The Bundys, brilliant, privileged, well connected--epitomes of the Eastern establishment--attracted much of the blame for Vietnam. After the debacle, they conceded little to critics, as Bird remembers his infuriation with a 1972 McGeorge Bundy performance at Bird's college, in which Bundy coolly deflected all attacks. This biography doesn't mitigate Bird's anger, yet it fairly explores the Bundys' background, early careers, and views of the turbulent situation in Vietnam in the early 1960s. By then ex-Harvard dean McGeorge was the national security advisor, and his lanky older brother Bill was an assistant secretary of state. After critiquing McGeorge's performance in the Cuban missile crisis, Bird exhumes his and Bill's memos rationalizing U.S. support of Saigon. The brothers knew that success was remote, though Bill was more willing to countenance withdrawal, according to a 1964 memo that was shot down by hawks. Following the disaster, both repaired to establishment institutions (Mac ran the Ford Foundation; Bill, Foreign Affairs magazine), where they partially restored their liberal credentials. Ably researched and fluidly synthesized, this biography will have no challenger for a long time. -- Gilbert Taylor, Booklist
In a 1962 spoof for Esquire, Richard Rovere quoted John Kenneth Galbraith as deeming John J. McCloy ``chairman of the US Establishment''--but McCloy has never been the subject of a full- dress biography. Here, Bird (a contributing editor of The Nation) fills this void with an evenhanded and wonderfully readable account of the public man that also sheds light on the meritocracy whose dedication to principles beyond partisanship still gives it incalculable influence over a presumptively democratic polity. An ambitious, industrious overachiever who made his way from the wrong side of the tracks in Philadelphia through Amherst and Harvard Law School to international eminence, McCloy was notable more for analytic acuity than great brilliance. The upwardly mobile attorney nonetheless left his mark wherever he went. During WW II, for example, the globe-trotting McCloy was Henry Stimson's top aide at the War Department. He later headed the World Bank during its formative years and was High Commissioner of occupied Germany, moving on to the chairmanship of Chase Manhattan. Though a staunch Republican, he served as an advisor to JFK, LBJ, and their successors, while remaining a leading light of the Council on Foreign Relations--an establishment citadel if ever there was one. Although a pillar of rectitude, the pragmatic McCloy did not eschew expedients. He played a key role in the internment of Japanese- Americans after Pearl Harbor, for instance, and granted clemency to scores of convicted Nazis during his tenure in Berlin. When he died early in 1989, a few weeks short of 94, however, McCloy was fittingly eulogized for his substantive contributions to the public good. An impressive narrative history that records a consequential individual's shortcomings without tarnishing his accomplishments. Despite a paucity of personal detail, the absorbing text (ten years in preparation) will likely be the definitive life story for decades to come. -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
An anthology of essays and documents about the decision to use the atomic bomb on Hiroshima
Kai Bird is the new Executive Director for CUNY Graduate Center's Leon Levy Biography Center
Crown books (Random House) has signed Kai Bird to write a biography of President Jimmy Carter's White House years.