ARMAND HAMMER: The Untold Story by Steve Weinberg

ARMAND HAMMER: The Untold Story

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Journalist Weinberg spent almost five years and interviewed over 700 people to produce an unauthorized biography of Armand Hammer. While not wholly without interest, the result of his labor adds precious little to a public record that includes an absorbing and detailed, if occasionally disingenuous, memoir his nonagenarian subject published in 1987. There's no gainsaying the fact that Hammer is a vain and egocentric man or that he's had uncommonly interesting and fruitful careers in business, the arts, and international relations. His odyssey runs From a comfortable childhood in the pre-WW I Bronx to the chairmanship of Occidental Petroleum, a transnational energy colossus. Along the way, Hammer made a small fortune expanding his physician father's drug firm while earning air M.D. from Columbia. Before starting his internship, he went to the Soviet Union in 1921 to help fight a typhus epidemic. Once there, Hammer staved on for nine years, befriending Lenin, whose patronage enabled him to engage in a wealth of lucrative ventures. Back in the States, he turned a sizable collection of czarist art treasures to good account, cashed in on the end of Prohibition via investments in alcohol-related enterprises, and otherwise displayed a Midas touch. During the early 1950's, Hammer liquidated at a handsome profit and headed west to enjoy an early retirement with his third wife. A failed idler, he soon became revolved with Los Angeles-based Occidental, which his daring has helped make a major player in the high-stakes oil game. In the meantime, Hammer has done much to advance global peace, and is a world-class philanthropist. The Hammer escutcheon, however, is not without stain. Apart from a post-Watergate conviction for election-law violations, the doctor has survived years of FBI surveillance, plus accusations of wrongdoing by the IRS, SEC, and other government agencies like the State Department, whose panjandrums have long believed he's a witting tool of Communist regimes. Weinberg revives all such charges and more, including allegations that Hammer has been mean to members of his family and, though crowding 92, remains reluctant to cede control of Oxy. Withal, the author offers no solid evidence that Hammer is guilty of misdeeds more serious than amour propre, a love of the limelight, judgment lapses, and a bent for embellishing his role in great events. A damned-with-faint-praise version of a fascinating life, which does not measure up to its subject's own account.

Pub Date: Oct. 16th, 1989
Publisher: Little, Brown