Andrew Nagorski

Stories by Andrew Nagorski

  • POLAND AND THE POPE

    John Paul II made no secret of his intense interest in the political upheavals and religious controversies in his native Poland. But a book of his private correspondence about to be published in Poland demonstrates an astonishing attention to detail--and an acute sensitivity to anything he saw as a departure from church teachings. In "John Paul II: Greetings and Blessings," Marek Skwarnicki, a well-known Roman Catholic writer in Cracow, makes public the letters he received from John Paul through his entire papacy, right up until two weeks before his death. At the same time, a previously unpublished rare 1988 interview with the pope provides new insights into his frame of mind as the Polish communist regime began to crack. Together, these two new pieces of evidence provide a fuller portrait of John Paul and help explain his complicated feelings about his country.The early letters in Skwarnicki's book contain frequent reminders of the pope's concerns for those activists--in many cases...
  • JOHN PAUL II: FROM THE PONTIFF'S PEN

    John Paul II made no secret of his interest in the political upheavals and religious controversies in his native Poland. But a book of his private correspondence about to be published in Poland demonstrates an astonishing attention to detail--and an acute sensitivity to anything he saw as a departure from church teachings. In "John Paul II: Greetings and Blessings," Marek Skwarnicki, a well-known Roman Catholic writer in Cracow, makes public the letters he got from John Paul II throughout his entire papacy, right up until two weeks before the pope's death.The most revealing letters are from the 1990s, when the role of the church in a newly free Poland split many of those who had battled the communist system. As a bishop and then cardinal in Cracow, the future pope wrote for Tygodnik Powszechny, a prestigious Catholic weekly. His letters indicate he continued to read it closely once he was installed in Rome. But as younger writers and editors began to make their mark, he worried...
  • The Other Monster

    As Russia prepared for its lavish commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II earlier this month, there were predictable calls for the rehabilitation of Joseph Stalin. After all, the Orel city legislature pointed out in its bid to put up monuments to the Soviet leader, he had led the country to victory over Nazi Germany. But the provincial lawmakers didn't stop there. They argued that it's never been proved that Stalin was responsible for the millions of people who were murdered either by firing squads or in the Gulag during his rule.The fact that many Russians are still in denial about the monstrosity of Stalin's crimes--and that much of the world dismisses their behavior in a way that it would never shrug off Holocaust deniers--is one good reason to welcome the cascade of new books about the Soviet dictator. As Donald Rayfield points out in "Stalin and His Hangmen: The Tyrant and Those Who Killed for Him" (541 pages. Random House) , a thorough examination of...
  • Nothing Is as It Seems

    In his previous novel, "The Good German," which was set in Berlin in the immediate aftermath of Nazi Germany's defeat, Joseph Kanon offered an action-packed plot and an underlying theme of pervasive guilt. In his new novel, "Alibi" ( 405 pages. Henry Holt ), the former publishing executive dials back ever so slightly on the action in a still fast-moving story, allowing for a more complex exploration of postwar guilt. The result is a terrific read that is both entertaining and unsettling, leaving no doubt that Kanon has come into his own as a writer.The tale unfolds in Venice in 1946, a setting as drenched in moral ambiguity as it is in the "damp, misty cold" of February when Adam Miller arrives to visit his widowed mother. Having just finished his stint as a U.S. Army war-crimes investigator in Germany, Adam still sees the world as divided between good guys and bad guys, those who fought the evil of fascism and those who collaborated. But, as he soon discovers, nothing is quite so...
  • FREEDOM MATTERS

    The assessments are already rolling in, so let me be blunt about my own: I'm convinced John Paul II will go down in history as one of the greatest popes ever, whose intense spirituality, intellectual brilliance and sheer physical stamina are beyond dispute. So is the key role he played in inspiring his countrymen to topple the communist system. I'm also convinced that he has left some extremely difficult issues to his successor.It's hard to overstate this pope's impact, reach and visibility. Consider the fact that his constant travels have meant that he logged the equivalent of three times the distance between the Earth and the moon. Those of us who accompanied him, riding in what would be the economy class of the chartered papal plane, often felt as if we were part of an endless marathon, and our biggest challenge was just to keep up. In the air, we couldn't tune out completely since we had to be prepared in case the pope made one of his walkabouts through our section. The pope,...
  • AWAITING WHITE SMOKE

    Forget trying to guess who the next Pope will be because no one, including the 117 cardinals who will elect him in their conclave, knows at this point. But it's fair to guess who it won't be. Certainly not another Pole or anyone else from Eastern Europe. Almost certainly not an American, since such a choice would trigger new resentment of American overreach. The third reasonable guess is that, given the way papal elections normally go, anyone who lets his ambition show is likely to be punished for it. As the Vatican saying goes, "He who enters the conclave a pope leaves it a cardinal."The rules for electing a pope--both the elaborate formal arrangements and the equally intricate unwritten code--are unlike anything that exists in secular politics. The voting process itself is in a closed setting, and there are no debates, platforms or position papers. But even though these arrangements are meant to ensure a truly spiritual atmosphere, cardinals are human, too: they can't help but...
  • The Life of a Pope

    In the summer of 1981 when I was posted in Moscow for NEWSWEEK, Solidarity was riding the crest of a euphoric wave in neighboring Poland. The free trade union had been operating openly for a full year, and the country was flooded with the dissident labor union's banners, pins, stickers and other mementos, including those that celebrated the pride of Poland, Pope John Paul II.The communist authorities would abruptly change course a few months later, declaring martial law and outlawing Solidarity. But those fair days were still a period when seemingly everything was possible, everything was permissible.That summer my wife, Christina, who grew up in Poland, was returning from a visit there with our three children. I drove out to Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport and waited for them to arrive on a flight that was delayed and didn't land until midnight. I could see that our children, especially 1-year-old Adam, were exhausted as Christina maneuvered them and the luggage through the long...
  • The Pre- and Post-Bush Divide

    A short time ago, the Bush administration's relations with, in Donald Rumsfeld's immortal words, "old Europe" were chilly, cold, in the deep freeze (pick your cliche). Now the U.S. secretary of Defense is disarming his critics by talking about "the old Rumsfeld," exuding sweetness and light. A short time ago, even many members of "the coalition of the willing" were privately oozing pessimism about Iraq. Now, with the new ripples of optimism visible throughout the Middle East, even staunch critics of the war are beginning to wonder if they haven't misjudged President Bush as completely as a previous generation misjudged Ronald Reagan. When it comes to its feelings about the United States, much of the world finds itself veering from one extreme to another--rarely finding more stable middle ground.There's a lesson in the latest global rethink of Bush's foreign policy, but it's one that goes well beyond the relative merits of the arguments that this administration has been pursuing...
  • RESCUED FROM OBLIVION

    Writing is the greatest power there is: the written word is greater than king or pope, greater than the doge," proclaims the title character in the first English translation of Sandor Marai's "Casanova in Bolzano" (294 pages. Knopf). The once acclaimed writer probably believed those words when his novel was first published in his native Hungary in 1940, but almost certainly came to doubt them by the time he ended his own life as a forgotten exile a half century later. The fact that Marai is now enjoying an astonishing posthumous comeback constitutes precisely the kind of ironic twist of fate that he would have relished writing about.Born in 1900, Marai emerged as a prolific writer in the 1920s and 1930s. He hobnobbed with Thomas Mann, and, like the German, demonstrated the power of traditional prose that was at the same time profoundly subversive. In writing about Casanova, Marai noted that "there is nothing quite as dangerous as a man who will not yield to despotism."No one could...
  • SNAP JUDGEMENT: BOOKS

    In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs by Christopher de BellaigueDe Bellaigue may be married to an Iranian and speak flawless Farsi, but thankfully that hasn't dulled his outsider's incisive analysis of Iran. Composed of accounts of his conversations with ordinary Iranians, his book traces how the nation's mood moved from revolutionary zeal during its "holy war" with Iraq to expectancy during the late-'90s reform movement to today's doldrums in the face of President Mohammed Khatami's spent potential. Through eloquent human stories, Bellaigue frames the murky politics of Iran in a telling, intimate scale.Cheat and Charmer By Elizabeth FrankIn this page turner of a first novel, Dinah Lasker, a onetime communist, agrees to name names to the House Un-American Activities Committee in order to save her husband's Hollywood career. In most works about the Hollywood blacklist era, that would make her the villain. But in this sprawling tale, the informer turns out to be the most sympathetic...
  • SNAP JUDGEMENT: BOOKS

    America Aloneby Stefan Halper and Jonathan ClarkeTo see into the soul of President George W. Bush's government, you have to understand the neoconservative movement in the United States. This book is an excellent place to start. It shows how the neocons hijacked U.S. foreign policy, shaping the doctrine of unipolarity that defined the wars on terror and in Iraq, while "cast[ing] a shadow" over America's civil liberties. The critique--"authoritarianism overseas generates authoritarianism at home"--is all the more powerful coming from two respected conservative thinkers.The Likes of Us: A History of the White Working Class by Michael CollinsThe author, a journalist, seems to have had two purposes in recounting the history of London's white working class: to unearth his own long genealogical connection to London's rougher neighborhoods and to lash out at Britain's bourgeoisie. All the memorable parts of this account spring from the former, but far too much space is devoted to the...
  • STUDY ABROAD

    So you think it's time to hunker down and forget your plans to study abroad? After all, the world looks like a pretty scary place these days. Well, think again. Despite very real security concerns, more students than ever are opting for programs overseas. "Whatever you think caused 9/11, it wasn't too much cross-cultural understanding," says Riall Nolan, dean of international programs at Purdue. "Students understand that. They're becoming more interested in going out in the world."And not just to the usual locations. "There's no denying the cultural wealth of London and Paris," says John Sunnygard, director of the Center for Global Educational Opportunities at the University of Texas at Austin. "But they're not the only places on earth." Monique Brantly, a Spelman College senior who recently returned from a semester in Ghana, exemplifies this shift. "I wanted to see something really different," she says.Many students are satisfying their wanderlust by picking from the increasingly...
  • THE LADY VANISHES

    The absentee dad seems more the rule than the exception for the generation born to baby boomers, kids who survived to tell stories of indomitable mothers who somehow held the family together. (See the memoir and fiction sections of your local Barnes & Noble.) But Veronica Chambers's debut novel traverses more perilous terrain. Parental abandonment is her theme, too, but the question at the heart of "When Did You Stop Loving Me" is asked not of a father, but of a mother.Angela Davis Brown is in sixth grade the day her mother vanishes. No note, no warning, just gone. Her father, a magician, is ill equipped to deal with the public shame of his wife's abandonment and the private burden of raising a daughter. He lies and dissembles, bumbles and bribes, attempting an emotional sleight of hand Angela never believes. "You wonder who's worse," she thinks. "The one who left or the one who stayed behind to screw up again and again and again. It's a gunfight. The desperado wins... and when...
  • THE REALIST

    Born in 1928 in Tsingtao, China, where his father worked for Standard Oil, James Lilley has returned repeatedly to the Middle Kingdom, discovering traces of his family's past even as he charted his own path as a CIA officer and later as a top-ranking U.S. diplomat. "China Hands" (417 pages. Public Affairs), the memoir that he wrote with his son Jeffrey, skillfully weaves together the personal and the political, leaving no doubt of the impact the two had on each other.Lilley is still haunted by the memory of his talented older brother, Frank, who, as the dedication reads, "died young and pure so that we could carry on." Frank committed suicide in 1946 while on assignment for the U.S. Army in a devastated Japan, and after serving as a military instructor for the Chinese nationalists during their vicious civil war with Mao's communists. He was a pacifist and idealist at heart, who had plunged into a fatal depression. As a result, his younger brother concluded it was better to eschew ...
  • How Americans Are Different

    Sooner or later if you are an American traveling abroad these days, someone pops the inevitable question: "Surely, the Americans won't re-elect Bush, will they?" The anticipated answer is contained in the tone of the question, which is accompanied by a smirk or an imploring look desperately seeking reassurance. If the questioner has at least a modicum of tact, he refrains from expressing his other thought: "Surely, American voters can't be that stupid?" When confronted with that situation, I respond to both the explicit and implicit question. "Americans may not be terribly good about understanding the world, but the world doesn't do much better when it comes to understanding America," I say. "As of today, I wouldn't put any bets on Bush or Kerry. The election is wide open." The startled looks and awkward pause that follow speak volumes about our differing perceptions. ...
  • In The Kremlin 'Village'

    He could ooze charm, plying his comrades with food, booze and anything else they wanted, inquiring about their wives and children, or even phoning his ex-mistresses for soothing chats. He also enjoyed surprising his subjects with random acts of absolution--but only to emphasize the absolute nature of his power. For Joseph Stalin, power was everything. And that meant any favors bestowed could be snatched away at a moment's notice, replaced by mind-numbing horrors. By the time Stalin died in 1953, notes Simon Sebag Montefiore in "Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar" (785 pages. Knopf), 20 million people had been killed and 28 million deported--18 million of whom ended up in the Gulag. It was no accident that Stalin admired Ivan the Terrible, although he made the legendary tsar look almost benevolent by comparison.What more can be said about a tyrant who has already been the subject of countless biographies? As Montefiore proves, the answer is "a lot." The British author mined the...
  • IN HER DAD'S FOOTSTEPS

    He was a man without a past and I failed to notice," British writer Annette Kobak notes in "Joe's War: My Father Decoded" (444 pages. Alfred A. Knopf). As the subtitle suggests, her book--part biography, part memoir, part history--chronicles her effort to trace her father's origins and his odyssey during World War II. A war baby of a British mother and a Polish father, Kobak knew only that her parents had met in London, when her mother was in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force and her father was in the Polish Army under British command.Jozef, or Joe, didn't discuss his past, and neither his daughter nor his wife ever asked. It was only as a grown woman that Kobak learned that her father was born in a Slovak village of Polish parents, who moved across the border to Poland when Joe was 13. She got her father to break his silence by traveling to Australia, where her parents had moved after she started her own family. In a series of interviews, Kobak learned about his wartime journey,...
  • THE MODERN GLADSTONE

    There's a huge irony in the uproar over the no-show horror weaponry in Iraq. As Financial Times columnist Philip Stephens points out in "Tony Blair: The Making of a World Leader" (265 pages. Viking), the British prime minister would have been happier arguing the case for war on humanitarian grounds. For Blair, "ending the tyranny in Iraq was a moral cause fully in accord with the teachings on just wars of Saint Augustine and Thomas Aquinas," Stephens writes.Although Stephens set out to explain Blair to American readers, his new biography has generated headlines on both sides of the Atlantic. Among its juicier assertions: Blair told close aides that Jacques Chirac was "out to get him" because the French president believed he was usurping his role as Europe's leader; and U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, in the words of a Blair aide, was a "visceral unilateralist" who "waged a guerrilla war against the process" of trying to win Security Council support for action against Iraq. All of...
  • Power First, Economics Later

    Is the author of those words describing (a) Tsarist Russia, (b) the Soviet Union or (c) Russia today? The correct answer, since the writer was Marquis de Custine, the famous French visitor to Russia in 1839, is (a). But it's easy to conceive of another acceptable answer: (d) all of the above. What's remarkable about the uproar over President Vladimir Putin's battle with mega-oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who announced his resignation as head of Yukos Oil from his jail cell last week, is how eerily it strengthens the impression that Russian history is a continuum--no matter how dramatic the break between one era and the next.I first reported from Moscow at the tail end of Leonid Brezhnev's "era of stagnation" in the early 1980s. It was a time when de Custine's trenchant observations provided ready ammunition for those who argued that the Soviet system was a natural product of Russia's history. Harvard historian Richard Pipes, a leading proponent of that view, talked about "the...
  • Snap Judgement: Books

    Vernon God Little by DBC PierreRude, immature, inappropriate--DBC Pierre's Man Booker Prize-winning debut novel seems to bring out the schoolmarm in critics. I mean, I'd call it all those things, and I like the book. But the fact is, you're not supposed to write a comic novel about a Columbine-like school-shooting spree in the barbecue-sauce capital of central Texas. Some things just aren't funny. That truism, though, is one that you just know Pierre would disagree with. Otherwise we wouldn't have this high-energy, inappropriately--and undeniably--funny novel.An Imperfect God by Henry WiencekThe Washington who emerges in this first-rate biography (subtitled "George Washington, His Slaves and the Creation of America") is an all-too-human father of his country. But in the end he looks greater than ever. Washington was the only Founding Father to free his slaves. He did it posthumously, in his will, but he did it. Wiencek's biography, which never bogs down in politically correct...
  • The End Of The Affair

    Flying obsolete planes against a massive Luftwaffe assault, Polish pilots didn't have a chance during the German blitzkrieg in 1939. And those who escaped to France and, after it quickly collapsed, to Britain were initially frustrated in their efforts to keep fighting their country's oppressors. Suspecting that the new arrivals wouldn't be able to hold their own in modern aerial combat, Royal Air Force officers were reluctant to allow them to take off. But take off they did--quickly proving the doubters wrong. Demonstrating dazzling skill and courage, the crack Kosciuszko Squadron downed more German planes in the Battle of Britain than any other unit.In "A Question of Honor: The Kosciuszko Squadron, Forgotten Heroes of World War II" (495 pages. Knopf) veteran journalists and authors Lynne Olson and Stanley Cloud use the pilots' story as the centerpiece of an impassioned, riveting account of Poland's betrayal by Britain and the United States. The basic story line: abandonment and...
  • Snap Judgement

    A Question of Honor By Lynne Olson and Stanley CloudFlying obsolete planes, Polish pilots didn't have a chance against the German blitzkrieg in 1939. But those who escaped to Britain to regroup as the Kosciuszko Squadron demonstrated dazzling skill and courage, and downed more German planes in the Battle of Britain than any other squadron. Thus began a brief love affair (and many nonmetaphorical affairs) between the dashing Poles and the awed Brits. Olson and Cloud use the pilots' story as the centerpiece of an impassioned, riveting account of Poland's betrayal by Britain and the United States, which quickly forgot the Poles' heroism in their rush to appease Stalin's Soviet Union.Saul and Patsy By Charles BaxterBaxter ("The Feast of Love") takes his sweet time introducing us to Saul, a high-school teacher in the Midwest, and Patsy, his wife, a bank loan officer. They're that rarity in modern fiction--a likable couple in a good marriage--but just when we're getting a little bored...
  • Major League Gentleman

    I played catch with Bobby Bonds. I've always loved the sound of that statement, and the fact that I can honestly make it. Not because I ever played baseball professionally (my one Pony League season as a teenager consisted of largely unsuccessful attempts to avoid successive humiliation), but because I was lucky enough to count Bobby Bonds as a friend ever since chance brought our families together nearly three decades ago. For me, a game of catch we played way back then revealed something basic about the character of one of baseball's great stars and, not incidentally, the father of today's megastar Barry Bonds. Bobby, who died Saturday at the age of 57, was as graceful with his friends as he was on the field.Since I attended my first baseball game at the age of seven or eight in New York's Polo Grounds, I grew up a fanatical Giants fan. When the team moved from New York to San Francisco, I wasn't as crushed as I might have been since my family had moved out of New York by then,...
  • Studying Abroad: It's A Good Time

    Terrorism, War And Health Scares Haven't Curbed The Wanderlust Of American Students. For A Few Weeks Or A Few Months, They Can Go Off To See Different Cultures.
  • STILL WELCOME HERE

    Foreign students attending U.S. schools face tougher legal rules. But they're arriving in larger numbers.
  • Mini-Series: Growing Into Evil

    When CBS announced last year that it was producing a mini-series on the young Hitler, Jewish organizations reacted with alarm. Any portrayal of Hitler that included his childhood and ended with his taking power in 1933, they feared, ran the risk of trying to "understand" him and therefore make him sympathetic. They can rest easy. As played by Robert Carlyle ("The Full Monty"), the Hitler who will be seen in the two-part mini-series on May 18 and May 20 is shrewd and terrifying--never sympathetic. "Hitler: The Rise of Evil" examines his developing despotic personality and how he persuaded so many to follow him on the road to disaster. It's a mesmerizing performance. And to leave no doubt about his record, the mini-series concludes with tallies of his millions of victims. The film, however, occasionally tampers with historical details. Since its makers wanted a recognizable Jewish character in Munich where Hitler launched his movement, it places composer Friedrich Hollander and his...
  • Books: The Other Camps

    Visitors to Russia are happy to snap up Soviet memorabilia featuring hammer-and-sickle emblems, but visitors to Germany would recoil at the idea of buying swastika trinkets. Despite earlier works by former prisoners, the Soviet concentration-camp system has never haunted the popular imagination the way the Nazi version has. Anne Applebaum's 677-page "Gulag: A History," the most authoritative--and comprehensive--account of this Soviet blight ever published by a Western writer, puts the Gulag in its rightful, horrifying place.In theory, the Gulag was a system of forced labor rather than a death machine. But of the 18 million people sent there between 1929 and 1953, Applebaum points to a death count of almost 3 million, which is far from a complete tabulation. Drawing on a flood of new memoirs and documents from archives, Applebaum paints a mesmerizing picture of starvation, torture, sadism and, sometimes, incredible resistance and heroism. When Nikita Khrushchev acknowledged "grave...
  • When Dictators Fall, They Fall Hard ...

    Jubilant crowds, the statues and other symbols of oppression crashing to the ground, the heady rush associated with the beginning of a new era where everything looks possible. Yes, that's Baghdad right now. But it was also cities like Warsaw, Prague, East Berlin and Bucharest in 1989, and Moscow in 1991.That's why the drama playing itself out in Baghdad looks so familiar.The toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue was every bit as symbolic as the gleeful destruction of the Berlin Wall, something that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was quick to point out. So was the toppling of statues of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the dreaded founder of the Soviet secret police later known as the KGB, in Warsaw and Moscow. And the mood in the streets and behind closed doors must be similar. The exultation of the people outside was as genuine as the fear of those most closely identified with the regime who are cowering in their homes or trying to melt away as quickly as possible.As someone who covered Eastern...
  • An Eerily Timely Tale

    A foreign agent slips into the United States with deadly intent and finds the country incredibly easy to penetrate. A troubled young American defects to the enemy and undergoes military training so he can fight his own countrymen. Sound familiar? No, this isn't a 9-11 tale. It's a story of World War II--Nov. 29, 1944, to be exact--when German secret agent Erich Gimpel was deposited by a U-boat on the Maine coast. He was accompanied by William Colepaugh, an American defector who would soon prove to be the weakest link in a desperate plan to discover the secrets of the Manhattan Project and blow up its installations.Captured in New York because of Colepaugh's bumbling and betrayal, Gimpel tells his dramatic story in "Agent 146" (St. Martin's). Originally published in Germany and Britain in 1957, the book is being released for the first time in the United States. Both men had been sentenced to hang, but they were unbelievably lucky. Before their sentences could be carried out,...
  • The View From The Cold War

    It's funny what sometimes comes to mind when you see a movie. As I watched "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," based on what bills itself as the autobiography of schlock-TV producer Chuck Barris (who, aside from his credits as the creator of "The Dating Game," "The Newlywed Game" and "The Gong Show," claims he was a hit man for the CIA), I found myself remembering an incident from one of my many postings in Russia.In early 1992, another American correspondent and I were driving on the outskirts of Moscow and gave a lift to a Russian hitchhiker. Our passenger turned out to be an aide to ultranationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky. When he realized that he was sitting in a car with two American reporters, there was a moment of stunned silence. Then, he congratulated us on "the brilliant way" the CIA had orchestrated the recent collapse of the Soviet Union. My colleague volunteered that he'd like to believe the CIA was capable of such a feat but had his doubts. Our passenger had...
  • An Eerily Timely Tale Of Fanaticism

    A foreign agent slips into the United States with deadly intent, and finds the country scarily easy to penetrate. A troubled young American defects to the enemy. No, this isn't a 9-11 tale. It's about World War II--Nov. 29, 1944, to be exact--when German agent Erich Gimpel and defector William Colepaugh were deposited by a U-boat on the Maine coast in a desperate plan to discover the secrets of the Manhattan Project and blow up its installations.Captured in New York because of Colepaugh's bumbling and betrayal, Gimpel tells his story in "Agent 146" (St. Martin's). Originally published in Germany and Britain in 1957, it's now released for the first time in the United States. Both men had been sentenced to hang in 1945, but were given last-minute pardons. After a decade in American prisons, Gimpel returned to Germany and wrote up his exploits with an Ian Fleming flair.Gimpel portrays himself as a master spy who knows "nothing of politics." But here was a clever agent willing to...