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Dossier: The Secret History of Armand Hammer Paperback – August 20, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 414 pages
  • Publisher: Carroll & Graf Publishers; 1st Carroll & Graf Ed edition (August 20, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786706775
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786706778
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,354,660 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I studied government at Cornell and Harvard, and received a Ph.D from Harvard in 1973. My master's thesis on the search for political truth ("Inquest: The Warren Commission and the Establishment of Truth" and my doctoral dissertation ("News From Nowhere") were both published as books. I taught political science at MIT and UCLA. I have now written 14 books. My website

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Tom Bruce on January 7, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Biographer Epstein does a straightforward, almost journalistic description of the life and times of Armand Hammer, considered by many to be a man of vision, humanity, and charity until details of his life began to seep out following his death. Even the New York Times gave this man a glowing obituary. But, thanks to the tremendous research done by Epstein, we see Hammer for what he was: an evil, self-serving, egomanic. And Epstein's non-sensational telling of the details of Hammer's life is appropriate; it is unnecessary to augment beyond the notoriousness of Hammer's own actions. What Hammer did speaks for itself, and Epstein catalogues his many sins. He was a traitor to his country, his family, his friends. He was such a lowlife that he allowed his father to go to prison for crime he, the son, committed. He was a perpetual adulterer. He laundered millions of dollars and had secret accounts everywhere. He drove what most believed to be a successful company to the brink of bankruptcy. But I could have done without the incessant mini-flashbacks that kept creeping into the narration. And I think it was a really bad choice to begin the book with the prologue describing Hammer's final days. It would work much better at the end, as this failure of a human being tops himself while he is dying with malicious, coniving, and deceitful steps to preserve his false characterization upon his passing. I would strongly recommend that you read the prologue at the end of the book. I would also suggest that as you finish each chapter, you turn to the source notes for that chapter and be amazed by the research Epstein did to compile his facts. He paints Hammer as such a dispicable character, that you will be astounded that this character got away with his ruse for his entire life. In this day of rotten corporate big-business, the book shows the rot has been going on for decades.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 24, 1998
Format: Hardcover
The man the media held out to us as a humanitarian, art lover, and brilliant capitalist is finally exposed in this brilliantly-written and thoroughly-researched book. From performing illegal abortions to twenty years as a hard-core Soviet agent for Lenin and Stalin, to international bribes, to Watergate, to fathering and abandoning bastard children, to the theft of tens if not hundreds of millions, Hammer would do anything. As a Jew he was able to be one of the major agents between the early Soviet government and the American communist movement both of which contained a very large proportion of Jews. Only the communists, our Republican, and Democratic politicians, and media liked this total fraud. In the end even his family loathed him.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Neurasthenic VINE VOICE on May 18, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There exists an unusually wide breadth of opinions about Armand Hammer -- he almost won the Nobel Peace Prize, and is revered by those who have benefited from his charitable endeavors, yet is excoriated by the political right. The latter group became particularly vocal in the United States around 2000, as Hammer's ties to Al Gore's father became fodder for talk-radio rumor mongering in that year's presidential election.

Dossier is the only biography of Hammer written with reference to both the U.S. government's records on the man, made available under the Freedom of Information Act after he died, and Soviet records, made available after the collapse of the U.S.S.R. It is therefore the only book that comes close to explaining the nature of Hammer's ties to the Soviet Union. (Spoiler: In the early 1920s, he set up some companies that were used as channels by the Soviets for financing secret operations abroad).

Unfortunately, Epstein was not satisfied with these records, and turns to some really marginal sources to sex up the story. The book contains a number of particularly shocking accusations that, if you follow through the footnotes, all come from a woman who claims to have been Hammer's mistress, decades ago. Take for example Epstein's rendition of the well-known 1920 conviction of Hammer's father for manslaughter. Hammer's father had performed an abortion after which the woman had died. Among those who testified at the trial were the woman's maid, who had been present when the operation took place. Every other source on Hammer treats this as the start of Hammer's business career -- with his father incarcerated, Hammer had to take the reins of the family business.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 3, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I found this book to be utterly fascinating. There has been so much smoke blown about Armand Hammer over the years (a lot of it from the mouth of the Hammer himself) that it is refreshing to read a less worshipful account. The best part (and the part of Hammer's life which he purposely obscured over the years) is about his life in Russia in the 1920's. Well worth the time!
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Craig Matteson HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on December 28, 2002
Format: Paperback
I remember Armand Hammer appearing on the Tonight Show and other of guest appearances on the popular shows of the day doing his best to create a positive public image. He largely succeeded.
This book shows the deals he cut with rather awful people and Hammer's, being kind, questionable character. It is an engrossing story and the book is a great read.
The point is that this is an important story because of the relationships Hammer had with people in power in the Soviet Union, in the Middle East, and in Washington. Occidental Petroleum was and is an important company. Of course, Al Gore's father success, and much of Gore's personal wealth, is based upon carrying water for Occidental Petroleum. The company worked hard in post Hammer times to erase that difficult past. You can judge for yourself.
I believe that you will enjoy this book and warmly recommend it to you.
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