Dossier: The Secret History of Armand Hammer

By Edward Jay Epstein

Synopsis: This book is a biographical exposé of Armand Hammer, an American Businessman of Occidental Petroleum fame, who cultivated a philanthropic and capitalistic image of himself to the public. In reality, Hammer was deeply involved with Soviet Communism, having received a commission from Vladimir Lenin to help promote communism through deceit in the American capitalist channels. However, his commitment was not to any ideology, but rather to himself. This book demonstrates that Hammer did not obtain his fortune from capitalistic competition, but through shady secret deals and manipulation of political authority. Hammer was a greedy, uncaring, manipulative, opportunistic, deceitful man who used everyone to his advantage to gain power and acclaim. This book tells the story of how he did it. 

Strong Points: The book is written with incredible skill and insight by a phenomenal historian/journalist. The quality of the investigative work is rather staggering. This book shows an interesting view of 20th century history. It is interesting to read about J. Edgar Hoover’s investigations of Hammer, and Hammer’s involvement with figures throughout history, including Presidents of the United States and foreign despots, and how these interactions helped shape history. It is also a sad story of betrayal in personal relationships: He had at least two mistresses throughout his life, had two failed marriages and the third ended in legal entanglements upon the death of his suspicious wife. His only legitimate child, a son, was continually kept outside of his love and approval. Only what benefitted Armand Hammer was important. Hammer’s ability to use everything and everyone to his personal advantage was actually quite impressive, though repugnant. No doubt his psychopathic and sociopathic behavior was an extension of the communist upbringing he was deeply immersed in from his youth.

Weak Points: While the writer was engaging, some of the story which detailed his business dealings was a bit dryer to read. Of course, this was a substantial portion of the book. 

Interesting: 2.3/5

Must Read: 1/5

Overall: 2.7/5

Selected Quote: “Edward Jay Epstein’s investigation into the life of Armand Hammer exposes a tale of fraud, corruption, and personal betrayal that was carried out on such a grand scale and over such a long period of time that it is surely unique…. But the official version of Hammer’s life, which incorporated many of the major figures and key events of the twentieth century, was in fact a myth, carefully nurtured and embellished for nearly seventy years. Aided by newly available sources, Epstein has put together a gripping portrait of a ruthless, audaciously manipulative opportunist whose self-inventions have until now been widely accepted. Epstein gained unprecedented access to FBI files, SEC documents, and files on the Hammer family kept by Soviet intelligence agencies since the 1920s. He interviewed Hammer’s mistresses, family, and close friends as well as shadowy figures who assisted him in business deals. During his investigation, Epstein discovered that for many years Hammer had, like Richard Nixon, secretly taped conversations, many of them dealing with illegal activity. These tapes give an intimate view of a master con man at work.” (Cover Leaflet). 


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