The Global View
My father, Ephraim Goldman, was considered a great man by reputation, by aura and through a highly visible public identity. Who considered him great, you may well ask? Well, he hobnobbed with Prime Ministers, advised Presidents and was on intimate terms with royalty; albeit in his words, 'ersatz aristocrats'. He knew Berenson, Bertrand Russell and Marc Chagall. In his office, behind his desk, there is a photograph of him shaking hands with a shy, rumpled Albert Einstein. Einstein, the man who put absolute destruction within man's reach and with his halo of white hair looked so harmless, like a kind uncle.
Once, he shared a private plane with Armand Hammer of Occidental Petroleum. They played chess together and my father remembered it as 'fun'. Mr. Hammer named his chess pieces after famous works of art, so it was even more painful for him to lose. “My, my,” he muttered as my father swept a bishop, “there goes 'Guernica'.” Hammer chewed his purplish lips in pain as my father snatched Van Gogh's self-portrait. After Hammer lost the match, he advised my father to invest in drilling futures.
“I don't know why such people would pay attention to me,” Dad used to say. “After all,” he'd continue, “I'm just a modest history teacher who thinks about politics and world affairs, that's all. Nothing special about that.”
But there was, of course. My father wrote a book, 'The Global View', that was published by William Dent & Sons in 1955. His editors thought the book far too academic, but went ahead anyway. They'd had a bad year and hoped to crack the college market. It sold 100,000 copies in hard cover and that made it a publishing phenomenon. And now, some forty-five years later, it continues to sell 75,000 copies every year without fail. The book has been a miniature gold mine.
The Global View has been through six printings, revised twice and issued in paperback. It has been translated into fifteen languages and sold in sixty-five countries worldwide. The BBC, CBC and PBS have all filmed documentary specials about my father. He has become a TV star, although it is a medium he cares little about, but he acknowledges that it plays a vital role in global communications and reflects many of our cultural values. That's an intellectual's way of saying it's bullshit.
He has written other books, of course, but none of them were as well-received as the first. And what a success it was. It brought both academic and popular acclaim. He has been a visiting professor at Harvard, Oxford, the Sorbonne and Salzberg. Editors snapped up every article he wrote. Prestigious magazines like Harpers, Fortune, the Atlantic Monthly and the New Yorker published his essays. Both Time and Newsweek featured stories on him, and all of his books have been reviewed, usually favorably, by the New York Times Review of Books. His career has been long and fulfilling, especially so for a humble teacher of history.
Apart from being his son, how do I know these things? As it turns out, I am writing my father's biography. Writing his biography while he's still alive has advantages and disadvantages. He intimidates me, to be blunt about it, but mainly it has forced me to examine our relationship, which has been remarkably lousy.
“Don't worry about objectivity,” my publisher, Julian De Groot said. “Just write from the heart. Readers aren't interested in a clinical analysis. They want to know the man. And who is better qualified, I ask you?” Then he smiled, leaned back in his leather chair, and lit a cigarette. He ran long, slim fingers through his sleek white hair.
De Groot stared at me impassively, his thin lips slightly pursed, fishing for an angle. “Do you know”, he asked lazily, “whether your father was always faithful to your mother?”
His words sank in slowly. It was a question I had asked myself many times but wouldn't admit it to the likes of De Groot. The truth was; my father was very much a stranger to me. We had never really talked in the way I would have liked. In the way other fathers and sons, who shared things together, talked. Baseball. Stamps. Fishing. Girls. Music. These were a few of the things we never shared. We had never gone out and got loaded together. Never goofed off together. I had no idea what sort of inner life he lived. He'd always been thrifty with his feelings, saving all his excess energy for work.
“After all, he traveled a great deal on his own, didn't he?” De Groot reasoned and slid one fine transparent eyebrow up to his hairline, giving his long face a lopsided appearance, like a disproportionate mask.
“Yes, he traveled quite a bit,” I replied. “But that doesn't mean anything, you know.”
“Have you seen his correspondence?” De Groot countered, glancing at a mass of disheveled papers heaped on his desk, then flicked his eyes up at me.
“No, I haven't,” I admitted. “But I don't intend to pursue this line in the book, De Groot. This is not a book for supermarket check-outs.”
De Groot smiled again and pointed a nicotine-stained forefinger at me. It looked like the finger of death, long and knobby.
' There's nothing wrong with supermarkets,' he sniffed. ' They sell a lot of books. I've even bought some there myself. Just remember,' he warned me, “we want the man, Bernard. All of him, the warts, hidden thoughts, nestled secrets.”
“I'll do what I think is best,” I said.
“You have illusions about him?”
“Probably,” I snapped.
“You may have to shatter some, you know, to get what you want. Press him until he's uncomfortable and tells you the truth. Some of it may come as a shock to you but ultimately, it will be very revealing. You will gain from this,” he assured me, pulling at his thin nostrils, “It will be worth the pain.”