Thomas, Evan 1951- (Evan Thomas, III)
Thomas, Evan 1951- (Evan Thomas, III)
Home—Washington, DC. Office—Newsweek, 1750 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Ste. 1220, Washington, DC 20006.
Time, New York, NY, writer, 1978-86; Newsweek, Washington, DC, assistant managing editor, 1986—. Panelist on television talk shows, including Inside Washington, Meet the Press, Today, Face the Nation, Nightline, Good Morning America, Larry King Live, Charlie Rose, and News Hour with Jim Lehrer. Princeton University, visiting professor, 2003-04; Harvard University, visiting professor, 2004-05.
Society of American Historians.
Harry S. Truman Book Award, 1988, for The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made; National Magazine Award, 1998, for coverage of events related to President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, 2002, 2004, for general excellence, and 2005, for best single-topic issue; "best in the business" citation from American Journalism Review, for political coverage.
(With Walter Isaacson) The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1986.
The Man to SEE: Edward Bennett Williams, the Ultimate Insider; Legendary Trial Lawyer, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1991.
The Very Best Men: Four Who Dared; The Early Years of the CIA, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1995.
(With others) Back From the Dead: How Clinton Survived the Republican Revolution, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1997.
Robert Kennedy: His Life, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2000.
John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy, Simon & Schuster, 2003.
(With Eleanor Clift and Newsweek staff) Election 2004: How Bush Won and What You Can Expect in the Future, Public Affairs (New York, NY), 2005.
Sea of Thunder: Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign, 1941-1945, Simon & Schuster, 2006.
As assistant managing editor of Newsweek magazine, Evan Thomas has had a privileged position as an observer of national politics. A single theme joins several of his book-length biographical works: Washington power brokers after World War II. Thomas's first book, The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made, looks at six powerful men who formulated post-World War II foreign policy in the United States. Washington lobbyist and lawyer Edward Bennett Williams was the subject of Thomas's second book, The Man to SEE: Edward Bennett Williams, the Ultimate Insider; Legendary Trial Lawyer. Then, in the perhaps somewhat ironically titled The Very Best Men: Four Who Dared; The Early Years of the CIA, Thomas focused on a set of upperclass players in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) during the 1950s and early 1960s. Robert Kennedy: His Life seeks to demythologize the former attorney general and presidential candidate whose life was cut short by assassination.
Thomas's first book, The Wise Men, was written with Walter Isaacson, national editor at Time. During the year of publication, Thomas moved from a staff writer job at Time to become an editor at Newsweek. Reflecting both authors" backgrounds in popular magazine writing, The Wise Men tends toward anecdote and quotation rather than in-depth scholarly analysis. Nonetheless, in the book's 853 pages, a fairly thorough picture emerges of the subjects: Averell Harriman, Dean Acheson, Charles Bohlen, George Kennan, Robert Lovett and John McCloy. These six men were members of an elite "think tank" during the years of the Cold War. Committed to an anti-Soviet policy, they offered early support for President Lyndon Johnson's commitment to hostilities during the Vietnam War, but eventually they became disenchanted with the war and lost their influence as a result. A reviewer for Time characterized the book as being full of "vigor and style."
The Wise Men was generally well received. Godfrey Hodgson, writing in the New Republic, asserted that the authors had painted their setting "with a very sure touch." While leaving some historical questions to be further explored, Hodgson maintained that Thomas and Isaacson were "owed admiration for a superbly realized collective biography."
The Man to SEE, is a biography of lawyer/lobbyist Edward Bennett Williams, who died of cancer in 1988. The book was authorized by Williams's widow and friends. Thomas's portrait of Williams depicts a man of accomplishments but also one with significant personal and professional weaknesses. Williams argued a string of important constitutional cases against the government before the Supreme Court during the 1950s and 1960s, and made an enemy of J. Edgar Hoover. The Man to See also recounts Williams's use of character assassination to further his causes, as well as his representation of parties whose interests conflicted; in general, engaging in acts that would likely constitute ethical violations by today's standards of legal conduct. Jill Abramson, reviewing the book for the New Republic, declared that Thomas, in recording his subject's efforts to become the ultimate Washington insider, was "rather too impressed by Williams's grasping and clawing." Attorney and New York Times Book Review contributor Alan M. Dershowitz contended: "There is something unfair, it seems to me, about disclosing Williams's heretofore unknown underside so shortly after his death…. Writing critically of a man who so recently died is, in effect, a denial of literary due process and of the right to confront one's accuser." Dershowitz concluded: "Mr. Thomas's book is thorough and creditable, but Williams has too many friends to allow this biography to become the standard reference."
In The Very Best Men, Thomas examines the lives of a set of well-educated, upperclass men, of the ilk depicted in his first book, The Wise Men. Once again the setting is the Cold War era, but the power players in this volume are Central Intelligence Agency planners Tracy Barnes, Richard Bissell, Desmond FitzGerald, and Frank Wisner. While he was the CIA's chief of opera- tions, Frank Wisner recruited Barnes, Bissell, and FitzGerald, and together they fashioned what became known as the CIA's "department of dirty tricks." Optimism, arrogance, and zealous anti-communism were said to have characterized the work of the men depicted in The Very Best Men. Certainly some of their efforts, such as the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, were recognized as disasters from the start. David Wise, commenting in the Washington Post Book World, deemed this "a jewel of a book." The Very Best Men offers a more vivid portrait of CIA covert activities, its rationales and failings—at least in the Cuba arena—than previously available, largely because the author was granted access to CIA confidential records unavailable to others.
Thomas's Robert Kennedy joins a wealth of biographies on the tragic political figure who endured first his brother's assassination and then was himself killed while running for president. Where Thomas's differs from other books is in its author's distance from his subject: Thomas did not know Kennedy, is not a left-wing idealist, and did not seek to expose more prurient details about Kennedy's private life. According to Michael Lind in the New York Times Book Review, this practical detachment—as well as Thomas's use of newly available information—has produced a "judicious and thorough book … likely to be the most comprehensive and balanced study of the life and career of Robert F. Kennedy for a long time to come." Lind added: "Despite his measured approach, or rather because of it, Thomas, who is clearly sympathetic to Robert Kennedy, demolishes the myth of Bobby the liberal icon far more effectively than any exercise in debunking has done."
Thomas turns toward a much earlier period of American history in his well-received John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy. While the book does not uncover new information about Jones, it was highly praised for its thorough research and engaging writing. Jones, the son of a gardener, fled his native Scotland to avoid arrest and came to America, where he offered the revolutionary cause his services as a seaman. He fought fiercely against British warships in the Atlantic, most famously as commander of the Bonhomme Richard, establishing a reputation for almost reckless valor. Thomas's book dispels some of the mythic reverence that has surrounded Jones. The result, according to Military Review contributor Alan Cate, is a "marvelous portrait of a proud, insecure, ferocious, highly ambitious figure." Cate went on to observe that Thomas's descriptions of the challenges of naval command are "as enthralling and humorous as any Patrick O'Brien novel." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly called John Paul Jones a "superlative" biography. Citing Thomas's honest assessment of Jones's faults and of the controversies surrounding his command, including Jones's stubborn insistence on continuing to fight even when incurring shocking casualties, New York Times Book Review contributor Nathaniel Philbrick praised John Paul Jones as a "penetrating biography that reads, more often than not, like an adventure story."
An episode from more recent naval warfare is the focus of Sea of Thunder: Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign, 1941-1945. The book recounts the battle of Leyte Gulf in the Pacific, one of the largest and most complex naval battles ever fought. It included four separate engagements across several hundred miles off the Philippines, and involved dozens of aircraft carriers and battleships, hundreds of destroyers, and more than 1,700 aircraft. The battle began when Japanese naval forces were ordered to halt General Douglas MacArthur's landing on the island of Leyte in the Philippines, which would cripple Japan's ability to obtain desperately-needed supplies from its new territories in Southeast Asia. Japan's strategy was to lure the major part of the U.S. fleet far north, then attack the remaining U.S. forces, under the command of Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague, off Leyte.
Sea of Thunder concentrates on four commanders: Admiral William F. (Bull) Halsey, commander of the American Third Fleet; Commander Ernest E. Evans, captain of the destroyer Johnston; Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita, the head of Japanese naval command; and Vice Admiral Matome Ugaki, head of a battleship division. As Ronald Spector noted in his assessment of the book in New York Times Book Review, Halsey and Kurita made major mistakes. Halsey did not realize he was pursuing Japanese ships that were basically empty decoys, and ignored Sprague's desperate SOS messages, returning too late to provide assistance. Sprague's men fought bravely, with Evans in a particularly inspiring role, but the U.S. forces could not have prevailed if Kurita had continued to fight. The Japanese commander, however, decided to withdraw, and historians continue to debate his reasons. "Thomas's explanation," wrote Spector, "may be the best available. He argues that Kurita simply could not bring himself to sacrifice thousands of lives." Spector considered Thomas's assessment of Kurita's and Halsey's decisions to be "balanced and judicious," but added that Thomas gives insufficient attention to other considerations that could illuminate their actions at Leyte. In Library Journal, Patti C. McCall wrote that Thomas paints a "compelling" portrait of his four subjects, especially Evans, an Annapolis-educated Cherokee who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his bravery at Leyte.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, April 15, 2003, Jay Freeman, review of John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy, p. 1446; November 15, 2006, Ronald Green, review of Sea of Thunder: Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign, 1941-1945, p. 22.
Library Journal, May 1, 2003, Charles L. Lumpkins, review of John Paul Jones, p. 130; November 1, 2006, Patti C. McCall, review of Sea of Thunder, p. 88.
Military Review, Volume 84, number 6, November-December, 2004, Alan Cate, review of John Paul Jones, pp. 86-88.
New Republic, February 9, 1987, Godfrey Hodgson, review of The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made, pp. 40-44; November 25, 1991, Jill Abramson, review of The Man to SEE: Edward Bennett Williams, the Ultimate Insider; Legendary Trial Lawyer, pp. 38-42.
Newsweek, November 3, 1986, Richard Holbrooke, review of The Wise Men, pp. 74-75.
New Yorker, January 27, 1992, p. 84.
New York Times, June 5, 2003, Janet Maslin, "Navy's Father as Self-Destructive Hero," p. E9.
New York Times Book Review, December 15, 1991, Alan M. Dershowitz, review of The Man to SEE, p. 14; November 12, 1995, Martin Walker, review of The Very Best Men: Four Who Dared; The Early Years of the CIA, p. 55; September 10, 2000, Michael Lind, "The Candidate;" June 22, 2003, Nathaniel Philbrick, "Always in Attack Mode," p. 11; January 7, 2007, Ronald Spector, "Pacific Theater," p. 19.
Publishers Weekly, September 13, 1991, review of The Man to SEE, p. 71; May 5, 2003, review of John Paul Jones, p. 216; August 7, 2006, review of Sea of Thunder, p. 41.
Time, October 27, 1986, review of The Wise Men, p. 98.
Washington Monthly, May 1, 2003, Michael C. Boyer, "Navy Blues," p. 59.
Washington Post Book World, October 8, 1995, David Wise, review of The Very Best Men, p. 4.
MSNBC,http://www.msnbc.msn.com/ (May 5, 2006) "Meet Newsweek: Evan Thomas, Assistant Managing Editor."