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Color of Truth: A Biography: Brothers in Arms, a Biography [Paperback]

Kai Bird
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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Book Description

21 Jun 2000
"The Color of Truth" is the definitive biography of McGeorge Bundy and William Bundy, two of "the best and the brightest" who advised presidents about peace and war during the most dangerous years of the Cold War. The Bundy brothers embodied all the idealism and hubris that animated American foreign policy in the decades after World War II. They will be remembered forever as anti-communist liberals who, despite their grave doubts about sending Americans to fight in Southeast Asia, became key architects of America's war in Vietnam. Kai Bird, the author of "The Chairman", the acclaimed biography of John J. McCloy, brilliantly recreates the world of Boston Brahmin privilege in which the Bundy brothers were reared to govern. Educated at Groton, Yale and Harvard, Mac and Bill Bundy were proteges of Henry Stimson, Dean Acheson and Justice Felix Frankfurter, and their friends and admirers included Walter Lippmann, Joseph Alsop and J. Robert Oppenheimer. Bill played a major role in the supersecret Ultra code-breaking project that proved invaluable to the Allies' victory over Nazi Germany. Mac, a key military aide, was present at D-day and later wrote Stimson's influential but misleading essay explaining Truman's decision to use the atomic bomb. In the 1950s, both brothers became ensnared in Senator Joseph McCarthy's witchhunts against suspected communists in government and academia. As dean of Harvard College, Mac fought to protect his tenured faculty while sacrificing junior scholars who refused to "name names" to the FBI. Bill, a high-ranking CIA official, saw his career nearly destroyed when McCarthy learned he had contributed money to Alger Hiss's defense fund. Bill's refusal to testify before the senator's committee was a turning point in the battle against McCarthyism. The brothers reached the apex of the national security establishment under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Kennedy appointed Mac Bundy to be his national security adviser, and Bill Bundy moved into senior positions at the Pentagon and the State Department. Both were intimately involved in many of the triumphs and deceits of the Kennedy years, including the Bay of Pigs fiasco, plots to assassinate Fidel Castro and the Cuban Missile Crisis. But it was their role in guiding the nation to war in Vietnam that engulfed them in controversy and indelibly marked them as failed figures in American history. At every stage of the war-- from the assassination of South Vietnamese president Diem in 1963 to the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964, from the bombing campaign of Operation Rolling Thunder to President Johnson's July 1965 decision to send hundreds of thousands of U.S. combat troops to Vietnam-- the Bundy brothers were present, urging a policy of gradual escalation. Long after Johnson had dismissed their warning that Vietnam could become a "white man's war" on the Asian mainland, the Bundys remained loyal to their liberal president, who was determined not to allow right-wing critics to accuse him of losing another Asian country. Based on nearly a hundred interviews with the Bundy brothers, their families and colleagues, and on thousands of pages of archival documents-- including some White House memos that remain classified-- Bird's account contains dramatic new information that alters the history of the Vietnam War. Like the bestselling "The Wise Men", this dual biography is both an inside account of the making of U.S. foreign policy in an era of nuclear weapons and a stunning group portrait of the heirs of the Wise Men-- including Robert McNamara, George Ball and Robert Kennedy-- and the presidents they served.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product details

  • Paperback: 516 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone (21 Jun 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684856441
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684856445
  • Product Dimensions: 23.2 x 15.1 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,422,987 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Robert Dallek "Author of "Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1961-1973" Kai Bird's study of the Bundys will join a short list of essential reading on the history of the Cold War. He compels us to rethink the major foreign policy events of the fifties and the sixties. No one interested in recent U.S. history can afford to ignore this important book. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Publisher

Publishers' Weekly, 8/24/98
The color of truth? McGeorge Bundy is quoted as saying it's gray, but there is nothing gray about this crisply written, carefully researched dual biography.... Besides being a sharply detailed depiction of a social class...the book covers breaking the enemy military codes during WWII, Harvard in the 1950s, Senator McCarthy and the Cold War, the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban missile crisis and the liberal agendas of the Great Society. This is a careful, intelligent biography of two careful, intelligent men. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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NO MAN CASTS a longer shadow over the American Century than Henry Lewis Stimson. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars The Best and Brightest Redux 7 Jan 1999
By A Customer
If for no other reason than Kai Bird's chapter on the Cuban Missile Crisis, this book is a very valuable contribution to the history of America's Cold War relations with the Soviet Union. The standard myth that has JFK as a master statesman whose strength and unbending resolve forced Khrushchev to blink is emphatically and persuasively debunked by Bird, who argues that the introduction of offensive missiles into Cuba was in fact the ultimate domestic political problem---not a military one. Using both actual ExComm transcripts, plus several documents just recently made public, Bird makes a very powerful case that Kennedy's fear of appearing weak and indecisive before the Republican right drove him to ratchet the matter into a nuclear confrontation that very easily could have set off World War III. And when one learns on top of this that men like Mac Bundy and Ted Sorenson worked to conceal for all time that Khrushchev withdrew his missiles as a quid pro quo for our Jupiter missiles in Turkey---a fact that JFK could not have revealed in 1962 for it would have meant political death---it is hard not to find Bird's conclusions compelling. That our president, as much as he was and is to be admired, actually brought the prospect of nuclear annihilation into play...in order to avoid political annihilation. All in all, a very absorbing read; and I have not even touched upon the Bundy strains that connect the Lowells, Stimsons, Harvards, Yales, Oppenheimers, Kissingers, McNamaras...and of course Vietnam. So for anyone who is interested in how America's patrician and ruling classes acquitted themselves in the crucible of the Cold War, this is a worthy and important book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masteful, important, and well-written biography 12 Jan 1999
By A Customer
Bird guides his reader through Ameican history with a masterful hand, using the the fascinating biographries of the Bundy bothers as his prism. The writing is elegant, the history is first-rate and the portraiture illuminating. I know of no better book to discover the unhappy story of US behavior in the Cold War than Kai Bird's The Color of Truth
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1.0 out of 5 stars Biased revisionist nonsense 9 Dec 1998
By A Customer
Mr. Bird does not like much of anything that the American government has done since 1945. He goes out of his way in this book to drag in a lot of Cold War issues that are only peripherally relevant to the Bundy brothers -- including a long and rather tedious digression on how one of them edited a book on the decision to bomb Hiroshima that the author, having written his own book on the subject, disagrees with. The fact that the author does not like the tough decisions made by various Cold Warriors does not excuse the one-sided, highly partisan and biased nature of this book. Its credibility is not enhanced by such elementary mistakes such as thinking that First Lieutenant is a lower rank than Second Lieutenant, or identifying someone as a lieutenant in a photo caption when his captain's bars are clearly visible on his uniform. Pass on this one and you will not regret it.
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