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Author Talk: Stephen Kinzer
August 27, 2019 @ 6:30 pm - 7:30 pm
Author Talk: Stephen Kinzer
on The Poisoner in Chief
The bestselling author of All the Shah’s Men and The Brothers tells the astonishing story of the man who oversaw the CIA’s secret drug and mind-control experiments of the 1950s and ’60s. The visionary chemist Sidney Gottlieb was the CIA’s master magician and gentlehearted torturer―the agency’s “poisoner in chief.” As head of the MK-ULTRA mind control project, he directed brutal experiments at secret prisons on three continents. He made pills, powders, and potions that could kill or maim without a trace―including some intended for Fidel Castro and other foreign leaders. He paid prostitutes to lure clients to CIA-run bordellos, where they were secretly dosed with mind-altering drugs. His experiments spread LSD across the United States, making him a hidden godfather of the 1960s counterculture. For years he was the chief supplier of spy tools used by CIA officers around the world.
Stephen Kinzer, author of groundbreaking books about U.S. clandestine operations, draws on new documentary research and original interviews to bring to life one of the most powerful unknown Americans of the twentieth century. Gottlieb’s reckless experiments on “expendable” human subjects destroyed many lives, yet he considered himself deeply spiritual. He lived in a remote cabin without running water, meditated, and rose before dawn to milk his goats. During his twenty-two years at the CIA, Gottlieb worked in the deepest secrecy. Only since his death has it become possible to piece together his astonishing career at the intersection of extreme science and covert action. Poisoner in Chief reveals him as a clandestine conjurer on an epic scale.
Stephen Kinzer is an award-winning foreign correspondent who has covered more than 50 countries on five continents. His articles and books have led the Washington Post to place him “among the best in popular foreign policy storytelling.” Kinzer spent more than 20 years working for the New York Times, most of it as a foreign correspondent. His foreign postings placed him at the center of historic events and, at times, in the line of fire.
From 1983 to 1989, Kinzer was the New York Times bureau chief in Nicaragua. In that post he covered war and upheaval in Central America. He also wrote two books about the region. One of them, co-authored with Stephen Schlesinger, is Bitter Fruit: The Untold Story of the American Coup in Guatemala. The other one, Blood of Brothers: Life and War in Nicaragua, is a social and political portrait that the New Yorker called “impressive for the refinement of its writing and also the breadth of its subject matter.” ColumbiaUniversity awarded Kinzer its Maria Moors Cabot prize for outstanding coverage of Latin America. From 1990 to 1996 Kinzer was posted in Germany. He was chief of the New York Times bureau in Bonn, and after German unification became chief of the Berlin bureau. From there he covered the emergence of post-Communist Europe, including wars in the former Yugoslavia. In 1996 Kinzer was named chief of the newly opened New York Times bureau in Istanbul, Turkey. He spent four years there, traveling widely in Turkey and in the new nations of Central Asia and the Caucasus. After completing this assignment, Kinzer published Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds. In 2006 Kinzer published Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq. It recounts the 14 times the United States has overthrown foreign governments. Kinzer seeks to explain why these interventions were carried out and what their long-term effects have been. He has made several trips to Iran, and is the author of All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror. It tells how the CIA overthrew Iran’s nationalist government in 1953.
Kinzer wrote about Africa in his book A Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It. Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa called it “a fascinating account of a near-miracle unfolding before our very eyes.” In 2010 Kinzer published Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America’s Future, which Huffington Post called “a bold exercise in reimagining the United States’ big links in the Middle East.”
Kinzer’s next book, The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War, was widely praised. Reviewers called it sparkling, riveting, gripping, bracing, and disturbing. The Wall Street Journal called it a “fluently written, ingeniously researched, thrillerish work of popular history.”
In 2017 Kinzer published The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire. It describes America’s first great debate over military intervention abroad.
After leaving the Times in 2005, Kinzer taught journalism, political science, and international relations at Northwestern University and Boston University. He is now a Senior Fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University, and writes a world affairs column for The Boston Globe. While posted in Turkey, Kinzer hosted the country’s first radio show devoted to blues music. He is the author of the entry on Jelly Roll Morton in The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge.
In 2008 Kinzer was awarded an honorary doctorate by Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois. The citation said that “those of us who have had the pleasure of hearing his lectures or talking to him informally will probably never see the world in the same way again.”
The University of Scranton awarded Kinzer an honorary doctorate in 2010. “Where there has been turmoil in the world and history has shifted, Stephen Kinzer has been there,” the citation said. “Neither bullets, bombs nor beating could dull his sharp determination to bring injustice and strife to light.”
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