, in Philadelphia, PA; son of William (a labor relations consultant) and Golda (a homemaker; maiden name, Levin) Chanoff; married Liisa Laikari (operator of catering business), February 18, 1968; children: Sasha, Olli, Molly. Ethnicity: "Jewish-American." Education: Johns Hopkins University, B.A., 1965; Brandeis University, M.A., 1967, Ph.D., 1973.
(With Truong Nhu Tang and Doan Van Toai) A Vietcong Memoir, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1985.
(With Doan Van Toai) The Vietnamese Gulag, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1986.
(With Doan Van Toai) Portrait of the Enemy, Random House (New York, NY), 1986, published as Vietnam: A Portrait of Its People at War, I. B. Tauris (London, England), 1996.
(With Diem Bui) In the Jaws of History, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1987.
(With Orrin DeForest) Slow Burn: The Rise and Bitter Fall of American Intelligence in Vietnam, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1990.
(With Kenneth Good) Into the Heart: One Man's Pursuit of Love and Knowledge among the Yanomama, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1991, published as Into the Heart: An Amazonian Love Story, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1991.
(With William Crowe, Jr.) The Line of Fire: From Washington to the Gulf, the Politics and Battles of the New Military, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1993.
(With Felix Zandman) Never the Last Journey, Schocken Books (New York, NY), 1995.
(With William Ungar) Destined to Live, University Press of America (Lanham, MD), 2000.
(With Ejovi Nuwere) Hacker Cracker: A Journey from the Mean Streets of Brooklyn to the Frontiers of Cyberspace, Morrow (New York, NY), 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: David Chanoff claims to live vicariously through the subjects of his published biographies. If this is true, then it must be a fascinating life he leads, because the people whose lives he has written about include heads of state, a former surgeon general of the United States, the past chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a Holocaust survivor, as well as a cyberspace criminal. The people whose stories Chanoff transposes into print all have one thing in common, he told Allison K. Jones in the Worcester, Massachusetts, Telegram & Gazette: "These people all had pretty remarkable persistence. That is one of the things you need for true accomplishment…. Something about their internal makeup gives them the determination to follow one course." Chanoff, too, has followed one course in his life; and that course has taken him around the world and has exposed him to the intimate details of some very fascinating characters.
Chanoff's first literary love was poetry, and in his doctoral dissertation at Brandeis University he wrote about John Donne, a seventeenth-century poet. However, after spending several years as an educator, Chanoff discovered his talent for writing collaborative nonfiction when he helped a friend write essays that were eventually published by several mainstream newspapers. Then, in 1982, he met the subject of his first book, Truong Nhu Tang, who was a Vietcong leader during the Vietnam War. Truong had written an essay about his life with the aid of Chanoff, and the essay received much attention when Truong read it before the U.N. General Assembly. When a publisher asked Truong to expand on the essay, Chanoff assisted him once again, turning the piece into an autobiography.
A Vietcong Memoir is an account of Truong's wartime experiences as a member of the National Liberation Front, which was formed in 1960 to help govern South Vietnam and promote its eventual reunification with North Vietnam. Truong survived years of guerilla warfare and imprisonment, during which time he was tortured, and ultimately served as a cabinet member in Vietnam's postwar government. However, he eventually came to detest his nation's communist rulers and in 1978 he fled to France. A Vietcong Memoir, which Truong and Chanoff produced with Doan Van Toai, has been hailed as a compelling portrait of life in turbulent times. Arnold R. Isaacs, writing in the Chicago Tribune, proclaimed the volume "an absorbing and moving autobiography, portraying a life of courage, sacrifice, extraordinary endurance and finally betrayed realism." A Vietcong Memoir, Isaacs declared, serves as "an important addition … to the larger human story of hope, violence and disillusion in the political life of our era."
Chanoff has also worked with A Vietcong Memoir collaborator Doan on The Vietnamese Gulag, which recounts Doan's harrowing experiences after the Vietnam conflict ended in the early 1970s. Doan, a Vietcong sympathizer during the war, was serving in the postwar communist government in 1975 when he was arrested for violating a trivial aspect of communist protocol. He spent the next three years in prison where he was forced to live under squalid conditions. After being freed in 1977, he left Vietnam for the United States where he has since been vociferous in his denunciations of the communist regime. The Vietnamese Gulag, declared John P. Roche in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, "shows that [Doan] paid in blood for his education."
In 1986 Chanoff and Doan collaborated once again on Portrait of the Enemy, in which they reproduce testimony from various Vietnamese who opposed foreign intervention in their country. Washington Post reviewer Robert A. Manning observed that the volume "contains fascinating portraits of a life on the other side in wartime Vietnam."
Chanoff followed Portrait of the Enemy with In the Jaws of History, which relates coauthor Diem Bui's experiences as an anticommunist in Vietnam during the war there. Diem was a civilian official who served from 1967 to 1972 as South Vietnam's ambassador to the United States, his job to persuade the U.S. government to continue funding and supporting the war effort. Diem's story not only encapsulates his experiences during the war but also offers an inside view of the Vietnam culture before the war. Alan Tonelson, in his appraisal of In the Jaws of History for the New York Times Book Review, found the volume speculative in its approach to key issues and developments.
Ariel Sharon, former Israeli defense minister, was a tough challenge for Chanoff. However, the biographer told Jones, "Once you learn to stand up to Ariel Sharon … you can stand up to any one." In 1989 Chanoff collaborated with Sharon on the autobiography Warrior. The book includes accounts of Sharon's battlefield triumphs during the Arab-Israeli wars, conflicts sparked by issues involving the sovereignty of the state of Israel and the rights of Palestinians in the Middle East. Notable in the book are depictions of Sharon's success over Egyptian forces in 1967's Six Day War and his charge on the Suez Canal in 1973's October War. In addition, Warrior reveals Sharon's personal hardships—a son died in a shooting accident—and relates his political achievements, including his controversial conduct as Israel's minister of defense in the 1980s, as Israel vigorously pursued the destruction of the Palestinian Liberation army in Lebanon. Augustus Richard Norton, writing in Chicago's Tribune Books, acknowledged that "Sharon casts a hefty shadow in Israel's modern history." Warrior, Norton added, "is a fascinating, often intriguing, sometimes deceptive account of a life in war and peace, but mostly in war."
Coauthored with Chanoff, Slow Burn: The Rise and Bitter Fall of American Intelligence in Vietnam recounts Orrin DeForest's service as a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) interrogation officer in Vietnam both during and after the war there. In the book, DeForest claims credit for developing the intelligence team that provided most of the key data to the CIA's Saigon office. Robert Manning conceded in the New York Times Book Review that Slow Burn is "selfserving," but he added that it is also "a disturbing tale of Central Intelligence Agency obduracy, thickheadedness, incompetence and nasty infighting."
Chanoff teams with anthropologist Kenneth Good on Into the Heart: One Man's Pursuit of Love and Knowledge among the Yanomama. The volume relates Good's experiences and observations as he intermittently lived among South America's semi-nomadic Yanomama Indians of Venezuela and Brazil for more than ten years. These particular tribes had previously been known for their aggressive violence. However, Good reveals the sometimes-violent behavior of the Yanomamas is tempered by a softer, and also more complex, nature ignored by earlier studies. Their adaptation to the harsh conditions of their rain-forest environment Good found to be impressively resourceful. Good became so fascinated with the Yanomama culture that he courted and married Yarima, a Yanomama woman. He recounts this particular incident with great passion but does not fail to mention the considerable culture clash caused by his involvement. Among the enthusiasts of Into the Heart was Brian Kelly, who described the book in the Washington Post as "crisply told" and "oddly engrossing."
William Crowe is the subject of Chanoff's The Line of Fire: From Washington to the Gulf, the Politics and Battles of the New Military. Crowe, who served under presidents Reagan and Bush, describes in length his involvement in the downfall of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, the confrontation with Libyan leader Muammar Khaddafy, and the evolution of U.S. involvement in the Gulf War. In The Line of Fire Crowe claims he was not a truly military man, but rather more of a politician. According to Eliot A. Cohen in a review for Foreign Affairs, Crowe is not afraid to admit that the new military leaders consider "bureaucratic adroitness an essential virtue." This characteristic assisted him in becoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and in his book he offers an insider's view of how high-level decisions in the military are made. For a Publishers Weekly reviewer, the most touching part of this biography is the sensitive retelling of Crowe's relationship with his Soviet counterpart, Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev, who committed suicide after the fall of the Soviet Union.
In 1995, then again in 2000, Chanoff helped two Holocaust survivors tell their stories. Never the Last Journey relates the harrowing experiences of Felix Zandman, a Polish man who hid from the Nazis for a year and a half in a cramped pit beneath a farmer's house. Zandman was only sixteen at the time, and when he finally emerged he discovered that his family and most of the inhabitants of his small town had been obliterated. Zandman would go on to become the C.E.O. of Vishay Intertechnology, a Fortune 500 electronics firm. "This is an inspiring, heartbreaking document," wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer. The title of the book is taken from a Yiddish freedom fighters' anthem; according to David Rouse in Booklist, this song "symbolizes overcoming the grimmest of adversities." Another book dealing with the Holocaust is Chanoff's Destined to Live, written in collaboration with William Ungar. A young Polish soldier at the time he lost his wife and son during the German occupation of his country, Ungar is one of the founders of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Museum of Jewish Heritage of the City of New York.
Joycelyn Elders, M.D.: From Sharecropper's Daughter to Surgeon General of the United States of America is, in the least, an inspiring tale, most critics have concluded. The story of Elders relates an incredible journey which took her from the cotton fields of Arkansas to the heart of politics in Washington, D.C. Chanoff worked with Elders, helping her, as Francine Prose noted in People, "to dispel the gossip that surrounded her confirmation hearings and … [eventual] dismissal" by President Bill Clinton from her government post. Elders was a controversial surgeon general because she spoke her mind; her advocacy of a very liberal sex-education program for teenagers, which many conservative politicians found deplorable, ultimately forced her resignation. Despite her political struggles, as Library Journal's James Swanton explained, Elders "left a legacy of progressive thought … that still challenges our society."
From surgeon general to Internet hacker, Chanoff collaborated with Ejovi Nuwere to write Hacker Cracker: A Journey from the Mean Streets of Brooklyn to the Frontiers of Cyberspace. This 2002 book is a story about a young man who first learns to become an expert computer hacker, then turns his life around and becomes a computer security specialist. Details of Nuwere's life are both terrifying and inspiring, and his circumstances could have taken him down a very different path in life. Youthful crimes include stealing credit-card numbers from the Internet; however, by the age of seventeen Nuwere decided to change his course and become legitimate, using his intelligence to prevent other hackers from doing the same things he had learned to do. In an interview with a writer for the online Spectrum, Nuwere explained: "There's no money to be made in stealing credit cards, or to be made in destroying. All the money is made in repairing and building. When I realized that, I decided to focus on enhancing my creative abilities and not my attacking or destroying abilities." However, he also discovered that there are moral issues involved in hacking. While working for an Internet service provider he finally came to understand how much trouble hackers cause, and he added that the changes in his life are based on reasons other than just money. Tracy Grant in Black Issues Book Review called Hacker Cracker "an engaging story about survival and success," while Owen Laster in a Publishers Weekly review called it "an empathetic, revealing account of a new breed of insurgents."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Argna, Marie, editor, The Writing Life, Public Affairs, 2003.
Black Issues Book Review, November-December, 2002, Tracy Grant, review of Hacker Cracker: A Journey from the Mean Streets of Brooklyn to the Frontiers of Cyberspace, p. 48.
Booklist, March 1, 1993, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Line of Fire: From Washington to the Gulf, the Politics and Battles of the New Military, pp. 1136-1137; June 1, 1995, David Rouse, review of Never the Last Journey, p. 1724; September 1, 1996, Donna Seaman, review of Joycelyn Elders, M.D.: From Sharecropper's Daughter to Surgeon General of the United States of America, p. 3.
Chicago Tribune, April 28, 1985.
Foreign Affairs, summer, 1990, p. 173; summer, 1993, Eliot A. Cohen, review of The Line of Fire, p. 196.
Journal of Asian Studies, May, 1998, William Duiker, review of Vietnam: A Portrait of Its People at War, pp. 598-599.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2002, review of Hacker Cracker, p. 1203.
Library Journal, April 15, 1993, John Yurechko, review of The Line of Fire, p. 112; September 15, 1996, James Swanton, review of Joycelyn Elders, M.D., p. 75, Margaret W. Norton, review of Vietnam, p. 78; October 1, 2002, Hilary Burton, review of Hacker Cracker, p. 120.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, April 28, 1985, p. 3; June 1, 1986, pp. 3, 10; January 6, 1991, pp. 2, 5.
New York Review of Books, May 30, 1985, p. 11.
New York Times Book Review, May 26, 1985, p. 12; July 13, 1986, p. 17; November 30, 1986, p. 23; September 13, 1987, p. 16; April 22, 1990, p. 12; January 6, 1991, p. 29; May 23, 1993, David Alan Rosenberg, review of The Line of Fire, p. 20.
People Weekly, November 4, 1996, Francine Prose, review of Joycelyn Elders, M.D., p. 46.
Publishers Weekly, February 22, 1993, review of The Line of Fire, p. 73; May 15, 1995, review of Never the Last Journey, p. 64; September 2, 1996, review of Vietnam, p. 106; September 2, 1996, review of Joycelyn Elders, M.D., p. 103; September 2, 2002, Owen Laster, review of Hacker Cracker, p. 66.
Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA), January 16, 1996, Allison K. Jones, "Chronicling the Rich and Famous—Chanoff Finds His Muse through Autobiographies," p. C1.
Times Literary Supplement, March 15, 1991, p. 9.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), September 3, 1989, p. 3.
Washington Monthly, November, 1989, p. 55.
Washington Post, July 11, 1986; January 6, 1987; February 5, 1991, p. C3.
Washington Post Book World, April 21, 1985.
Spectrum,http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/ (February 3, 2003), "Portrait of the Hacker As a Young Man."