Bernard Wasserstein

 

Wasserstein, Bernard. The Secret Lives of Trebitsch Lincoln. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988.

From Maioli, Library Journal (via Amazon.com): "Con man, missionary, freelance spy, Buddhist abbot, international persona non grata, Lincoln was a modern-day Proteus. From his birth in turn-of-the-century Hungary to his final days in the Shanghai YMCA during World War II, he captures our interest." Lincoln is "rescued from obscurity in this engaging feat of historical detective work, which depicts him as a false messiah who shared attributes with the period's great dictators. As history, biography, or adventure, this is a fascinating book written with authority and wit."

Richard B. Spence, "The Mysteries of Trebitsch-Lincoln: Con-man, Spy, 'Counter-Initiate'?" New Dawn, 30 Sep. 2009. says that of the works dealing with Trebitsch-Lincoln "[b]y far the most thorough is Bernard Wasserstein's 1988 The Secret Lives of Trebitsch Lincoln. But even Wasserstein's diligent detective work cannot fill in all the blanks."

Spence comments that "[w]hatever else may be said about Ignatius Timothy Trebitsch-Lincoln, few can match his resume. He started life in Hungary in 1879 as plain Ignacz Trebitsch, the son of a prosperous orthodox Jewish family. He ended it sixty-four years later in Shanghai as the Abbot Chao Kung.... In between, using innumerable aliases, Trebitsch played the parts of actor, petty thief, convicted forger, Christian missionary, Anglican curate, Buddhist monk, member of Parliament, oil tycoon, fugitive, self-proclaimed genius, international spy, adviser to warlords and arch-conspirator. And those are just the ones we can be sure of."

[Interwar/Gen]

Wasserstein, Bernard. Secret War In Shanghai: Treachery, Subversion and Collaboration in the Second World War. London: Profile, 1998. Secret War in Shanghai: An Untold Story of Espionage, Intrigue, and Treason in World War II. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999.

Pye, FA 79.2 (Mar.-Apr. 2000), believes that the author "has brillantly captured both the ambiance of the time and the personalities of its many shady actors.... Shanghai's self-contained social world kept the intelligence agencies so busy that it did not seem to matter that their activities had almost no effect on the war itself." However, Wilkinson, JMH 64.3, finds too much effort to sensationalize here, calling the book "tabloid history." And the connection with the broader war is tenuous, since "[m]ost of the people [Wasserstein] writes about were agents acting in their own behalf."

To Mercado, Intelligencer 11.1, Wasserstein "delivers little of what is implicitly promised" by the book's title, dust jacket, and introduction. The author "fails to tell a compelling tale of the secret war in Shanghai by paying attention to the history's characters in inverse proportion to their importance.... [He] all but ignore[s] the Japanese and Chinese principals in Shanghai's shadow war, ... [and] fails even to give a decent accounting of American and British intelligence operations."

[China/Pre49; WWII/FEPac/CBI]

Return to Was - Wats