Hersh, Burton 1933- (Burton David Hersh)

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Hersh, Burton 1933- (Burton David Hersh)


Born September 18, 1933, in Chicago, IL; son of Maurice Henry (a manufacturer) and Florence Nita Hersh; married Ellen Eiseman (a language teacher), August 3, 1957; children: Leo Joseph, Margery Clara. Education: Harvard College, B.A. (magna cum laude), 1955; further study at University of Freiburg, 1955-56, University of Innsbruck, 1959-60, and Cale School, 1974. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Jewish. Hobbies and other interests: Sports (skiing, tennis), graphics (prints).


Home—Bradford, NH. Office—P.O. Box 204, Bradford, NH 03221. Agent—Curtis Brown Ltd., 575 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022.


Writer, novelist, educator, magazine journalist, and lecturer. Freelance writer, 1955—; worked as a magazine journalist in the 1960s and 1970s. Blake School, Albert Cobb Memorial Lecturer, 1973. Bradford Conservation Commission, 1972-75, founding chairman; New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, Concord, NH, director, 1983-86. Military service: U.S. Army, 1957-59.


Authors Guild, American Society of Journalists and Authors, Association of Former Intelligence Officers (member of board of directors, New England Branch, 1992), International Society for Comparative Literature and Theater, PEN, Phi Beta Kappa.


Fulbright fellowship, 1955-56; Bread Loaf Writers Conference, fellow, 1964; elected to Academy of Senior Professionals, Eckerd College, St. Petersburg, FL, 1993; Writers' Voice Grant, Lila Wallace/Lanham Foundation, 2000; Writers Notes Award for general fiction, 2003, for The Nature of the Beast.


The Ski People (novel), McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1968.

The Education of Edward Kennedy, Morrow (New York, NY), 1972.

The Mellon Family: A Fortune in History, Morrow (New York, NY), 1978.

The Old Boys: The American Elite and the Origins of the CIA, Scribner (New York, NY), 1992, revised edition, Tree Farm Books (St. Petersburg, FL), 2001.

The Shadow President: Ted Kennedy in Opposition, Steerforth Press (South Royalton, VT), 1997.

The Nature of the Beast (novel), Tree Farm Books (St. Petersburg, FL), 2002.

Bobby and J. Edgar: The Historic Face-off between the Kennedys and J. Edgar Hoover That Transformed America, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor to magazines and newspapers, including Holiday, Esquire, Venture, Show, Horizon, Ski, Town and Country, Sports Illustrated, Los Angeles Times, Newsday, Punch, New York Times, Washington Post, Washingtonian, and Transatlantic Review.


Burton Hersh is the author of a number of critically acclaimed works of nonfiction, including The Shadow President: Ted Kennedy in Opposition and Bobby and J. Edgar: The Historic Face-off between the Kennedys and J. Edgar Hoover That Transformed America. Hersh, a freelance writer since graduating from Harvard College in 1955, has also worked as a journalist, a lecturer, and an educator during his long career. His first novel, The Ski People, was published in 1968, during his successful years as a magazine journalist. Several of Hersh's books concern prominent figures and organizations in American history, from legendary politicians such as Robert F. Kennedy to the affluent and philanthropic Mellon family and the often oblique and difficult-to-penetrate Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Hersh's interest in the CIA led him to write The Old Boys: The American Elite and the Origins of the CIA. He tracks the history of the CIA from its origins following World War I to the agency's failure at the Bay of Pigs in 1961. He notes that the American intelligence community was populated by members of the Ivy League and Wall Street elite. The three most prominent figures in the work are William "Wild Bill" Donovan, a World War II espionage expert and spy; Allen Dulles, director of the CIA during Dwight Eisenhower's presidency; and Frank G. Wisner, Dulles's deputy director. With the agency's history and these diverse personalities as backdrop, Hersh explores how "straight-forward information gathering and interpretation were transformed into today's violent and treacherous ‘intelligence’ subculture," noted a reviewer in Publishers Weekly.

The Shadow President presents a carefully researched account of Edward "Ted" Kennedy's senatorial career from the early 1970s to the mid-1990s. Hersh explores both the personal and public life of Kennedy, and while he does not avoid controversies, such as the tragic events of Chappaquiddick, he also does not dwell on them. Hersh "emphasizes the senator's political strengths but does not gloss over his moral lapses," noted Gary D. Barber in a Library Journal review. The author looks carefully at Kennedy's position in the evolving mainstream of American politics, concluding that Kennedy has played a more significant role in politics in the United States than have some U.S. presidents. While Kennedy's traditionally liberal ideals make him a constant target of the political right, Hersh asserts that he has maintained his dedication to his principles while also navigating a sometimes difficult political battleground wherein compromise must coexist alongside iron-willed determination. Hersh presents numerous anecdotes from Kennedy's long career and provides considerable material derived from interviews with staff members, news sources, and Kennedy himself. Kennedy's place in American political history is assured, and Hersh "makes a telling case for him as a steady legislator and champion of working people," commented a Publishers Weekly contributor. Tellingly, "the Kennedy Hersh describes is a gracious, congenial, and wily pol who is admired, even downright liked, by his ideological foes," observed Abbot Combes in the New York Times Book Review.

In Bobby and J. Edgar, Hersh recounts a clash of titans at the topmost ranks of American politics. In the early 1960s, a power struggle erupted between longtime FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and his "nominal boss," U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, related Booklist reviewer Gilbert Taylor. Hersh depicts Hoover as tough, power-hungry, and conniving, collecting scandalous materials on the Kennedys that he stored in his notorious and feared files. He describes the many tensions and conflicts between Kennedy and Hoover, and he also recounts the controversies associated with the Kennedys, as well as their suspicious relationships with mob bosses and sex symbols of the day. Hersh's work provides readers with "important new research and intensive analysis revealing the complex background attendant to the confrontations of the 1960s," observed a Publishers Weekly critic. "The rot beneath Camelot's glittering surface is now an old story, but few books have so thoroughly examined the decay," concluded a Kirkus Reviews contributor.

Hersh once told CA: "I began freelancing while a Fulbright scholar in West Germany and never did go straight after that. I lived six years in Europe and traveled widely there. I have had several winters of residence in Mexico."



Booklist, February 1, 1992, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Old Boys: The American Elite and the Origins of the CIA, p. 994; May 15, 1997, Patricia Hassler, review of The Shadow President: Ted Kennedy in Opposition, p. 1559; June 1, 2007, Gilbert Taylor, review of Bobby and J. Edgar: The Historic Face-off between the Kennedys and J. Edgar Hoover That Transformed America, p. 24.

Choice, July 1, 1992, R.H. Immerman, review of The Old Boys, p. 1758.

Christian Science Monitor, June 4, 1997, Lawrence J. Goodrich, review of The Shadow President, p. 15.

Foreign Affairs, annual, 1992, review of The Old Boys, p. 175.

Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2007, review of Bobby and J. Edgar.

Library Journal, February 15, 1992, Daniel K. Blewett, review of The Old Boys, p. 181; May 15, 1997, Gary D. Barber, review of The Shadow President, p. 88; May 15, 2007, Karl Helicher, review of Bobby and J. Edgar, p. 101.

National Review, August 3, 1992, Ralph De Toledano, review of The Old Boys, p. 40.

New York Review of Books, May 13, 1993, Thomas Powers, review of The Old Boys, p. 49.

New York Times Book Review, June 14, 1992, Loch K. Johnson, review of The Old Boys, p. 25; August 10, 1997, Abbot Combes, review of The Shadow President, p. 17.

Publishers Weekly, January 20, 1992, review of The Old Boys, p. 52; April 7, 1997, review of The Shadow President, p. 86; April 9, 2007, review of Bobby and J. Edgar, p. 43.

Reference & Research Book News, October, 1992, review of The Old Boys, p. 20.

Virginia Quarterly Review, autumn, 1992, "Origins of the CIA," review of The Old Boys, p. 131.


Tree Farm Books Web site,http://treefarmbooks.com/ (January 1, 2008), biography of Burton Hersh.

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