Kurzman, Dan 1927–
Kurzman, Dan 1927–
PERSONAL: Born March 27, 1927, in San Francisco, CA; son of Joseph (a businessman) and Lillian (a writer) Kurzman; married Florence Knopf (a writer), February 27, 1977. Education: University of California, Berkeley, B.A., 1946; Sorbonne, University of Paris, certificate, 1947.
ADDRESSES: Home—NJ. Agent—Julian Bach, 747 Third Ave., New York, NY 10017.
CAREER: Writer. International News Service, Paris, France, correspondent, 1946–48; Marshall Plan Information Division, Paris, feature writer, 1949; National Broadcasting Co. (NBC), New York, NY, Middle East correspondent, 1950–53; McGraw-Hill World News Service, New York, NY, Tokyo bureau chief, 1954–60; Washington Post, Washington, DC, foreign correspondent, 1962–69.
MEMBER: Overseas Press Club, PEN, National Press Club, Authors League of America, Tokyo Foreign Correspondents Club, Overseas Writers Club, State Department Correspondents Club.
AWARDS, HONORS: Overseas Press Club award for best book on foreign affairs (became the Cornelius Ryan Award in 1978), 1963, for Subversion of the Innocents, and 1980, for Miracle of November: Madrid's Epic Stand, 1936; Front Page Award, Newspaper Guild, 1964; George Polk Award for international reporting, Long Island University, 1965; Dr. Moses Leo Gitelson Award for biography, Jewish Book Council on the Jewish Welfare Board, 1984, for Ben-Gurion: Prophet of Fire; National Jewish Award.
Kishi and Japan: The Search for the Sun, Obolensky (New York, NY), 1960.
Subversion of the Innocents: Patterns of Communist Penetration in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, Random House (New York, NY), 1963.
Santo Domingo: Revolt of the Damned, Putnam (New York, NY), 1965.
Genesis 1948: The First Arab-Israeli War, New American Library (New York, NY), 1970, Da Capo Press (New York, NY), 1992.
The Race for Rome, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1975.
The Bravest Battle: The Twenty-eight Days of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Putnam (New York, NY), 1976, Da Capo Press (New York, NY), 1993.
Miracle of November: Madrid's Epic Stand, 1936, Putnam (New York, NY), 1980.
Ben-Gurion: Prophet of Fire, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1983.
Day of the Bomb: Countdown to Hiroshima, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1986.
A Killing Wind: Inside Union Carbide and the Bhopal Catastrophe, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1987.
Fatal Voyage: The Sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1990.
Left to Die: The Tragedy of the U.S.S. Juneau, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1994.
Blood and Water: Sabotaging Hitler's Bomb, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 1997.
Soldier of Peace: The Life of Yitzhak Rabin, 1922–1995, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1998.
Earthquake, Morrow/Avon (New York, NY), 2000.
Disaster!: The Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906, Morrow (New York, NY), 2001.
No Greater Glory: The Four Immortal Chaplains and the Sinking of the Dorchester in World War II, Random House (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor of articles to periodicals, including the Washington Star, San Francisco Chronicle, and Independent News Alliance; contributor of editorials to the New York Times; contributor of book reviews to the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times.
ADAPTATIONS: Otto Preminger acquired the rights to Genesis 1948: The First Arab-Israeli War in 1970; CBS-TV prepared a television adaptation of Day of the Bomb.
SIDELIGHTS: A former foreign correspondent in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, Dan Kurzman has become a practitioner of a form of history writing closely related to journalism. This "new history," as it is often described, is a synthesis of scholarly research, investigative reporting, and a form of creative writing, which, as Kurzman told CA, is creative "not in the fictional sense, but in the sense of creating images with facts." Thus, more factually detailed than historical fiction and more dramatic than traditional histories, Kurzman's books appeal to a widespread range of readers. New York Times Book Review critic Larry Collins wrote that Kurzman's technique creates a "whole that conveys the feel, color and emotion of the event as well as its historical significance."
Kurzman's early books—accounts of Japanese prime minister Nobusuke Kishi, Soviet influence in Africa and Asia, and the mid-nineteen-sixties revolt in Santo Domingo—drew some favorable reviews, but Genesis 1948: The First Arab-Israeli War was his first work to receive widespread attention. Phil Freshman, writing in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, called it "the best book I've read on the first Arab-Israeli war." Some reviewers found factual errors in Kurzman's account; others, however, commended his objectivity in handling an issue as volatile as the struggle to reestablish a Jewish state in Palestine. Roderick MacLeish wrote in the Washington Post that Kurzman "declines to reduce Israelis and Arabs to the stereotypes of invincible heroes at war with sleazy rat finks."
In Miracle of November: Madrid's Epic Stand, 1936, Kurzman recreates Franco's siege of Madrid during the Spanish Civil War. Remarked Robert Kirsch in the Los Angeles Times: "This is no romanticized or whitewashed version of events, no facile portrayal of propaganda heroes." In a New York Review of Books article, Bernard Knox faulted Kurzman's incomplete notation of sources, which he felt makes the book "of no use to the historian." Knox also wrote that Kurzman's image of this conflict "fails to give the reader a sense of the unique atmosphere of Madrid in November." On the other hand, New York Times writer Richard F. Shepard felt that "Kurzman has chronicled this epic with the attention and detail and the sense of the human spirit that it requires."
Ben-Gurion: Prophet of Fire, Kurzman's biography of David Ben-Gurion, is the story of Israel's founding father and first Prime Minister. Freshman pointed out in the Los Angeles Times Book Review that Kurzman's research has uncovered new information about Ben-Gurion, especially concerning his private life. In assessing the biography, however, Freshman contended that Kurzman "seems to excuse some of [Ben-Gurion's] formidable faults." Yet Alden Whitman wrote in the Chicago Tribune Book World that Kurzman's "reportorial biography is at once coherent and informative. From it, Ben-Gurion emerges as a titan of our times." The biography of another leader of Israel was published in 1998. Soldier of Peace: The Life of Yitzhak Rabin, 1922–1995 examines the life of the prime minister who fell to an assassin's bullet. While a Publishers Weekly critic found this work to be "less than engrossing" compared to other Kurzman histories, the reviewer also suggested that the reason may be that the author had "a subject whose record was more compelling than his personality."
Two more Kurzman books focus on specific events during World War II. Left to Die: The Tragedy of the U.S.S. Juneau recounts the disastrous outcome of the naval battle of Guadalcanal. On November 13, 1942, a Japanese submarine torpedoed the U.S.S. Juneau, killing most of the 700-member crew. When it was realized that some 150 men survived the attack, a combination of miscommunication and negligence resulted in a lack of rescue efforts for eight days. During that time most of the survivors were lost to fire, injury, and shark attack. Eventually ten crew members were rescued. In pulling together a range of material relating to the disaster, Kurzman has produced a work that "will likely stand as the definitive recounting of the tragedy," said Booklist critic Roland Green.
In Blood and Water: Sabotaging Hitler's Bomb the author describes a 1940 episode in which British intelligence located a German-controlled complex of hydroelectric and electrochemical plants in Norway. "At any cost," noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer, "the plants had to be destroyed." The reviewer added that Kurzman employs "novelistic skill" in demonstrating "that in complex clandestine operations, anything that can go wrong is likely to go wrong." Randall Schroeder also had praise for the book, saying in the Library Journal that Kurzman "combines eyewitness testimony and archival research with an easy journalistic writing style."
Disaster!: The Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906 recalls a catastrophe that "made heroes out of beggars and beggars of rich men," according to Grant Fredericksen in the Library Journal. As Kurzman reveals, the real damage was not caused by the violent quake itself but by the subsequent fires and infectious disease. The infrastructure of San Francisco was ill-equipped to handle such damage, and a power struggle between the mayor and the general who declared a state of martial law only confused rebuilding efforts. Citizen reaction ranged from despair and panic to great courage and even giddy "end of the world" celebration, all described by Kurzman in a work that Booklist contributor Gavin Quinn called "a profound and affecting documentary of San Francisco's darkest hours." In an online review for Bookreporter, Joe Hartlaub commended Disaster!, saying that the author's "detailing of exactly what happens in the moments when an earthquake first begins to occur … are absolutely breathtaking." Frederickson commented that Kurzman "brings history alive as he weaves together individual stories" of both villainy and bravery during San Francisco's worst tragedy.
Kurzman tells another poignant story of human dignity and ultimate sacrifice for the good of others in No Greater Glory: The Four Immortal Chaplains and the Sinking of the Dorchester in World War II. Kurzman uses primary and secondary historical sources to reconstruct the lives, military service, and sacrifices of the four military chaplains who served on the U.S. troopship, the S.S. Dorchester. The four chaplains were of different, even conflicting faiths: Catholic, Methodist, Dutch Reformed, and Jewish. However, in a time of tremendous crisis, they put aside any ideological and theological differences and united for the good of their fellow soldiers. The Dorchester was struck by a German torpedo off the coast of Greenland in 1943. As the ship sank, the men distributed life vests to distraught soldiers, offering encouragement in the heart of the crisis. When no more life jackets were left, the four chaplains selflessly gave up their own life jackets to others fleeing the Dorchester. Approximately 200 men survived the sinking, but the four chaplains drowned. The story of their bravery and truly selfless actions live on, however, and Kurzman details the personal ideals and characteristics that led to their sacrifice. The chaplains demonstrated "a fine model of ecumenicalism under any circumstance," stated a Kirkus Reviews contributor, and their "duties and sacrifice are movingly commemorated in this poignant account," commented Gilbert Taylor in Booklist. Kurzman's story "deftly profiles the lives and faith-based activities of the four heroes," commented Booklist contributor Andy Boynton. He provides the "fullest reckoning yet for the men who have become known as 'The Four Immortal Chaplains,'" noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer. The Kirkus Reviews critic called Kurzman's book "carefully detailed and very well narrated: a fine tonic for those weary of sectarian division."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American History Illustrated, January-February, 1991, review of Fatal Voyage: The Sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, p. 8.
Booklist, January 15, 1994, Roland Green, review of Left to Die: The Tragedy of the U.S.S. Juneau, p. 896; January 1, 1997, Roland Green, review of Blood and Water: Sabotaging Hitler's Bomb, p. 814; May 1, 1998, Gilbert Taylor, Soldier of Peace: The Life of Yitzhak Rabin, 1922–1995, p. 1498; April 1, 2001, Gavin Quinn, review of Disaster!: The Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906, p. 1445; March 15, 2004, Gilbert Taylor, review of No Greater Glory: The Four Immortal Chaplains and the Sinking of the Dorchester in World War II, p. 1260; October 15, 2004, Andy Boynton, review of No Greater Glory, p. 432.
Chicago Tribune Book World, March 4, 1984, Alden Whitman, review of Ben-Gurion: Prophet of Fire.
History, summer, 1991, review of Fatal Voyage, p. 156.
Journal of Military History, January, 1992, Richard Russell, review of Fatal Voyage, p. 148.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 1994, review of Left to Die, p. 44; April 1, 1998, review of Soldier of Peace, p. 469; February 15, 2004, review of No Greater Glory, p. 166.
Kliatt, September, 1995, review of Left to Die, p. 39; November, 2004, John E. Boyd, review of No Greater Glory, p. 56.
Library Journal, June 15, 1992, Michael Rogers, review of Genesis 1948: The First Arab-Israeli War, p. 106; March 1, 1994, review of The Bravest Battle: The Twenty-eight Days of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, p. 124; January, 1997, Randall Schroeder, review of Blood and Water, p. 120; March 15, 1998, review of Soldier of Peace: The Life of Yitzhak Rabin, 1922–1995, p. 77; April 1, 2001, Grant A. Fredericksen, review of Disaster!, p. 115; April 1, 2004, Charles M. Minyard, review of No Greater Glory, p. 107.
Los Angeles Times, October 14, 1976, Robert Kirsch, review of Miracle of November: Madrid's Epic Stand, 1936; February 20, 1980; June 21 2001, Anthony Day, review of Disaster!: The Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906, p. E3.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, November 20, 1983, Phil Freshman, review of Genesis 1948.
Military Law Review, fall, 1992, Brian Palmer, review of Fatal Voyage, pp. 266-273.
New York Review of Books, November 6, 1980, Bernard Knox, review of Miracle of November, 1936.
New York Times, November 26, 1976, Richard Shepard, review of Miracle of November, 1936; April 7, 1980; January 5, 1986; February 12, 1997, review of Blood and Water, p. C17.
New York Times Book Review, February 20, 1994, Chris Patsilelis, review of Left to Die, p. 22; March 9, 1997, review of Blood and Water, p. 18; May 24, 1998, Amy Wilentz, review of Soldier of Peace, p. 9; July 1, 2001, David Traxel, "8.3: A Journalist Surveys the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906," p. 19.
People, August 13, 1990, Ken Gross, review of Fatal Voyage, p. 25.
Publishers Weekly, June 1, 1990, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of Fatal Voyage, p. 51; March 23, 1992, review of Genesis 1948 p. 68; January 17, 1994, review of Left to Die, p. 380; November 4, 1996, review of Blood and Water, p. 54; March 30, 1998, review of Soldier of Peace, p. 57; April 23, 2001, review of Disaster! p. 66; April 12, 2004, "D-day, and Beyond, Sixty Years On," review of No Greater Glory, p. 54.
Time, September 18, 1987, "The Burned and the Buried: Disasters," review of A Killing Wind, p. 42.
Washington Monthly, December, 1987, Michael Inkoff, review of A Killing Wind, p. 49.
Washington Post, September 3, 1970, Roderick MacLeish, review of Genesis 1948.
Washington Post Book World, March 27, 1994, review of Left to Die, p. 9; February 9, 1997, review of Blood and Water, p. 18; August 2, 1998, review of Soldier of Peace, p. 8.
Bookreporter, http://www.bookreporter.com/ (May 1, 2004), Joe Hartlaub, review of Disaster!: The Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906.