Fleming, Thomas 1927–

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Fleming, Thomas 1927–

(Thomas James Fleming)

PERSONAL: Born July 5, 1927, in Jersey City, NJ; son of Thomas James (a politician) and Katherine (a teacher) Fleming; married Alice Mulcahey (a writer), January 19, 1951; children: Alice, Thomas, David, Richard. Education: Fordham University, A.B., 1950, graduate study in social work, 1951. Politics: Democrat.

ADDRESSES: Home—315 E. 72nd St., New York, NY 10021. Agent—Phillippa Brophy, Stirling Lord Literistic, Inc., 65 Bleecker St., New York, NY 10012. E-mail[email protected].

CAREER: Writer. Yonker's Herald Statesman, Yonkers, NY, reporter, 1951; Reader's Digest, Pleasantville, NY, assistant to Fulton Oursler, 1951–52; Oursler Estate, literary executor, 1952–54; Cosmopolitan, New York, NY, associate editor, 1954–58, executive editor, 1958–61; full-time writer, beginning 1961. National Center for the American Revolution at Valley Forge, PA, senior scholar. Consultant on U.S. Bicentennial to Corporation for Public Broadcasting; consultant for the television movie The American Revolution, History Channel, 1994. Principal commentator for Public Broadcasting System (PBS) documentary Long Journey Home, the Story of the Irish in America, and for PBS documentary on West Point celebrating its 200th anniversary, 2002. History News Network, board member, 2001. Military service: U.S. Navy, 1945–46.

MEMBER: Society of American Historians, American PEN (president, 1971–73), Society of Magazine Writers (president, 1967–68), American Revolution Round Table (chairman, 1970–81), Century Association, Dutch Treat Club.

AWARDS, HONORS: Achievement Award, 1961, and Encaenia Award, 1966, both from Fordham University; Brotherhood award, National Conference of Christians and Jews, 1963, for article "Religious Abuse"; Annual Book Award for best history book, Colonial Dames of America, 1970, for The Man from Monticello: An Intimate Life of Thomas Jefferson, and 1972, for The Man Who Dared the Lightning: A New Look at Benjamin Franklin; Christopher Award, The Christophers, 1970, for The Man from Monticello; The Man from Monticello was named one of the outstanding books of the year by the New York Times, 1970; award of merit, American Association for State and Local History, 1973, for The Forgotten Victory: The Battle for New Jersey; Religious Book Award, Catholic Press Association, 1974, for The Good Shepherd; named distinguished fellow, New Jersey Historical Society, 1975; 1776: Year of Illusions was named one of the outstanding books of the year by American Library Association, 1975; New Jersey Historical Commission Award, 1975, for "unique contributions to the expansion of public knowledge about New Jersey history through the complementary roles of historian and novelist"; Annual Book Award, American Revolution Round Table, 1976, for 1776; ARRT prize, 1997, for Liberty: The American Revolution, and 1999, for Duel: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Future of America; Distinguished Article award, Army Historical Foundation, 2000, for "From the Hudson to the Halls of Montezuma"; American Revolution Roundtable of Philadelphia's Thomas Fleming book award instituted in author's name, 2001; Bu-rack Award, Boston University, 2001, for lifetime contribution to American literature; Abraham Lincoln Award, Union League Club of New York, 2003; Fraunces Tavern Award, Sons of the American Revolution in the State of New York, 2005, for best book on the American Revolution, 2006, for Washington's Secret War: The Hidden History of Valley Forge; Owen Grundy Award, Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy, 2006, for Mysteries of My Father; citations for writing from American Foundation of Religion and Psychiatry and Family Service Association.



Now We Are Enemies: The Battle of Bunker Hill, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1960.

Beat the Last Drum: The Siege of Yorktown, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1963.

One Small Candle: The Pilgrims' First Year in America, Norton (New York, NY), 1964.

(Editor) Affectionately Yours, George Washington: A Self-Portrait in Letters of Friendship, Norton (New York, NY), 1967.

First in Their Hearts: A Biography of George Washington, Norton (New York, NY), 1968.

The Man from Monticello: An Intimate Life of Thomas Jefferson, Morrow (New York, NY), 1969.

West Point: The Men and Times of the United States Military Academy, Morrow (New York, NY), 1969.

Behind the Headlines: Great Moments in American Newspaper History, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1970.

The Man Who Dared the Lightning: A New Look at Benjamin Franklin, Morrow (New York, NY), 1971.

(Editor) Benjamin Franklin: A Biography in His Own Words, Newsweek Books (New York, NY), 1972.

The Forgotten Victory: The Battle for New Jersey, Reader's Digest Press (New York, NY), 1973.

1776: Year of Illusions, Norton (New York, NY), 1975.

New Jersey: A Bicentennial History, Norton (New York, NY), 1977, American Association for State and Local History (Nashville, TN), 1984.

The First Stroke: Lexington and Concord and the Beginning of the American Revolution, Division of Publications (Washington, DC), 1978.

(Editor; as Thomas Fleming) The Living Land of Lincoln, Reader's Digest Press (New York, NY), 1980.

Cowpens: "Downright Fighting," Division of Publications (Washington, DC), 1988.

Liberty!: The American Revolution (companion to PBS television series of the same title), Viking (New York, NY), 1997.

Lights along the Way: Great Stories of American Faith, Morehouse Publications (Harrisburg, PA), 1999.

Duel: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Future of America, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2000.

The New Dealers' War: FDR and the War within World War II, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2001.

The Louisiana Purchase, Wiley (Hoboken, NJ), 2003.

The Illusion of Victory: America in World War I, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2003.

Mysteries of My Father: An Irish-American Memoir, John Wiley & Sons (Hoboken, NJ), 2005.

Washington's Secret War: The Hidden History of Valley Forge, Smithsonian Books/Collins (New York, NY), 2005.


(With the editors of American Heritage) Battle of Yorktown, American Heritage (New York, NY), 1968.

The Golden Door: The Story of American Immigration, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 1970.

Give Me Liberty: Black Valor in the Revolutionary War, Scholastic Book Services (New York, NY), 1971.

Thomas Jefferson, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 1971.

Benjamin Franklin, Four Winds Press (New York, NY), 1972.

Band of Brothers: West Point in the Civil War, Walker (New York, NY), 1988.

Behind the Headlines: The Story of American Newspapers, Walker (New York, NY), 1989.

Harry S. Truman, President, Walker (New York, NY), 1993.

Everybody's Revolution, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2006.


All Good Men, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1961, reprinted, Arno Press (New York, NY), 1976.

The God of Love, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1963.

King of the Hill, New American Library (New York, NY), 1966.

A Cry of Whiteness, Morrow (New York, NY), 1967.

Romans, Countrymen, Lovers, Morrow (New York, NY), 1969.

The Sandbox Tree, Morrow (New York, NY), 1970.

The Good Shepherd, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1974.

Liberty Tavern, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1976.

Rulers of the City, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1977.

Promises to Keep, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1978.

A Passionate Girl, Warner (New York, NY), 1979.

The Officers' Wives, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1981.

Dreams of Glory, Warner (New York, NY), 1983.

The Spoils of War, Putnam (New York, NY), 1985.

Time and Tide, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1987.

Over There, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1992.

Loyalties: A Novel of World War II, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1994.

Remember the Morning, Forge (New York, NY), 1997.

The Wages of Fame, Forge (New York, NY), 1998.

Hours of Gladness, Forge (New York, NY), 1999.

When This Cruel War Is Over, Forge (New York, NY), 2001.

Conquerors of the Sky, Forge (New York, NY), 2003.

A Passionate Girl, Forge (New York, NY), 2004.

The Secret Trial of Robert E. Lee, Forge (New York, NY), 2006.


Contributor of introduction and epilogue to The Secrets of Inchon: The Untold Story of the Most Daring Covert Mission of the Korean War, by Eugene Franklin Clark, Putnam's (New York, NY), c. 2002. Author of scripts for television; script writer for the narrative film We The People, at the National Museum of the Civil War, which opened in Harrisburg, PA, 2001. Also author of numerous "Keepsake" issues of This Week magazine. Contributor of articles to magazines and periodicals, including Reader's Digest, American Heritage, Boy's Life, and New York Times Magazine. Contributing editor, MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History.

SIDELIGHTS: "For a long time Americans thought history happened to other people," Thomas Fleming once commented to CA. "The main thrust of my work … has been to explode this idea." The well-known novelist, historian, and biographer has explored a wide variety of subject matter in his work, with an emphasis on two disparate but important segments of American history: the Revolutionary War and the twentieth-century immigrant experience—particularly that of Irish Catholics. He has also expanded his interest to Americans' national and international political experience, particularly in Time and Tide, Over There, Loyalties: A Novel of World War II, and The New Dealers' War: FDR and the War within World War II. Here he displayed a strong revisionist bent, arguing in dramatic terms against conventional accounts of major events and historical outcomes.

Fleming has been praised by critics for his ability to present not only the facts of history but also the emotions of the people who lived it. Through the use of quotations from diaries and letters written during the American Revolution, Fleming has been able to convey the thoughts of the men and women who fought on both sides of the American War for Independence. Fleming, commented Publishers Weekly interviewer Barbara A. Bannon, is "a respected interpreter of the history of this country." Bannon added: "He has acquired an insider's interest in little-known characters and events of the Revolution that reveal much about the real temper of those times."

"When I first came to American history I thought I was going to play 'Yankee Doodle' all the way," Fleming said in the Publishers Weekly interview with Bannon. "I started reading letters and diaries of the time to try and find out what the average guy thought about things, not just Washington, Franklin, Jefferson. What the private thoughts were is very hard to find. I trudged through the archives of historical societies and found myself getting into the politics of the Revolution. There was plenty of corruption, the politics of self-interest, those who were in it for the cushy contracts they could get, who were ready to steal everything not nailed down."

The Battle of Bunker Hill supplied prime material for Fleming's technique of combining individual experience and large historical drama. The first major clash of the colonial rebellion against the British, the Battle of Bunker Hill galvanized the Americans into action and divided them—father against son, brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend—according to their political loyalties. It is that tension that Fleming tries to capture in Now We Are Enemies: The Battle of Bunker Hill. "The most interesting thing about Mr. Fleming's book is the emphasis he places on friendships and old attachments broken in this the beginning of the Revolutionary War," stated E.H. Smith in the New York Herald Tribune Book Review.

Three of Fleming's other historical inquiries, Beat the Last Drum: The Siege of Yorktown, Battle of Yorktown, and The Forgotten Victory: The Battle for New Jersey, cover territory similar to that in Now We Are Enemies. In all three books, Fleming combines detailed descriptions of the military campaigns with added insights culled from personal papers. In The Forgotten Victory Fleming characteristically places his emphasis on the thoughts and feelings of the battle's participants.

1776: Year of Illusions explores the events of the central year of the American Revolution—which included the Revolutionists' disastrous invasion of Canada, numerous losses by an ill-trained and poorly supplied colonial army and, finally, George Washington's victories in New Jersey—and the illusions that spurred on the colonial fighters, which were quickly dispelled when they came in contact with the hard realities of war. "Fleming writes on two levels—the year 1776 as narrative history and as a period in which the aims of the Revolution were articulated and, to a degree, institutionalized through the Continental Congress," stated Alden Whitman in the New York Times. "In the process, he peels away the layers of myth and legend that, like verdigris, have formed an obscuring patina over that crucial year."

Chief among these illusions, writes Fleming, were the beliefs that moderation of British rule could be obtained short of actual independence, and the belief that the British were a military pushover and so independence, as Edmund S. Morgan summed it up in the New York Review of Books, "could be won by a few bold strokes." Further, as Whitman described Fleming's contentions, "there were enough examples of incompetence, stupidity, cravenness and disorganization to raise the suspicion that the American revolutionaries were a clutch of inept and inglorious bunglers." "Reduced … to its simplest terms, [1776 demonstrates] that for the greater part of the glorious year of our country's birth nobody on either side really knew what he was doing," Phoebe Adams commented in the Atlantic. "The wonder of '76 was not that stupidity, uncertainty, self-interest, and dishonesty existed, but that so much was accomplished in spite of them."

Fleming's Liberty!: The American Revolution, a companion volume to the 1997 PBS tphasis noted, on "dramatic events and colorful personalities." The same reviewer stated: "Shaped but not constrained by the TV format, the book highlights the role of African Americans, women and Indians whenever possible." Liberty! also provides an overview of the adoption of the U.S. Constitution and the conflicting ideas, such as individual liberty versus public responsibility, that had to be reconciled in determining its content. Reviewing Liberty! in Booklist, Gilbert Taylor praised the volume's "extravagant two-page color spreads" and its numerous sidebars "on topics that interest people." However, Taylor found these secondary to the central thrust of Fleming's text, "the military course of the war." "Fleming's … condensation of seven years of war," Taylor concluded, "is the picture of precision for those reading about America's Book of Genesis for the first time."

With the 1999 historical account Duel: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and The Future of America, Fleming shifts the focus to a period after the Revolutionary War. The 1804 duel between Hamilton and Burr, which left the former fatally wounded, remains one of the most famous duels in American history. Fleming portrays the era as one of heated political maneuvering and conflicting ambitions, both for the new nation and the men who would set its course. The immediate cause of the duel, remarks made by Hamilton at a dinner party, was merely an offshoot of a bitter rivalry that already existed between the two men. Burr had successfully mobilized New York City's Tammany Hall, defeating Hamilton and assuring Republican victories throughout the city. When the 1800 presidential election was thrown into the House of Representatives, Hamilton conspired against Burr to assure Jefferson's victory. Although popular history casts Burr as the instigator of the duel, Fleming shows that in an exchange of letters between the two men, Hamilton was just as guilty as Burr in escalating the conflict. "To be as masterfully concise as Fleming manages to be," stated Katherine Whittemore in Salon.com, "is an achievement in itself, for this epic would have challenged Tolstoi." Whittemore went on to conclude that "Duel does a scintillating job of restoring salient edges that decades of historical buffing have rounded."

In his novel Dreams of Glory, the author presents a thriller that involves spying during the Revolutionary War. The plot revolves around the British instituting a plan to kidnap George Washington that ends up encompassing a number of characters, from Congressman Hugh Stapleton and Chaplain Caleb Chandler to British spy and seductress Flora Kuyper and the British spy who sets out to kidnap Washington, Walter Beckford. A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that "fans will cheer his return to the genre." Brad Hooper, writing in Booklist, commented: "The many characters … emerge well-rounded and many-sided."

The New Dealers' War takes Fleming into World War II—territory he had not hitherto explored in nonfiction, though he had done extensive research on the subject for his novels Time and Tide and Loyalties. In the Washington Post Book World, Richard Pearson called it "a gripping controversial, informative and at times infuriating look at FDR's leadership as the nation entered and fought World War II." Pearson added: "Fleming paints a devastating portrait of a Roosevelt whose health and powers were in steep and terminal decline after 1940." In the Flint Journal Review, David Forsmark praised Fleming for realizing it was time to "cut through the wartime propaganda and take a clear-eyed look at FDR." Some critics found especially compelling Fleming's argument that Roosevelt embodied both the tension between the idealism of the Declaration of Independence and the often brutal realism that Americans have shown in times of crisis. Pragmatists, most of them conservatives, took control of the global conflict (World War II) and in the first postwar election the Republican Party won both houses of Congress.

Fleming's biographies reflect his interest in the impact of the political on the personal and the effects of personal convictions on public actions, as well as his concern with the individual personality in history. Just as his other books quote liberally from diaries and documents, his biographies also make ample use of the personal correspondence and papers of his subjects. As a result, Fleming's books take an intimate view of his subjects' lives rather than simply showing them as a part of a historical panorama. Fleming's biographical skill lies in his ability to cut away the legend surrounding these early American heroes and to ferret out the personalities upon which those legends were built.

While most critics view Fleming's biographies as excellent examples of scholarship and popular history, some have also found that his presentations of his subjects tend to be one-sided. "The book's chief flaw is that Franklin is portrayed as all but flawless," a Time magazine reviewer noted in an assessment of The Man Who Dared the Lightning. In a review of that same book for the Boston Herald Traveler, Richard D. Brown stated: "The only major drawback to Fleming's story of the achievement of American independence is that it is so heavily centered on Franklin and always apologetic for Franklin's behavior. Moreover Franklin's opponents are Fleming's enemies. Thus he simplifies his analysis of British politics so that the English are divided into 'pro' and 'anti' Americans, the former being good, farsighted, and noble, while the latter are corrupt, stupid, and arrogant. This sort of interpretation hinders rather than advances understanding."

Fleming's interest in American history extends beyond the Revolutionary War period and into the modern era. His continued preoccupation with the individual's place in history is evident in all his works of fiction. "More and more, as my research into American history became deeper and more extensive, I began to graft a sense of history on my fiction," Fleming once commented to CA. "This has now become my central preoccupation, to use fiction to focus on human beings at flash points in history, where crises entangle both public and private lives. I remain intensely interested in the historical development of private lives, especially as they emerge from private ghettos—ethnic or economic—to participate in the larger American society."

Such "flashpoints in history" can be found in Fleming's multi-novel saga of the Stapleton family, which ranges from colonial days and throughout the history of America. Remember the Morning opens in 1721, when two young girls, the Dutch Catalyntie Van Vorst and her African slave, Clara, are captured by Seneca natives. The girls are raised by the Seneca for twelve years before they are returned to a white settlement in a prisoner exchange. Enter the settler Malcolm Stapleton, a man who seeks to build an American consciousness. A love triangle, with its consequent jealousies and betrayals, ensues over the next thirty years between Stapleton and the two women. Meanwhile, Catalyntie becomes a shrewd businesswoman, trading with the native tribes, while Clara spends most of her life caring for the sick and indigent. A Publishers Weekly reviewer characterized Remember the Morning as a "sad intricately plotted book … a grim compelling tale of historical adventure amid rapacious imperialism and wholesale treachery." Library Journal critic Barbara Conaty offered a different take on the novel, praising Fleming's "stereotype-smashing insights into the psychology of ambitious, conflicted young people" and his "marvelously fresh interpretation of an era."

Fleming followed Remember the Morning with The Wages of Fame, which traces the fortunes and travails of the Stapleton clan from 1827 to the beginning of the Civil War. By this time the Stapletons are wealthy and own land in New Jersey. In a gender reversal of the love triangle depicted in Remember the Morning, young George Stapleton and his considerably less well-to-do friend John Sladen fall in love with the same woman, Caroline Kemble. George marries Caroline, while Sladen goes on to become a U.S. senator. Yet the ambitious Caroline soon coerces her own husband into politics while at the same time carrying on an affair with Sladen. Numerous historical figures play a part in the drama as Caroline and Sladen manipulate George Stapleton to their own ends. When the United States is drawn into a war with Mexico, Caroline and Sladen try to enlist George, who becomes a brigadier general, in a campaign to seize all of Mexico and make it an American colony. George's refusal ruptures his relationship with Caroline and they remain at loggerheads as America stumbles toward civil war between the North and South. In a final confrontation, George blocks her attempt to declare New Jersey neutral on the eve of war. Booklist contributor Margaret Flanagan found The Wages of Fame to be a "fiery sequel to Remember the Morning … [and a] riveting narrative."

The son of a first-generation Irish-American politician, Fleming first became interested in American history as a result of his inquiries into his own ethnic heritage. He then came to believe that the strong sense of ethnic identity possessed by many Irish-American Catholics isolated them from the broader American experience. His novels that revolve around the Irish-American "ghetto," as he refers to it, reflect the drama that occurs when these tight-knit Irish-American communities are faced with pressures from the outside. Thus Fleming also tries to incorporate the Irish Catholic experience into the wider spectrum of American life. "The immigrant experience lasts for at least three, probably four generations," he once told CA. In his Publishers Weekly interview with Barbara A. Bannon, Fleming elaborated: "What I am trying to write about is a kind of 'Roots' in reverse, about people who have a sense that they do have family and ethnic roots still pushing up into their lives from the past. They must either cut them or let them grow back into their lives in some new ways. It is a very painful process."

In these novels about the Irish-American ghetto—or the flight from it—characters weave in and out of the stories, appearing as minor figures in one novel, as major figures in the next. Four of these books in particular—All Good Men, The God of Love, King of the Hill, and Rulers of the City—explore the Irish experience in urban America, viewing it from a political perspective as well as a personal one. These novels, which rely heavily on Fleming's recollections of his youth in Jersey City, examine the workings of the political machine in an Irish-dominated city and the anguish of those who are torn between their ethnic and party loyalty and their conscience. Together these books form "the continuing political history of a city," Martin Levin pointed out in the New York Times Book Review. Fleming, continued Levin in his assessment of King of the Hill, "reveals a talent for weaving large and small corruptions into a fascinating web of municipal intrigue." Levin added: "He has as intense an interest in his scrofulous wedge of geography as Faulkner had in his. His characters are solidly linked together by blood, tradition and old crimes—and the rich texture of their past makes their present credible."

This loose series of books traces the political career of Jake O'Connor, who enters the political machine at the behest of his father and who eventually becomes mayor of the city. Within this continuing storyline, Fleming is able to reveal the uglier side of American urban politics. Reviewing All Good Men in the Springfield Republican, a critic called the book "a graphic, authentic picture of the rough-and-tumble world of demagogic party bosses, opportunistic ward-heelers, and 'the organization,' where every man has his price." Discussing Fleming's portrayal of the busing controversy (in order to desegregate the schools) in Rulers of the City, former New York City mayor John V. Lindsay commented in the New York Times Book review that "Americans don't like their cities very much and in fact know very little about them—an information gap that includes American governments, past and present," adding that "Thomas Fleming has accumulated some understanding of what's wrong with today's American cities." Despite some other problems with the book, concluded Lindsay, Rulers of the City "goes quite far enough into one bleeding aspect of America's urban problem. Most any American city, perhaps even more importantly any state or even the Federal Government, could use a Thomas Fleming, or at least their rulers should read his book."

Fleming returned to the Irish-American ghetto setting in 1999 with Hours of Gladness, a novel that concerns a Vietnam veteran who is reviled for hanging the corpse of a dead Viet Cong leader in the village square. Dishonorably discharged and returning to Paradise Beach, New Jersey, Mick O'Day joins the town's police force, which is controlled by his corrupt uncle. Mick finds himself involved with more than he bargained for, including illegal dealings with the Mafia and the Irish Republican Army. Ultimately, Mick emergences on the side of law and justice, and in so doing manages to assuage his guilt for his past wrongs committed in Vietnam. Flanagan, again writing in Booklist, praised Fleming's ability to interweave several plotlines. She judged Hours of Gladness to be "a stunning multilayered thriller" and noted: "The tension mounts at an almost unbearable rate, exploding into a physically and emotionally violent climax."

Although many of Fleming's novels are placed in his fictional Irish-dominated city and involve many of the same characters (usually Irish-Catholic), not all of the books are concerned exclusively with the Irish-American ghetto, but instead reach deeper into the general American experience. A Cry of Whiteness, for example, focuses on segregation and civil rights in America. Romans, Countrymen, Lovers considers the national obsession for personal freedom and liberation that began in the 1960s.

With Mysteries of My Father: An Irish-American Memoir Fleming delves into his own personal history. Here he offers an account of three generations within his family. Ben Bruton, writing in the Library Journal, commented that the "story transcends traditional memoir and becomes a moving examination of the unique challenges" that Irish-Americans faced. Commonweal contributor Peter Quinn called it "a rich book" and felt that readers "should be supremely grateful for such a moving, masterly, forgiving remembrance."

The Officers' Wives is Fleming's statement on American life over the course of three decades. The novel is written from the perspectives of three women, each married to graduates of the West Point Class of 1950; the book explores their lives, their marriages, and the changing consciousness (and conscience) of a nation. The Officers' Wives carries its characters through two disastrous and morally devastating wars, Korea and Vietnam, as well as through the sweeping social changes brought about by the feminist movement. In telling his story, Fleming "is attentive to both the dynamics of his characters' private lives and to the wider worlds in which they develop," wrote Jane Larkin Crain in the New York Times Book Review. Best Sellers contributor William B. Hill considered Fleming to be "triumphantly successful in his depiction of the sixties and the effects of the war in Vietnam on the wives and children of army officers. The picture of American military ineptitude and North Vietnamese brutality is joined to a portrait of turbulent America and the whole disastrous era comes back to life."

Fleming is especially praised by critics for his ability to capture the growing sense of uneasiness that affected the United States in the 1960s and 1970s. This shift in the general feeling of the population is reflected in the subtly changing moods of the women in the novel. "What energizes this novel … is the war between the sexes," stated Peter Davison in Atlantic. "When each woman—as each must—is required to choose between her conscience and her husband, it is the husband who loses. The wives seem to follow the example of an entire nation by gradually withdrawing their confidence in the integrity of American might."

In his 1987 novel, Time and Tide, Fleming again deals with war in the twentieth century, but this time his main character is a warship, the Jefferson City. She is a ship that courts disaster; in the words of New York Times Book Review critic Walter Lord, "since no one vessel could endure as many misadventures as the Jefferson City, she is a sort of composite of several American warships beset by mishaps" in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Newly captained by Arthur McKay, who is replacing his former classmate Winfield Kemble, the ship becomes a pawn in the relationships between various people on board whose actions reflect less than sterling characters. Fleming's fictional characters flesh out the book's central premise that "World War II and a lot of the present dilemmas of the United States began in the gunboat diplomacy and the dream of empire unleashed by [U.S.] activities in China," in the words of Chicago Tribune Books critic Marge Piercy. Piercy felt that the author's knowledge of "what he is writing about on many levels, profoundly, thoroughly, sensuously," was one of Time and Tide's central strengths. Fleming "created daily life on a heavy cruiser in concrete detail. He writes equally well of the officers and the men. He knows sailors and likes them with all the barnacles still attached." While cautioning readers that Fleming has blurred the line between fact and fiction by interspersing actual historical incidents into his fictional narrative, Lord added that readers "can thank Thomas Fleming for an engrossing novel that makes the war in the Pacific live again."

Fleming has set several other novels against the military backdrop of World War I and World War II. Over There tells the story of a young nurse, Polly Warden, who works at the front in war-torn Europe. This is an account of World War I as seen through the eyes of a disillusioned general and a feminist woman volunteer. Warden falls in love with a French doctor, Paul Lebrun, who has become cynical because of the horrors he has experienced in treating victims of the conflict. The novel, in which real-life General John J. Pershing plays a role, traces Polly's descent from idealism into a weary disillusionment that mirrors Lebrun's.

Flemings' Loyalties is also set during World War II. It traces the intertwining lives of two military couples, U.S. Navy Captain Jonathan Talbot and his wife, Annie, and German U-boat Commander Ernst von Hoffman and his wife, Berthe. Talbot is captured in the North Atlantic by Hoffman and then released shortly before war is officially declared between the United States and Germany. Later, in Spain on an espionage mission, Talbot has an affair with Hoffman's wife. He also becomes involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler. "Elaborately plotted and meticulously researched," stated a reviewer in Publishers Weekly, "this sprawling saga of World War II offers some new political insights."

In addition to contemporary warfare and its impact on U.S. society, another dominant theme in Fleming's early fiction is the influence of the Roman Catholic Church on the lives of his characters. This interest, Fleming has stated, is an outgrowth of both his own background and of his concern with individual freedom. "I have a special interest in two fields," Fleming once commented to CA, "religion and politics. As I see it, politics is the area in which religious values are realized (or not realized) in our society. Religion as such, is essentially powerless and is growing more so. Of course there is also a fundamental conflict between traditional religious ideas and ideas inherent in the American experience—freedom vs. obedience, revolt in the name of self-realization. These are main themes in my work."

Although religion plays a strong role in much of Fleming's fiction, it gained him the most attention in The Sandbox Tree. This book was originally written in 1952 but was not published until 1969, partially due to Catholic censorship in the publishing world, Fleming has contended. In the intervening years he rewrote the novel eight times, making the final manuscript less harsh than the original. The Sandbox Tree takes the conflict between religious devotion and personal freedom as its central theme. The novel centers on a number of young Catholics who gradually reject the church in which they were raised, including Margaret Connolly, a young woman destined for the convent. Margaret is the roommate of a woman who merely goes through the motions of practicing her religion, is friends with a rebellious lapsed Catholic and, finally, falls in love with a Protestant. In the end, after much pain, Margaret turns away from her family and her church and thus becomes a freer thinking person.

The Sandbox Tree won praise for what many reviewers saw as its precise, albeit painful, depiction of early post-War American Catholicism. "This is Mr. Fleming's valid assessment of the year 1948," stated Charles Dollen in Best Sellers. "So painfully true is his novel of Catholic family life in that year that it makes it difficult to write an objective review. Irish American Roman Catholicism—a ghetto, a system, one in which the institution was much more valuable than the person. Fear put up the walls of that ghetto; inhumanity kept it firmly in place. Or so it seemed." Tablet Magazine writer Richard Ryan contended that "in the lives of Faith and Margaret and Judge Kilpatrick and some of the others in The Sandbox Tree, [Fleming] has tried to restore the grace of humor in American life, the idea of forgiveness, an idea of life that restores some of the more human things that are indeed both Catholic and American."

The Good Shepherd is another of Fleming's novels that centers on the question of faith and conscience. The "good shepherd" of the title, Archbishop Matthew Mahan, is to be appointed cardinal, but he is deeply troubled by a number of recent rulings of the Church as well as plagued by dissension within his own see. By placing the action in the tumultuous years following the Second Vatican Council, Fleming is able to introduce the concerns of the modern Church to the reader. The Good Shepherd is a "novel that probes deeply into problems that, like them or not, millions of Catholics must contend with today," commented Priscilla L. Buckley in the National Review. The book, according to Francis Sweeney in the New York Times Book Review, shows its characters "believably confronting the Church's problems and crystallizing the Church's moods." James G. Murray, writing in the Critic, found that Fleming produced a believable portrait in Matthew Mahan. "You can accept not just the priesthood but the humanity of [the book's] central figure, Matthew Mahan," Murray wrote. "One likes him, finding in his very simplicity a kind of complexity, and ultimately taking his teamsmanship and gamesmanhood as the only ways possible of effecting good within the present church structure."

In many ways, The Good Shepherd can be seen as Fleming's outline for reform in the Roman Catholic Church. In the form of a letter Mahan writes to the Pope, Fleming raises and argues issues of debate within the Church today: policies on birth control, divorce, the status of women, and clerical celibacy. However, some critics questioned the novel's effectiveness as ecclesiastical argumentation. For example, Sweeney observed that "true enough, Humanae Vitae [a papal proclamation by which Mahan was deeply disturbed] was a watershed of dissent in the Church, and there is widespread dissatisfaction with the Roman Curia. But to polarize history as Fleming does is not to write a novel but a hanging sermon."

The anger Fleming often shows toward the Catholic Church has seemed disturbing to many critics who find his treatment of Catholicism and Catholics stereotypical as well as unduly harsh. "Would Protestants be interested in a novel of this kind?" Buckley asked of The Good Shepherd. "Probably not, unless they are members of Protestant and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State…. All they have ever wanted to believe about the Church of Rome is here, the venality, the striving for power, the cynicism in high places, every sin in the book, yea even unto fornication between priest and nun. Would Catholics be interested? Very much so, but lots of them will not like it, many will loathe it, none will feel comfortable with it."

Despite some negative reaction to his views on the Catholic Church, Fleming has gained a reputation as a "Catholic writer"—a label he eschews. "Hopefully, some day I will be recognized as an American writer who happens to be Catholic," he told Richard Ryan in Tablet Magazine. "And this will be a sign that the Catholic Church has indeed emerged into the fullness of American life, and the freedom and responsibility will be there in the Church and also in each of us to report and reflect on the life of all Americans."

In that same article Ryan commended Fleming for his writing about Catholic issues. "Fleming has done a couple of things with the writing of The Sandbox Tree," Ryan stated. "And one of the things that he may have done is to open a window on Catholic writing, with a little more light, a little more air, a little more freedom. There was a time when a man like John XXIII made a sacrament out of opening windows. Maybe, in what it can do for American Catholic writing, the liberation of Tom Fleming has done the same thing."

In his later work, Fleming moved away from his antagonistic feelings toward the Roman faith into what he has called more "widened spiritual concerns." "I have become absorbed in a much larger spiritual idea," Fleming once commented in CA, "the conflict between idealism and realism, or faith and disillusion, which seems to me at the heart of the American experience."

Promises to Keep takes the state of being an American as its theme. The central character of the novel, Paul Stapleton, tries to live up to the idealism inculcated in him by his parents, but has been forced by two world wars and the Depression to make some difficult compromises. Gradually, the reader discovers that the source of Stapleton's spiritual strength is his wife, a Mexican Catholic whose love, rooted in her mystical faith, sustains the entire family. It is this religious element of the novel—the depiction of religious belief as a positive force rather than as something to rebel against—that Fleming considers central to an understanding of the book. In Promises to Keep Fleming's mix of Wasp and Irish-Catholic worlds also provides a potent symbolic moment in the evolution of his political thinking. Jim Kilpatrick, son of a corrupt judge in Fleming's fictional city's political machine, has escaped the Irish-American ghetto in Romans, Countrymen, Lovers and has now been hired by the Stapleton family to write a biography of Paul Stapleton. He discovers that in the late 1930s, Stapleton paid a huge bribe to enable the family to move their textile mills from New Jersey to the labor-union free South. When Kilpatrick confronts Stapleton with the facts, the older man tells him he paid the bribe to Kilpatrick's father, but Stapleton only replies that they are in it together. Stapleton is saying we are all—Wasps, Blacks, Irish and other ethnic groups—in the American experience, with its perpetually confusing mix of idealism and brutal realism.

Likewise, The Officers' Wives also traces the spiritual paradoxes Fleming sees in American society. With that book, Crain observed in the New York Times Book Review, "Thomas Fleming has written a satisfying novel that illuminates matters as diverse as the changing status of women, the ordeals and consolations of marriage, the permutations of religion—or any form of idealism—that arise in a rapidly changing culture and the bitter fallout from American involvement in Vietnam. He probes the heart of the American experience over the last 30 years with subtlety and intelligence. He mourns the loss of a sometimes arrogant but undeniably heady American innocence, speculates on the promise of what endures and closes on a note of cautious affirmation."

Fleming's When the Cruel War Is Over focuses on the final months of the Civil War and is based on a true story. The novel finds Union officer Major Paul Stapleton, who is torn between his duty to country and love for Janet Todd, a southerner who is involved with the Sons of Liberty, a secret group that conducts terrorist acts against the Union. A Publishers Weekly contributor called the novel a "moving evocation of the Civil War's emotional tragedy." In a review in Booklist, Brendan Dowling wrote that the author "does an admirable job of showing the complexities of the era's issues."

Conquerors of the Sky is Fleming's novel about two people who build a successful airplane manufacturing company. One of them, Frank Buchanan, was a World War I ace and then a barnstorming pilot. When he crashes into a grove owned by wealthy socialite Adrian Van Ness, not only does a love affair ensue but also a business partnership and lasting friendship. "A clever and appealing tale that, in the best Fleming style, recounts broad swathes of history through the lives of two well-drawn but fictitious characters," asserted a Kirkus Reviews contributor. A Publishers Weekly critic noted: "Aviation enthusiasts are the core audience for this novel … but it is also a natural airport buy for travelers."

Fleming provides another fictional Civil War tale in The Secret Trial of Robert E. Lee. In an alternative history, Fleming has Lee placed on trial for his life, thus disregarding the terms of Lee's and the South's surrender. Reporter Jeremiah O'Brien, however, is suspicious of a conspiracy and helps stop the trial, which could have led to Lee's execution and a new outbreak of hostilities between the North and South. Writing in Publishers Weekly, a reviewer called the novel a "captivating account of what would have been the trial of the century."

Among Fleming's more recent history books is The Louisiana Purchase, in which the author provides an historical account of the political maneuverings surrounding the famous land purchase that essentially started the United States' expansion westward. The author focuses primarily on Thomas Jefferson and Napoleon Bonaparte, as well as many of their advisers and the roles they played in bringing about the sale. He also delves into other factors that led to the sale, such as a breakout of yellow fever that weakened Napoleon's troops in Santo Domingo. A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that Fleming's "narrative is straightforward but cluttered with detail, showing more breadth than depth." Fleming continues with his straightforward history books with The Illusion of Victory: America in World War I, which focuses primarily on mistakes in diplomacy made by Woodrow Wilson, such as over-punishing the Germans, that helped lead to World War II, as well as the British role in the United States' participation in the war and untruths in the press. Jay Freeman, writing in Booklist, called the book "a generally credible indictment of a man whose good intentions failed to deal with reality."

Fleming once again focuses on history in Washington's Secret War: The Hidden History of Valley Forge. Nearly defeated and camped with starving troops, Washington also faced a group of generals who were seeking to remove him from command, thus the "secret war." In a review for the Library Journal, Matthew J. Wayman commented that the author "writes strong prose that can command the reader's attention, and he provides good, accessible descriptions of the winter's events."

Fleming once told CA: "Looking back over my career, I am struck by several turning points that triggered fundamental changes in my literary and intellectual life. One of the most important was my decision to accept the offer to write a history of West Point in 1964. This carried me beyond the confines of my first historical field, the American Revolution, and put me in touch with a prime example of America's secular idealism, which in turn freed me from my conflicts with the Catholic Church and gave me access to a wider American experience. The cadets are taught to revere 'Duty, Honor, Country.' But in the real world of the army, West Point graduates encounter careerism, political pressures, and the many other flaws of a large bureaucratic organization—with the ongoing realization that the bottom line for some of them may be death on a battlefield. It creates a fascinating series of conflicts which I explored in The Officers' Wives and Time and Tide. Another important moment was a speech at a meeting of the American Revolution Round Table by historian William B. Willcox, author of a biography of Sir Henry Clinton, Portrait of a General. In that talk, Willcox urged the importance of 'thinking historically,' of using the events of history to ask hard questions abut policies and personalities. (His book convincingly singles out Sir Henry Clinton as the chief reason the British lost the Revolutionary War.)

"Still another turning point was a little-known book by Ronald Knox, Enthusiasm. It chronicled the heresies of the Roman Catholic church, showing how they began in a burst of emotional-intellectual fervor that swept away whole communities and even countries—and then slowly ebbed into routine religions and eventually expired. The book gave me an understanding of the workings of the popular mind—a phenomenon that has become more and more important in recent centuries, with the increased power of mass communications. It helped me understand how political passions (not much different from religious ones, in our secular age) can also run amok. I saw the power of political emotions first hand, of course, growing up in Jersey City, where the Hague Organization in which my father was a leader, regularly staged huge rallies and summoned people to the polls with battle cries that mingled religion, ethnicity and politics.

"The image that has come to dominate my mind, as I look back, is The Path. A committed writer seems to be led down a mysterious path, full of unexpected twists and turns, a sometimes bewildering mix of disappointments an successes. The image flowered almost magically for me in a remarkable dream that preceded my novel, Loyalties. I dreamt that I was in Berlin, watching a beautiful blonde woman writhing in bed. I knew she was having a bad dream. Then I was in the dream, watching a submarine with a Knight's head on the conning tower cruising through the Atlantic's depths. Suddenly depth charges explode around the submarine, it tilts to one side and begins to sink. The woman is transported into the submarine's interior, and swims past men thrashing in the rising water until she reaches the conning tower, where her husband, the U-boat's captain, resolutely faces death. Then she is outside the submarine again, watching it sink. Out of the depths swims a gigantic angel, with glaring eyes from a Byzantine painting. The angel takes the dying submarine in its arms. The woman awakes and says: 'The Path. The Angel is part of the Path.' I leaped out of bed and wrote the first chapter of the book, which opens with the dream, in an hour. I still retain the faith that an angel—or perhaps a band of them—has been guiding me down a similar path."

Fleming more recently told CA: "My mother, a former school teacher, encouraged me to write and speak—to perform in public, you might say. But I think I got my first taste of the pleasure of publication from my father. I wrote a wacky profile of the family, The Fleming Saga, which portrayed them as drinking dry every saloon in Ireland and Jersey City. He liked it so much, he printed up dozens of copies and distributed them to friends and relations all over the city.

"Anyone who reads Mysteries of My Father will see what an enormous influence my father was on my concept of manhood, which plays through a lot of my novels. At least as important was my Catholic education, which exposed me to large ideas about life and death, from an early age. My reading was also important. There are three books that stand out: First was Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace, which I read at 16. It ignited in my mind the power of history in people's lives. Next was Oliver Wiswell, a novel by Kenneth Roberts, which I read the following year. Oliver is a loyalist in the American Revolution. I didn't even know there was such a thing. It brought home how fascinating and surprising history could be. Finally there is a sort of shaping of my mature mind novel—James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I read it aboard ship in the US Navy when I was 18. It enabled me to distance myself from the Catholic Church, to become, in my case, a man who wanted to fill his soul with American experiences, and use them, like Joyce vowed to use his Irish experiences, to shape stories into art.

"My writing process is very simple. I get up six days a week and go to my computer (once it was my typewriter) and get to work. I try to write four pages a day. In the afternoon, after a nap, I will do research or revise what I wrote in the morning, sometimes both. Revision is basic. Some books I've revised as many as nine times.

"The most surprising thing I've learned is how much of a role luck, good and bad, plays in a writer's life. I have had some lucky breaks. A subsidiary rights editor fell in love with my twelfth novel, The Officers' Wives, and sold it to the Book of the Month Club, making it a bestseller. On the other hand, my twenty-third novel, Conquerors of the Sky, ran afoul of a meanspirited editor who rejected it, and it did not get published for ten years—too late to catch the momentum I had established with The Officers' Wives and Time and Tide, both bestsellers.

"My favorite book is probably Time and Tide. It combines in a very special way what I try to do in fiction: find a subject that is rich in history and personal drama and tell a gripping story. This book about the men (and some of their women) from the USS Jefferson City offered me a unique opportunity. Moreover, I had been aboard a similar ship at the end of World War II so it blended my personal experience with the large themes I pursued in this book. One reviewer compared it to Moby Dick. That was not an accident. There was a lot of Melville in my mind and heart as I wrote about the shipmates I knew and those I created.

"What kind of effect do I want my books to have? I hope they will make readers think—and feel—more deeply about our unique, amazing, perpetually troubled and conflicted country, the United States of America."



American Prospect, May 8, 2000, Richard Leone, review of Duel: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Future of America, p. 52.

Atlantic, September 15, 1975, Phoebe Adams, review of 1776: Year of Illusions; April, 1981, Peter Davison, review of The Officers' Wives.

Best Sellers, September 15, 1970, Charles Dollen, review of The Sandbox Tree, p. 227; May, 1981, William B. Hill, review of The Officers' Wives, p. 45.

Booklist, January 1, 1994, Sheilamae O'Hara, review of Harry S. Truman, President, p. 815; September 15, 1997, Nancy Pearl, review of Remember the Morning, p. 208; October 1, 1997, Gilbert Taylor, review of Liberty!: The American Revolution, p. 274; September 15, 1998, Margaret Flanagan, review of The Wages of Fame, p. 198; October 15, 1999, Gilbert Taylor, review of Duel, p. 414; November 15, 1999, Margaret Flanagan, review of Hours of Gladness, p. 600; September 1, 2000, Brad Hooper, review of Dreams of Glory, p. 6; February 15, 2001, Brendan Dowling, review of When This Cruel War Is Over, p. 1115; June 1, 2003, Jay Freeman, review of The Illusion of Victory: America in World War I, p. 1731; October 15, 2005, Jay Freeman, review of Washington's Secret War: The Hidden History of Valley Forge, p. 22; January 1, 2006, Roland Green, review of The Secret Trial of Robert E. Lee, p. 54.

Boston Herald Traveler, March 21, 1971, Richard D. Brown, review of The Man Who Dared Lighting.

Canadian Journal of History, December, 2005, Stephen Svonavec, review of The Illusion of Victory, p. 564.

Cobblestone, December, 2002, review of Band of Brothers: West Point in the Civil War, p. 46.

Commonweal, August 12, 2005, Peter Quinn, review of Mysteries of My Father: An Irish-American Memoir, p. 32.

Critic, January-February, 1975, James G. Murray, review of The Good Shepherd.

Flint Journal Review, June 3, 2001, David Forsmark, "Review: Historian Rips FDR over Wartime Plans."

History: Review of New Books, winter, 2000, Jeffrey P. Brown, review of Duel, p. 57.

Hollywood Reporter, February 13, 2006, Gregory McNamee, review of The Secret Trial of Robert E. Lee, p. 27.

Journal of American History, September, 2000, Jeffrey L. Pasley, review of Duel, pp. 630-632.

Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2002, review of Conquerors of the Sky, p. 1493; August 15, 2005, review of Washington's Secret War, p. 894; November 15, 2005, review of The Secret Trial of Robert E. Lee, p. 1203.

Library Journal, August, 1997, Barbara Conaty, review of Remember the Morning, p. 125; October 1, 1999, Grant A. Fredericksen, review of Duel, p. 108; November 1, 1999, Barbara Conaty, review of Hours of Gladness, p. 124; November 1, 2000, Barbara L. Roberts, review of Dreams of Glory, p. 133; June 1, 2001, William D. Pederson, review of The New Dealers' War: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the War within World War II, p. 184; May 1, 2005, Ben Bruton, review of Mysteries of My Father, p. 83; September 1, 2005, Matthew J. Wayman, review of Washington's Secret War, p. 157.

National Review, February 28, 1975, Priscilla L. Buckley, review of The Good Shepherd.

New York Herald Tribune Book Review, November 13, 1960, E.H. Smith, review of Now We Are Enemies: The Battle of Bunker Hill.

New York Review of Books, July 15, 1976, Edmund S. Morgan, review of 1776.

New York Times, October 8, 1975, Alden Whitman, review of 1776.

New York Times Book Review, February 27, 1966, Martin Levin, review of King of the Hill, p. 43; October 15, 1967, Anthony Boucher, review of A Cry of Whiteness, p. 57; August 4, 1974, Francis Sweeney, review of The Good Shepherd, p. 6; February 22, 1976; July 3, 1977, John V. Lindsay, review of Rulers of the City, p. 8; April 12, 1981, Jane Larkin Crain, review of The Officers' Wives, p. 14; September 13, 1987, Walter Lord, review of Time and Tide, pp. 7-8; February 13, 2000, Jean Edward Smith, "The Talented Mr. Burr."

Perspectives on Political Science, spring, 2000, Aaron D. Hoffman, review of Duel, p. 109.

Philadelphia Inquirer, March 1, 2006, Joseph N. DiStefano, review of Washington's Secret War.

Publishers Weekly, July 4, 1977, Barbara A. Bannon, interview with the author; March 16, 1992, review of Over There, p. 66; April 18, 1994, review of Loyalties, p. 44; August 4, 1997, review of Remember the Morning, p. 65; October 13, 1997, review of Liberty!, p. 63; August 3, 1998, review of The Wages of Fame, p. 74; September 20, 1999, review of Duel, p. 62; October 23, 2000, review of Dreams of Glory, p. 58; January 1, 2001, review of When This Cruel War Is Over, p. 65; April 30, 2001, review of The New Dealers' War, p. 73; December 9, 2002, review of Conquerors of the Sky, p. 62; May 26, 2003, review of The Louisiana Purchase, p. 61; August 15, 2005, review of Washington's Secret War, p. 47; November 7, 2005, review of The Secret Trial of Robert E. Lee, p. 52.

Reference & Research Book News, February, 2006, review of Washington's Secret War.

San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, CA), June 13, 2003, David L. Beck, review of The Illusion of Victory.

Springfield Republican (Springfield, IL), September 10, 1961, review of All Good Men.

Tablet Magazine, September 17, 1970, Richard Ryan, review of The Sandbox Tree.

Time, May 31, 1971, review of The Man Who Dared the Lightning: A New Look at Benjamin Franklin.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), August 9, 1987, Marge Piercy, review of Time and Tide, p. 6.

Washington Post Book World, July 1, 2001, Richard Pearson, review of The New Dealers' War, p. 10.

Wilson Quarterly, winter, 2000, Robert K. Landers, review of Duel, p. 115.


Salon.com, http://www.salon.com/books/ (September 29, 1999), Katherine Whittemore, review of Duel.

Thomas Fleming Home Page, http://thomasflemingwriter.com (April 30, 2006).

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Fleming, Thomas 1927–

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