Edward J. Epstein, author and stubborn skeptic, dies at 88

Edward J. Epstein, author and stubborn skeptic, dies at 88

Edward J. Epstein, an iconoclastic author whose deeply researched books challenged conventional wisdom about controversies such as whether John F. Kennedy was killed by a lone assassin and whether whistle-blower Edward Snowden was actually a Russian spy He died in Manhattan. He was 88 years old.

The cause was complications from COVID, his nephew Richard Nessel said. He said Mr. Epstein was found dead in his apartment on Tuesday.

A professional skeptic, Mr. Epstein wrote more than two dozen non-fiction books, many of which included allegations of government conspiracies and corporate negligence. Some raised more questions than they answered.

In the unlikely beginning of a brilliant career, he began as a writer as early as 1966, when he turned his master’s thesis at Cornell University into a book, “Inquest: The Warren Commission and the Establishment of Truth.” The New York Times called the findings of the presidential panel appointed to investigate the assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas on November 22, 1963, “the first book to raise serious questions in the minds of serious people.”

That same day in 1963, Mr. Epstein borrowed his stepfather’s car and drove from New York City to the Cornell campus in Upper Ithaca, New York, to find a way to get back to school after dropping out seven years earlier.

“The whole campus seemed absolutely deserted,” he recalled in his memoir, “Assume Nothing: Encounters with Assassins, Spies, Presidents, and would-be Masters of the Universe” (2023), “until he saw a lone student.” Who informed him about this could not be found. Kennedy’s death.

Thanks to a mentor, the political scientist Andrew Hacker, whose class was the one Mr. Epstein majored in, Mr. Epstein was readmitted and encouraged to write his thesis on the murder. By doing this he gained access to every member of seven-member Warren Commission Except for its leader, Chief Justice Earl Warren.

His book cast doubt on the commission’s conclusion that Kennedy was murdered by a lone assassin, based largely on serious shortcomings in the panel’s investigation by Mr. Epstein. “Inquest” was published a few months before “Rush to Judgment” by Mark Lane, one of a tsunami of books suggesting that the Commission was forced to act due to time constraints, limited resources and access, and Justice Warren’s unanimity. Was interrupted due to demand. Make its findings more reliable.

“It was the only master’s thesis I know of that sold 600,000 copies,” Professor Hacker, who now teaches at Queens College, said in a phone interview.

A decade after the “Inquest” was published, the House Select Committee on Murders conducted a much more thorough forensic investigation. Its report suggested the possibility of more than one shooter and a possible conspiracy, but concluded bluntly: “Lee Harvey Oswald fired three shots at President John F. Kennedy. The second and third bullets fired by him hit the President. The President was killed by the third bullet fired by him.”

Mr Epstein accepted the findings, acknowledging that they answered the questions he raised. He wrote, “In light of the systematic and open nature of this examination, there were no secrets left.”

His later books included “News from Nowhere: Television and the News” (1973); “The Rise and Fall of Diamonds” (1982), which exposed the economic impact of the diamond industry in Southern Africa; “Deception” (1989), based on his interviews with former Central Intelligence Agency counterintelligence chief James Jesus Angleton; “The Assassination Chronicles: Inquest, Counterplot and Legend” (1992); and “The Secret History of Armand Hammer” (1996), which details the relationship between that American businessman and the Soviet government in the 1920s and 30s.

He also wrote “How America Lost Its Secrets: Edward Snowden, the Man and the Theft” (2017), in which he detailed how, as a young American intelligence contractor, Mr. Snowden disclosed hundreds of American classified documents to news organizations. Did. One of the world’s most hunted fugitives. Mr. Epstein concluded that Mr. Snowden’s visits to Russia and contacts with Russian agents made him less a heroic informant than a prized intelligence asset for Moscow.

While most of Mr. Epstein’s books won praise for their meticulous research, Nicholas Layman in The New York Times Book Review wrote that Snowden was “an impressively fluffy and golden-brown souffle of wobbly speculation, based on anonymous sourcing And was full of speculative language.”

Mr. Epstein’s memoir, “Assume Nothing,” is filled with omitted names (about 650 in the index, many of which he actually knew). These include Jeffrey Epstein (no relation), the disgraced financier and registered sex offender, with whom Mr. Epstein once corresponded.

In his New York Times Magazine column, William Safire once described Mr. Epstein as “the leading author on the gray world of spies and spies.”

He was born Edward J. Levinson on December 6, 1935, in Brooklyn to Albert and Betty (Opolinsky) Levinson. His mother was an abstract sculptor, his father a financier in the fur trade, who died of a heart attack when Edward was 7 years old. His mother remarried to English-born shoe manufacturing executive Louis Epstein, who adopted Edward in 1945. Grew up in the Midwood section of Brooklyn, where he attended Midwood High School, and in Rockville Center on Long Island, where he graduated from South Side High School.

At Cornell, Mr. Epstein was an irregular student. He was suspended after the spring semester of 1956 for failing four courses, although he had received good grades in a 19th-century European literature course taught by Vladimir Nabokov and an A in Professor Hacker’s class in the U.S. Congress.

When he returned after 1963, Mr. Epstein completed his undergraduate degree and master’s degree simultaneously, in government, and graduated in 1966.

Professor Hacker said, “He was the most interesting student I ever had.” “There was a kind of artificial simplicity about him. He will pretend he doesn’t know anything.”

Mr. Epstein received his doctorate in 1972 from the Harvard-MIT Joint Center for Urban Studies, where his coursework was supervised by Professor Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a future U.S. senator from New York.

For three years Mr. Epstein taught political science at Harvard, the University of California, Los Angeles, and MIT, and wrote part-time for The New Yorker. But he decided to return to the city of his birth to become a full-time writer rather than pursue a further academic career.

“Ever since I met Clay Felker, I’ve wanted to live in New York,” the New York Magazine editor said in an interview with the online magazine Air Mail last year. “He knew the whole world.”

Mr. Epstein lived alone in a lavish, rent-controlled apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. His nephews were his closest survivors.

Under the guidance of Professor Hacker at Cornell, Mr. Epstein began to look beyond the Warren Commission’s findings and explore how that panel had reached its decision on the murder. He was 29 years old, he recalled in his memoir, and had never done a single in-depth interview.

“I still hadn’t graduated from college,” he wrote. “I had no journalism experience. “I had never worked for a school newspaper or known any reporters.”

Yet as Richard Rovere, veteran Washington correspondent for The New Yorker, writes in the book’s introduction: “Here we have something scholars should be proud of and journalists jealous and ashamed of. Mr. Epstein’s scholarly tools are used day by day by journalists. But the press left the task of finding news to a scholar.

Mr. Epstein had an insatiable curiosity for writing about anything and everything, from Hollywood economics to the 2011 rape allegation by a Manhattan hotel maid against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund. (Mr. Epstein) suggested that this was a political conspiracy to embarrass him. Mr. Strauss-Kahn and the maid eventually settled their lawsuit against him.)

Michael Wolff, a fellow maverick investigative writer, said of Mr. Epstein over the phone, “He saw his work as a journalist as challenging, or indeed, undermining, all the conventional wisdom that he had generated from intense research. Hui did it with rigor. And knowing exactly who to call – because part of his job was to know everyone.

He added: “Ed’s politics were a hotbed of skepticism. Was he right? The interesting thing is that I don’t think he was right. “He set out to ask questions that other people avoided or didn’t think about.”

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