Laird, Thomas (Calvin) 1953(?)-

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LAIRD, Thomas (Calvin) 1953(?)-

PERSONAL: Born c. 1953.

ADDRESSES: Home—Kathmandu, Nepal, and New Orleans, LA. Agent—Gail Hochman, Brandt and Hochman Literary Agents, 1501 Broadway, New York, NY 10036.

CAREER: Journalist and photographer. Asiaweek, Nepal reporter, 1991-2002. Has worked as a stringer for Time and Newsweek; location coordinator for films, including Baraka and The Gurkha.


(Photographer) Peter Matthiessen, East of LoMonthang: In the Land of Mustang, Shambhala Publications (Boston, MA), 1995.

(Photographer) Ian A. Baker, The Dalai Lama's SecretTemple: Wall Paintings from Tibet, introduction by Tenzin Gyatso and the fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet, Thames & Hudson (New York, NY) 2000.

Into Tibet: The CIA's First Atomic Spy and His SecretExpedition to Lhasa, Grove Press (New York, NY), 2002.

Contributor of articles to periodicals, including MIT's Technology Review, Newsweek, Time, Conde Nast Traveler, and Outside. Photography has appeared in more than 100 publications, including National Geographic.

WORK IN PROGRESS: A history of Tibet, cowritten with the Dalai Lama.

SIDELIGHTS: Thomas Laird is a photographer and journalist who was based in Nepal for thirty years. He is the first Westerner ever to live for one year in the Buddhist Barony of Mustang, to legally walk through the Nepalese Himalayas to Mount Kailash, and to descend any part of Tibet's Tsangpo River in modern times in a coracle (wicker boat).

Noted writer Peter Matthiessen wrote the text and Laird supplied the photographs for East of Lo Monthang: In the Land of Mustang, which focuses on a remote, feudal barony of Nepal that underwent great political and environmental damage as it began to enter the twentieth century in the 1990s. Raul Nino, writing in Booklist, noted, "Most readers will find that the stunning photography only enhances the feeling of actually being there."

Laird also collaborated with writer Ian Baker for The Dalai Lama's Secret Temple: Wall Paintings from Tibet, providing 150 color photographs that reveal, for the first time to Westerners, the mural paintings found in a sacred temple used by the Dalai Lamas over the years. Library Journal contributor Lucia S. Chen commented that "Laird's awesome photographs capture the high quality of these Tibetan masterpieces."

Laird set aside the camera and took up the pen for his book Into Tibet: The CIA's First Atomic Spy and His Secret Expedition to Lhasa. In this true story, Laird recounts the mission of early Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agent and technical wizard Douglas Mackiernan. After successfully planting detection devices in Kazakhstan in 1949 to record the explosion of the Soviet Union's first atomic bomb, Mackiernan was assigned to China's Xingjiang province under the title of vice consul for the U.S. State Department. Mackiernan's real job, however, was to help arm anti-Chinese Inner Asians, including the Tibetans, to fight off an invasion from Communist China. In his book, Laird lays out the facts about a mission that the CIA kept secret for more than fifty years due to its political sensitivity. Mackiernan also delves into how the CIA's decision may have actually caused the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950 to occur earlier than it would have otherwise. The invasion was sped up because the Chinese had identified Mackiernan as a spy before he went to Tibet. China may have invaded immediately to prevent the United States or other governments from assisting the Tibetans. Unfortunately, Mackiernan was unwittingly killed by Tibetan guards at the border because they had not received a message from their leaders that gave Mackiernan and his colleagues freedom to pass through the country.

Although the book is largely a tale of cold war intrigue, Laird also delves into the life of Mackiernan, an adventurer and womanizer who abandoned his first wife. In addition, he discusses the many betrayals involved in the incident, including the CIA's decision to abandon Mackiernan's near-destitute widow and twin babies with little or no financial support until recent years. They also stonewalled the family's search to find out what happened to Mackiernan.

"Laird has performed impressive research, combining other archives and tracking down Mackiernan's family and colleagues for interviews," wrote James Rupert in the Washington Post Book World. Max Woodworth noted in the Taipei Times that "Laird does an impressive job uncovering the details" of the story and called Into Tibet "fascinating." A Publishers Weekly reviewer felt that the book makes "for interesting reading," but added that "a lack of critical facts and focus undermine this account." Library Journal contributor Charles W. Hayford compared Laird's true story to "a spy novel, complete with reconstructed dialog, bureaucratic infighting, cinematic pacing, and crackling action." Luis H. Francia concluded in the Village Voice that "when he lets go of his 'just the facts, ma'am' approach, we get a grippingly good narrative."



Asian Reporter, April 22, 2003, David Johnson, review of Into Tibet: The CIA's First Atomic Spy and His Secret Expedition to Lhasa, p. 12.

Booklist, January 1, 1996, Raul Nino, review of East of Lo Monthang: In the Land of Mustang, p. 779.

Foreign Affairs, November-December, 2002, review of Into Tibet.

Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2002, review of Into Tibet, p. 385.

Kliatt, July, 2003, Raymond L. Puffer, review of IntoTibet, p. 48.

Library Journal, December, 2000, Lucia S. Chen, review of The Dalai Lama's Secret Temple: Wall Paintings from Tibet, p. 114; May 15, 2002, Charles W. Hayford, review of Into Tibet, p. 109.

Publishers Weekly, April 22, 2002, review of Into Tibet, p. 61.

Tapei Times, January 12, 2003, Max Woodworth, review of Into Tibet, p. 19.

Village Voice, September 4, 2002, Luis H. Francia, review of Into Tibet.

Washington Post Book World, September 15, 2002, James Rupert, "Border Crossings," review of Into Tibet, p. 13.


Into Tibet Web site, (December 15, 2004).