It comes as little surprise that Armand Hammer, the chairman and tyrant of Occidental Petroleum who molded himself into a modern Medici, was a philanderer, a sycophant to American Presidents and Soviet leaders alike, and an avid art collector who cared not a fig for art. The surprises in this absorbing biography by Edward Jay Epstein, with Armand Hammer, come from long-buried sources: that Hammer financed Soviet espionage in the United States, that he forced his long-time mistress to change her appearance and her identity to throw his wife off the track, and that Hammer was neither an astute businessman nor anything near the billionaire he portrayed himself as. Hammer's secret history, and his repellent yet fascinating character, deserve the exhaustive, acerbic treatment Epstein provides.
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From Publishers Weekly
After spending six months in 1981 traveling with Hammer while researching what he thought would be a friendly magazine article, Epstein (Legend: The Secret World of Lee Harvey Oswald) began to suspect that just about everything the self-promoting billionaire said or wrote or paid to have written about himself was untrue. Later, further interviews with Hammer's family and business associates, as well as research into newly available Soviet archives and FBI files gained via the Freedom of Information Act, confirmed those suspicions. Though it covers the range of Hammer's life, this is not so much a biography as it is an expose. Epstein's charges against Hammer are vast: performing illegal abortions at his father's "clinic" (a fatal operation that Hammer performed while a medical student at Columbia sent his father to Sing Sing for manslaughter); laundering money that financed espionage for the Soviets in the 1920s and '30s; being a bad businessman (for the laundering to work, his ventures in the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. had to appear to be money-makers); peddling fraudulent "Romanoff treasures" and fake Faberge Easter eggs through his art gallery; bribing his way to success both in the oil business and at the White House; blackmailing enemies and fabricating friendships with people in high places; bilking the rich widow who was his third wife; reneging on financial commitments he made to several mistresses and an illegitimate daughter; hiding his Jewishness until he was at death's door; and, finally, mounting a shameless, self-serving and unsuccessful publicity campaign to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Although his father was a dedicated Communist, ideology seems to have had nothing to do with Hammer's Soviet connections. The goal, as it was throughout his life, was money and power. Epstein is a persuasive?if somewhat repetitious?reporter. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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