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The Ideal Man: The Tragedy of Jim Thompson and the American Way of War Hardcover – November 1, 2011

ISBN-13: 978-0470086216 ISBN-10: 0470086211 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (November 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470086211
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470086216
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 0.9 x 10.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #130,942 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

In the 1950s, U.S. foreign policy makers and intelligence agencies faced a momentous choice: Should America, as former OSS officer Jim Thompson believed, fight the Cold War by helping other nations build democratic, capitalistic futures while preserving and strengthening their traditional cultures? Or would it be more practical, as Thompson's old OSS buddy Bill Bird argued, to help local strongmen seize power and prop them up with financial and military aid in return for their staunch anticommunism and the establishment of American military bases on their soil? History makes two things perfectly clear—America chose the latter course, and anyone who disagreed with that choice, including Jim Thompson, was in serious danger.

In The Ideal Man, journalist and Southeast Asia expert Joshua Kurlantzick tells the compelling and tragic story of an OSS officer posted to Thailand in 1945 who fell in love with that then-remote nation and made it his home. Through this powerful lens, Kurlantzick offers insight into a pivotal moment in Cold War history that set a course for American foreign policy that is still being followed today.

Kurlantzick reveals that, as a civilian, Thompson epitomized all that was best about postwar America. This former society dilettante quickly discovered the disappearing Thai cottage industry of silk farming and weaving and rebuilt it into a vast new source of wealth for the nation and thousands of its workers. But Jim Thompson was leading a double life.

Thanks to his growing business, his passion for his new home, and his innate curiosity, Thompson had access to people and places that no other American could equal. He quickly became the go-to man for agents of the newly formed CIA. But he made no secret of his support for nationalist fighters in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, or his opposition to America's increasing military presence and support of Thai generals. Soon, he and Bill Bird found themselves on opposite sides in coups, congressional investigations, and what was, at the time, America's largest-ever covert operation.

Thompson's very public opposition to what had become established American policy earned him plenty of enemies, especially among Thai generals. His disappearance in 1967 became an international mystery that has fostered decades of speculation.

Bristling with thorny insider tales of OSS and CIA exploits, political gamesmanship, and international intrigue, The Ideal Man is ideal reading for anyone who loves history, spy stories, and behind-the-scenes accounts of how diplomatic policy decisions are made—for better or worse.

From the Back Cover

Praise for The Ideal Man

"Joshua Kurlantzick has written a sad, evocative tale of an American voyager who conquers a strange land only to be lost in it, caught between cultures and his own demons. The Ideal Man will appeal to readers of Graham Greene and The Ugly American, but it's also a timeless story of innocence and knowing too much."
Evan Thomas, author of Sea of Thunder and The War Lovers

"Here is a more troubled and troubling Jim Thompson than we have previously encountered: the silk king enters the heart of darkness. After narrating the ultimate Asia hand's unrequited love affair with Thailand, this remarkable book makes Thompson's legendary and still unsolved disappearance at the height of the Cold War seem almost inevitable."
Duncan McCargo, author of Tearing Apart the Land

"Woven throughout Kurlantzick's biography of Our Man in Thailand is an essential question for our times: When Washington goes on ideological rampages overseas, running wars that trample on the aspirations of the local people, no matter how hard those aspirations may be for outsiders to discern, don't these wars tend to boomerang? Doesn't cultural clumsiness undercut military power every time? Kurlantzick's glamorous protagonist, the 'silk king' Jim Thompson, saw American anticommunism wreak such havoc in Southeast Asia that it helped give rise to a later communist victory. This fascinating book will leave you wondering how often this pattern is going to be repeated, on large and small scales, in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and beyond."
Roger Warner, author of Shooting at the Moon: The Story of America's Clandestine War in Laos


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Customer Reviews

This is an exceedingly well written and informative book, that reads a lot like a thriller.
Indi
Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in 20th-century Thai history, Southeast Asian politics and, of course, the fascinating Jim Thompson himself.
Early Easter
There is lots of information about specific Thai political figures and occurrences in Thailand during the 1950s.
K. Johnson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By M. Bell on February 12, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Jim Thompson was so famous in Thailand that a letter sent using only his name and city would easily still find it's way to him on time. Ex O.S.S. (C.I.A forerunner) officer during WWII, wealthy business man, playboy bon-vivant --- he was all these things and more. His real life story reads like something out of a novel by Ian Fleming or John LeCarre.
This book delves deeply into his life and legend as the "Thai Silk King" and shines a light on his mysterious disappearance during Easter weekend of 1967 in the Cameron Highlands resort area of Malaysia. It also makes clear that he found himself increasingly at odds with U.S. involvement in Vietnam and speculates that this estrangement from his former bosses may have led to the C.I.A. having him eliminated. At one point they considered his contrary ideas about Vietnam so incendiary to their cause that they issued a "burn notice" on him to any and all operatives.
It sheds equal light on the fact that he was a very unhappy man during his final known days. Having missed the chance at a longer term arrangement with the wife of a U.S. diplomat he was having an affair with he became increasingly depressed about this and other dramas playing out in his life at age sixty-one. A world-renowned collector of buddhist art, it seems he also had a nasty run-in with Thai officials over some ancient buddha limestone heads he bought that they wanted returned. But it was the issue of Vietnam and the change playing out in his adopted Thailand that apparently bothered him most of all.
This book is well-paced and reads almost like a thriller rather than a historical biography. Whether a reader is discovering the legend of Jim Thompson for the first time or expanding an already existing interest in him (like me), this book really delivers. Although he was an enigmatic and often secretive man the author here really has done his research in peeling back the complex layers of the myth and the man.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Early Easter on January 10, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The narrative goes well beyond revealing new information on Thompson, his activities, motivations and disappearance> I also learned a lot about Thailand in the 40s, 50s and 60s. And beyond that, it provides an excellent analysis on what went wrong with US foreign policy after World War II. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in 20th-century Thai history, Southeast Asian politics and, of course, the fascinating Jim Thompson himself.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Indi on January 16, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is an exceedingly well written and informative book, that reads a lot like a thriller. The author did a particularly good job of highlighting the SE Asian political context in which Jim Thompson disappeared. He makes you wonder, perhaps unintentionally, if the US has learned anything from its past foreign policy mistakes. The biggest thrill in reading this book however, is in peeling back the layers of personality, increasing dogma, cultural nuances, business envy, and many other riveting factors that could have each alone contributed to Thompson's vanishing.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Mike DePue, OFS on December 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The author lays out for us the remarkable story of a remarkable individual immersed in a remarkable culture at a remarkable time in history. The fact that available information prevents Kurlantzick from wrapping it all up in a neat package with a satisfying ending should not detract from his in-depth work.

As I write this, Thailand continues to stumble and stagger toward a continually elusive embrace of democracy. From a Time magazine post today: "Faced with weeks of protests, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has dissolved parliament and called a general election for Feb. 2. The 46-year-old is attempting to stamp legitimacy on her administration after ferocious anti-government demonstrations gripped the country, claiming five lives and injuring hundreds." Kurlantzick fills us in on how Thailand went through a quick and culturally chaotic transformation to become what it is today.

Kurlantzick's prose, more journalistic than stylistic, weaves together a critical look at US foreign policy, a nuanced and complex individual (Jim Thompson primarily, although there are others, such as Willis Bird and Pridi Banomyong), and post-colonial Indochina. Thompson's unexplained and apparently unexplainable disappearance is something of a subplot.

When writing a review, I usually try to quote at least one passage that I found particularly pertinent and striking. So I include the following: "Thompson, said one of his close friends, had come to a realization that other liberal former OSS men understood by the 1960s: they had fought to rid the world of imperialism--Japanese and German and French, but also British and Dutch--and yet, by continuing their intelligence work into the 1940s and 1950s, they had actually midwifed a new era of imperialism. American imperialism." (p.180)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By K. Johnson VINE VOICE on August 21, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Two new things I learned reading this book were 1. that Thailand was manipulating American leaders for military and economic aid in the 1950s and 60s and 2. the common situations of Thompson's expat disenfranchisement from not only his host country of Thailand but his home-country, the USA. This is a common experience among the vast majority of expats.

Author Joshua Kurlantzick delved deeply into Jim Thompson and his situations in Thailand with fellow Americans, international expats, and US involvement in South East Asia. Thompson also witnessed the negative effects of the transformation of Thailand during the 'Americanization' period of the 1950s and 60s.

There is lots of information about specific Thai political figures and occurrences in Thailand during the 1950s. A reader can learn a lot about the Thai political and economic situation starting with the post WWII leadership of Pridi who led the Thai democratic party and the country itself. Thompson knew Pridi and met with him on occasion. At this time the Viet Minh were working to drive the French colonialists out of VN. Thompson noted that the Viet Minh fighters were nationalists first and would possibly use communism to drive the French out if Washington shunned them. The Viet Minh would choose Washington over Moscow if the US gave support. This was not the case and the Viet Minh allied with Moscow. Thompson presciently predicted the future in advance, yet was doubted by the upper echelons of the US government military. Thompson accurately knew what was happening, much moreso than the American civilian bureaucrats and military leaders back in D.C. Even bureaucrats and military leaders that were in South East Asia were incredibly ignorant of South East Asia in general and Vietnam in particular.
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