Tuesday, July 21, 2015

My new book, "Our Man in Charleston," is officially published today

So at last it's out. Your local bookstore should have Our Man in Charleston: Britain's Secret Agent in the Civil War South
prominently displayed. (And if not, tell them they should!) It's all over Amazon, with a fantastic price for the moment of $14.01 for the beautifully produced hardcover edition, plus a Kindle edition, and an Audible audio version read elegantly and appropriately by a Briton, Antony Ferguson. 

The hardcover book also is available at Barnes and Noble, in the stores and online.

Over the past week I have written two essays for The Daily Beast that put "Our Man" in the context of recent events and my own background as a Southerner. The first, "Confederate Madness Then and Now," many of you have seen already. The second was just published this morning:

Confederates in the Blood

Today, I will be talking about the book and about the Confederate legacy on NPR's "Here and Now," which airs at noon on Boston's WBUR and in many other parts for the country as well. Tomorrow I will be on the BBC.

I am happy and, yes, more than a little proud to say the early reviews and comments have ranged from good to great, and next week the New York Times Book Review will list "Our Man" as an "Editor's Choice."

"Our Man in Charleston is a joy to discover. It is a perfect book about an imperfect spy."
—Joan Didion

"Thoroughly researched and deftly crafted. [Our Man in Charleston will] introduce people to a man who should be better known, one who cannily fought the good fight at a fateful moment in history."
Wall Street Journal

"One heck of a good read."
The Charlotte Observer

"[Bunch is] a brilliant find…Dickey, the foreign editor of The Daily Beast and a former longtime Newsweek correspondent, uses his research well: in a story like this one, point of view is everything, and Bunch's is razor sharp."
American Scholar
"Dickey has written a book that is as much suspense and spy adventure as it is a history book... A story as compelling as this one does not come around very often. With so much already written about the Civil War, and more coming every year, originality is a rare thing these days. The story of Robert Bunch is that and more."
The Carolina Chronicles

"A fascinating tale of compromise, political maneuvering, and espionage."
—Publishers Weekly
"Dickey's comprehension of the mindset of the area, coupled with the enlightening missives from Bunch, provides a rich background to understanding the time period….A great book explaining the workings of what Dickey calls an erratic, cobbled-together coalition of ferociously independent states. It should be in the library of any student of diplomacy, as well as Civil War buffs." 
Kirkus Reviews (starred)

"A fine examination of a superbly skilled diplomat."

"Britain's consul in Charleston before and during the first two years of the Civil War was outwardly pro-Southern and earned notoriety in the North. But in secret correspondence with the British Foreign Office he made clear his hostility to slavery and the Confederacy. His dispatches helped prevent British recognition of the Confederacy. Christopher Dickey has skillfully unraveled the threads of this story in an engrossing account of diplomatic derring-do." 
—James M. McPherson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom

"Did Robert Bunch, Her Majesty's consul in Charleston, keep Britain out of the Confederacy's war? Drawing on Bunch's clandestine correspondence, Christopher Dickey makes a compelling case that this dazzlingly duplicitous, ardent anti-slaver played a key role. A fascinating, little-known shard of vital Civil War history, brought glitteringly alive with all the verve and panache of a master story teller."
 —Geraldine Brooks, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of March
"In his extraordinary new history Our Man in Charleston, Christopher Dickey has written a book you can't put down. This is a well-researched history with the immense power and sheer element of surprise we find in the finest spy novels. It's like reading a book by Graham Greene, written while he was staying at the house of John le Carré, discussing the fate of nations over drinks. With Charleston consul Robert Bunch, Dickey has introduced a new great man in the great war that haunts America still. I adored this book."
—Pat Conroy, author of The Great Santini and South of Broad

"Our Man in Charleston is a superlative and entertaining  history of the grey area where diplomacy ends and spy craft begins. British Consul Robert Bunch played a secret role in the anti-slavery fight in Charleston, which would remain secret to this day were it not for Christopher Dickey's extraordinary detective skills."
—Amanda Foreman, author of A World on Fire and Georgiana

"Wonderfully written and researched, Our Man in Charleston is the best espionage book I've read. I couldn't put it down."
 —Robert Baer, former CIA case officer and author of See No Evil

"Robert Bunch is an unlikely spy, but his bravery and moral sensibility make him an intriguing hero for Christopher Dickey's Civil War history. Dickey knows his stuff, from spying to the slave trade, and he's a master at telling a fast-paced, gripping yarn." 
—Evan Thomas, author of John Paul Jones and The Very Best Men
"Christopher Dickey has accomplished the near-impossible—exhuming a forgotten but irresistible character from the dustbin of Civil War history, and bringing him back to life with painstaking research and bravura literary flair. This irresistible book opens new windows onto the complicated worlds of wartime diplomacy, intelligence-gathering and outright intrigue, and the result is fresh history and page-turning excitement." 
—Harold Holzer, author of Lincoln and the Power of the Press and winner of the 2015 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize

"A long-needed study of Robert Bunch, British consul in Charleston—a secret agent for the Crown in the Civil War era who outwardly praised the city and its people while privately loathing both, and who discouraged diplomatic recognition of the Confederacy by keeping his superiors abreast of its determination to continue importing slaves. Elegantly written, well researched, an engrossing story."
—Howard Jones, author of Blue and Grey Diplomacy

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

My essay on Confederate Madness Then and Now, with a taste of "Our Man In Charleston"

As most of you know, my latest book, Our Man in Charleston: Britain's Secret Agent in the Civil War Southwill be published next week. It may already be in the stores in many parts of the United States, and it's also available on Kindle. 

This essay, published today on The Daily Beast, puts the story of the book in the context of today's debates about the Confederacy and its symbols. It has gotten quite a lot of attention in the few hours since it was published.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Talking "Our Man in Charleston" (and ISIS and Iran!) with Alex Witt on MSNBC

I appeared on "Weekends with Alex Witt" Sunday to talk about "Our Man in Charleston," but also a bit about ISIS in Afghanistan and the Iran talks in Vienna—from Paris. 

You might say we were all over the map...

Friday, July 10, 2015

When Saud al Faisal was a young man ...

I have always loved this photograph of Saud al Faisal bin Abdelaziz published in The House of Saud, by David Holden and Richard Johns. It was taken at the United Nations in 1976, I believe, not long after Saud's father King Faisal was murdered and his uncle, King Khalid, appointed him foreign minister. The Western suit, the Princeton education, the worldly ways of the young man — a different time, a different world. As Bruce Riedel writes in The Daily Beast today, Saud will be sorely missed.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Our Man in Charleston has a "masterful" grasp of "skullduggery and human contradiction." - Departures Magazine

There’s a great write-up of Our Man in Charleston in the newest Departures Magazine, which calls the book "masterful." The review is not yet available online, but here’s my favorite part: 
“A veteran correspondent for Newsweek and The Daily Beast and the author of several novels, Dickey has a journalist’s nose for the scoop and a thriller writer’s sense of pacing. His debt to Graham Greene is clear not just from the book’s title but also from his grasp of skullduggery and human contradiction.”

Sunday, June 07, 2015


This is Jean-Marc Illouz's lovely tribute to the D-Day veteran Irving Smolens who bent Obama's ear about war and peace one year ago this week. Jean-Marc posted it on Facebook and has kindly allowed me to republish it here.

By Jean-Marc ILLOUZ

I have recurringly thought of Irving Smolens since that day.

His was a name I had never heard of in nearly 40 years as a French war correspondent from Vietnam to the Middle East.

Among the last survivors of Utah Beach, he was Private Irving

Smolens Enlisted 1943, 4th Inf.Div. 29th Field Artillery - Army Serial # 31353382.

Almost a name on a stone till that day in June 2014 during D-Day 70th anniversary commemorations at the American Cemetery in Normandy.

The old soldier insisted on approaching his Commander in Chief to deliver a short valetudinary message:
"Thank you Mr President for keeping us out of war" [re:The Daily Beast's Christopher Dickey original story below]

An echo from a soldier's soldier, I often quoted later when confronted to various Obama critics. Most were "drugstore soldiers" hailing from the Hill and howling for blood, Tea Party cartoon characters or foreign critics unaware of the extent of Congressional power in US Foreign Policy.

Others abroad were the very same that not so long ago would 
denounce US imperialism and now posited that Uncle Sam's magic firepower could -boom!-cure centuries old divides in their own societies.

To be sure Obama only chose to extensively resort to drones here and more sparingly to air power elsewhere. Not the John Wayne- Bush Jr kinda stuff.

Smart alecks claim "he blew it when the time was ripe to scuttle Syrian dictator Assad and wipe out his Air Force"?

Ripe? To skydive the country into some machismo state of war with Russia over Syria...and Ukraine? A US Vital interest?

Today's challenges are with Russia and China first. Not Dracula and garlic. Containing and crushing the so called Islamic State is a long term business. It will also require their cooperation. And Jihadi terror AND idéology will not be defeated "live from the Pentagon" alone.

Vision at the White House will take really deciding who's the more effective Muslim ally - Iran included - the US needs to lick ISIS in the region. And -before it engulfs Palestine - using some tough love with the Israeli right.

The President clearly understands this. And also that it's not as easy as bombing some video targets in Wadi-Dum.

So far Saudi money and Israeli influence have largely dictated or impeded US policy including this administration's. But perhaps what will remain as this two terms President's greatest merit, will be to have resisted America's natural inclination to wrap Manifest Destiny in testosterone, shoot first and think later, spill blood and billions in non vital, well lobbied "patriotic "wars from Vietnam to Iraq.

At the outset of his presidency,Obama was - as we all remember - rather embarrassed to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

As of today he has brought neither peace nor victories. Rescuing the US economy and not Ramboing around may not be Iwo Jima's stuff but survivor Irving Smolens words of thanks still ring to me as the greatest National Award a resilient President Obama could ever dream of.

ps: Irving Smolens passed away on April 11th 2015, at 90 in Melrose, Mass.RIP.

He had actively opposed both the wars in Vietnam and Iraq.