Cohen, William S. 1940- (William Sebastian Cohen)

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Cohen, William S. 1940- (William Sebastian Cohen)


Born August 28, 1940, in Bangor, ME; son of Reuben and Clara Cohen; married Janet Langhart (a television personality), 1996; children: Kevin, Christopher. Education: Bowdoin College, B.A. (cum laude), 1962; Boston University, LL.B., 1965. Politics: Republican. Religion: Unitarian-Universalist.


Home—Washington, DC. Office—The Cohen Group, 1200 19th St., NW, Ste. 400, Washington, DC 20036.


Writer, attorney, politician. Admitted to Maine Bar, 1965; Paine, Cohen, Lynch, Weatherbee & Kobritz (law firm), Bangor, ME, partner, 1966-72; U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC, Republican representative from Maine, 1973-79; U.S. Senate, Washington, DC, Republican senator from Maine, 1979-97; U.S. Secretary of Defense, 1997-2001. Cohen Group, chairman, CEO. Instructor at Husson College, 1966, and University of Maine, 1968-72. Member of board of trustees of Unity College and board of overseers of Bowdoin College, 1973-85. Member of Bangor zoning board of appeals, 1967-69, member of city council, 1969-72, chairman of finance committee, 1970-71, member of school board, 1970-71, mayor, 1972. Assistant county attorney of Penobscot County, 1968-70. Member of Governor's State Credit Research Committee, 1968. Critical Path, board of directors, 2002—; Cendant Corporation, board of directors; American International Group (AIG), board of directors, 2004—.


American Trial Lawyers Association, Maine Trial Lawyers Association (vice-president, 1970-72).


Fellow of John F. Kennedy Institute of Politics, 1972; LL.D., St. Joseph's College, 1974, University of Maine, 1975, Western New England College, 1975, Bowdoin College, 1975, and Nasson College, 1975; named Outstanding Young Man of the Year, National Jaycees, 1975; Alumni Award, Boston University, 1976, for distinguished public service; Silver Anniversary Medal, National Collegiate Athletic Association, 1987; Balfour Silver Anniversary All-American Team selection, National Association of Basketball Coaches of the United States, 1987.



Roll Call: One Year in the United States Senate, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1981.

Getting the Most out of Washington, Facts on File (New York, NY), 1982.

Europe and the Middle East: Strains of Key Elements on America's Vital Interests, report to the Committee on Armed Services, United States Senate, April 23, 1982, U.S. G.P.O. (Washington, DC), 1982.

(Contributor) U.S. Strategic Airlift Choices, Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis (Cambridge, MA), 1986.

(With George J. Mitchell) Men of Zeal: A Candid Inside Story of the Iran-Contra Hearings, Viking (New York, NY), 1988.

Easy Prey: The Fleecing of America's Senior Citizens—and How to Stop It, Marlowe & Co. (New York, NY), 1997.

Public Statements of William S. Cohen, Secretary of Defense, 1997, Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense (Washington, DC), 1997.

(Editor) Suicide and the Elderly: A Population at Risk, hearing before the Special Committee on Aging, DIANE Publishing (Collingdale, PA), 1998.

(Editor) Social Security Reform Options: Preparing for the 21st Century, hearing before the Special Committee on Aging, U.S. Senate, DIANE Publishing (Collingdale, PA), 1998.

(Author of foreword) Joshua Lederberg, editor, Biological Weapons: Limiting the Threat, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 1999.

(Editor) United States Security Strategy for the East Asia Pacific Region, DIANE Publishing (Collingdale, PA), 1999.

(Contributor) Proliferation: Threat and Response, Office of the Secretary of Defense (Washington, DC), 2001.

From Conflict to Cooperation: Writing a New Chapter in U.S.-Arab Relations: a Report of the CSIS Advisory Committee on U.S. Policy in the Arab World, Center for Strategic and International Studies (Washington, DC), 2005.

Love in Black and White: A Memoir of Race, Religion, and Romance, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (Lanham, MD), 2007.


Of Sons and Seasons (poetry), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1978.

(With Gary Hart) The Double Man (novel), Morrow (New York, NY), 1985.

A Baker's Nickel (poetry), Morrow (New York, NY), 1986.

One-Eyed Kings (novel), Nan A. Talese/Doubleday (New York, NY), 1991.

(With Thomas B. Allen) Murder in the Senate (novel), Nan A. Talese (New York, NY), 1993.

Dragon Fire (novel), St. Martin's (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to periodicals. Assistant editor in chief, journal of American Trial Lawyers Association, coeditor of volumes 32 and 33; editor, journal of Maine Trial Lawyers Association.


Republican Senator William S. Cohen first found himself in the national limelight when in 1974, as a freshman representative from Maine, he crossed party lines to cast the deciding vote on the House Judiciary Committee motion to subpoena President Richard Nixon's Watergate tapes. He continued to gain attention of a more literary sort for The Double Man, a mystery novel written with former presidential candidate and senator Gary Hart. The idea for the novel sprung from a late-night meeting between the two senators, when each confessed they would rather be writing a novel than waiting for the end of a filibuster. "Within about 25 minutes we wrote an outline that never changed," Cohen told Washington Post Book World reporter Bill Peterson. "It was a spontaneous kind of thing. A lark really. If I hadn't run into Gary that night it never would have happened." The resultant thriller, which took the two over four years to finish, follows the investigations of Senator Tom Chandler into possible connections between assassinations of the Secretary of State's family, murders of both suspects and agents, and the KGB and CIA.

Nicholas von Hoffman wrote in the New Republic that The Double Man "is one thriller dull enough to be sent out under the franking privilege," adding that "every page, every paragraph, every sentence has been scoured and scrubbed clean of life and interest by two men dedicated to making sure that nothing appears between the covers that their opponents can use against them in the next campaign." But other critics found the novel interesting for its insights into the workings of the Senate: "What is lacking in style and flow," remarked Los Angeles Times writer Dick Roraback, "is made up in insight into the works, quirks and perks of the U.S. Congress and, in particular, the Senate Intelligence Committee, on which both authors have served." Detroit News contributor Jay Carr similarly noted that "the senators expertly and matter-of-factly limn the complicated and pressure-ridden workings of a senator's staff." The critic also observed, however, that "oddly enough, the talk between senators—even senators who are supposed to be longtime friends—is stilted and calculated." In contrast to criticisms of the book's plot, Washington Post Book World contributor Jack Beatty found that "The Double Man is as crammed with surprises as a rigged box of Cracker Jacks…. [Cohen and Hart] advance a frighteningly informed hypothesis about the reason for killing intelligence agents." And Carr admitted that "in the end, it isn't the senators' inside information that makes their book stand up and march; it's their enthusiasm and their giddy escalation of Cold War heroics that William Buckley Jr. hasn't thought of yet." Concluded the critic: "One can't help feeling it took Cohen and Hart a while before they began having fun writing this book. When they finally do, we do, too."

Cohen's collaboration with Hart is not his first venture into publishing, however, for he has also written two volumes of poetry, the first of which, Of Sons and Seasons, was a best seller in his home state of Maine. "I write about common themes and try to arrange words in a way to create a maximum emotional effect with a minimum of words—I get a great pleasure out of writing—period," Cohen told Barbara Gamarekian in the New York Times. "The fact is, I spend most of my time writing legislation, and I used to even like writing briefs—using language to create a visual image." Cohen never intended on publishing his poetry, as he told Gamarekian: "It's really just a hobby. It's not great poetry—but for me it is important to try to freeze time, to hold in my mind the memory of an event." Cohen concluded by comparing his poetry to "photographs—I can go back and read them and experience the whole sensation I felt when I wrote it."

Cohen remained in the United States Senate until 1997, when he became the Secretary of Defense in the Bill Clinton administration. Leaving that post in 2001, he established the Cohen Group, an international consulting firm, and has continued to write both fiction and nonfiction. Cohen used his experiences as Secretary of Defense in his 2006 thriller Dragon Fire. In this fictional treatment, a new Secretary of Defense, Michael Santini, discovers shady doings investigating the death of his predecessor, and is also faced with a nuclear challenge from another country. Reviewing the work in Booklist, David Pitt felt it "definitely benefits from the author's insider knowledge of the subject." However, Pitt also complained of "slightly leaden dialogue and a narrative that tends to saunter when it should be racing." A Kirkus Reviews critic was less enthusiastic about the novel, concluding, "Barely disguised talking points and a very long setup test the patience of thrill-seeking intrigue fans." However, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, writing in the Weekly Standard, had a higher assessment of Dragon Fire, noting: "Cohen's novel will cause readers to think about both how dangerous the world can be, and how rapidly a threat can emerge from directions we are not currently thinking about." A Publishers Weekly contributor felt "fans of espionage and intrigue will surely appreciate this political thriller for its authentic glimpse behind the doors of power."

With his 2007 nonfiction title Love in Black and White: A Memoir of Race, Religion, and Romance, Cohen again uses personal experience to inform his text. Cohen examines the changes in race relations in the United States through the lens of his own marriage to the African American television personality, Janet Langhart. Booklist contributor Vanessa Bush found this "an inspiring story of two high-profile people … of different racial and religious backgrounds who managed to overcome the long and troubled history of race and romance in the U.S."



Cohen, William S., Love in Black and White: A Memoir of Race, Religion, and Romance, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (Lanham, MD), 2007.


Booklist, June 1, 2006, David Pitt, review of Dragon Fire, p. 42; February 15, 2007, Vanessa Bush, review of Love in Black and White, p. 18.

Business Wire, February 2, 2004, "AIG Elects William S. Cohen to Board of Directors," p. 5972.

Detroit News, May 5, 1985, Jay Carr, review of The Double Man.

Directors & Boards, summer, 2001, "William S. Cohen, at Full Throttle."

Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2006, review of Dragon Fire, p. 590.

Los Angeles Times, June 27, 1985, Dick Roraback, review of The Double Man, p. 22.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, February 1, 1981, review of Roll Call: One Year in the United States Senate.

New Republic, June 3, 1978, Nicholas von Hoffman, review of Of Sons and Season; May 27, 1985, review of The Double Man.

New York Times, April 12, 1978, Barbara Gamarekian, review of Of Sons and Seasons.

New York Times Book Review, March 1, 1981, review of Roll Call, p. 10; May 5, 1985, review of The Double Man.

Publishers Weekly, May 15, 2006, review of Dragon Fire, p. 47.

Time, November 20, 1978, review of Of Sons and Seasons; May 6, 1985, review of The Double Man.

Washington Monthly, January 1, 2001, "Who's Who," p. 12.

Washington Post Book World, April 7, 1985, Bill Peterson, interview with Cohen, Jack Beatty, review of The Double Man.

Weekly Standard, December 25, 2006, Newt Gingrich, "Dangerous Places; a Fictional Treatment of an All-too-real World."

Wireless Week, August 5, 2002, "Former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen Has Joined the Board of Directors for Software and Services Provider Critical Path," p. 13.


American International Group Web site, (June 6, 2007), "William S. Cohen."

Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, (June 6, 2006), "The Honorable William S. Cohen."

Cohen Group Web site, (June 6, 2007), "About Us."

U.S. Department of Defense Web site, (June 6, 2007), "William S. Cohen."

Washington Post Online, (May 31, 2006), David S. Hilzenrath, "From Public Life to Private Business."