Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Stephen Kinzer

Stephen Kinzer

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Stephen Kinzer

Senior Fellow in International and Public Affairs

Biography

Stephen Kinzer is an award-winning foreign correspondent who has covered more than 50 countries on five continents. His articles and books have led the Washington Post to place him "among the best in popular foreign policy storytelling."

Kinzer spent more than 20 years working for the New York Times, most of it as a foreign correspondent. His foreign postings placed him at the center of historic events and, at times, in the line of fire.

From 1983 to 1989, Kinzer was the New York Times bureau chief in Nicaragua.  In that post he covered war and upheaval in Central America. He also wrote two books about the region. One of them, co-authored with Stephen Schlesinger, is Bitter Fruit: The Untold Story of the American Coup in Guatemala.  The other one, Blood of Brothers: Life and War in Nicaragua, is a social and political portrait that the New Yorker called "impressive for the refinement of its writing and also the breadth of its subject matter." Columbia University awarded Kinzer its Maria Moors Cabot prize for outstanding coverage of Latin America.

From 1990 to 1996 Kinzer was posted in Germany.  He was chief of the New York Times bureau in Bonn, and after German unification became chief of the Berlin bureau. From there he covered the emergence of post-Communist Europe, including wars in the former Yugoslavia.

In 1996 Kinzer was named chief of the newly opened New York Times bureau in Istanbul, Turkey.  He spent four years there, traveling widely in Turkey and in the new nations of Central Asia and the Caucasus.  After completing this assignment, Kinzer published Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds.

In 2006 Kinzer published Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq.  It recounts the 14 times the United States has overthrown foreign governments.  Kinzer seeks to explain why these interventions were carried out and what their long-term effects have been. He has made several trips to Iran, and is the author of All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror.  It tells how the CIA overthrew Iran's nationalist government in 1953.

Kinzer wrote about Africa in his book A Thousand Hills: Rwanda's Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It. Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa called it "a fascinating account of a near-miracle unfolding before our very eyes.”

In 2010 Kinzer published Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America’s Future, which Huffington Post called “a bold exercise in reimagining the United States’ big links in the Middle East.”

Kinzer’s next book, The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War, was widely praised.  Reviewers called it sparkling, riveting, gripping, bracing, and disturbing.  The Wall Street Journal called it a “fluently written, ingeniously researched, thrillerish work of popular history.”

In 2017 Kinzer published The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire. His newest book, published in 2019, is "Poisoner in Chief: Sidney Gottlieb and the CIA Search for Mind Control." 

After leaving the Times in 2005, Kinzer taught journalism, political science, and international relations at Northwestern University and Boston University.  He is now a Senior Fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University, and writes a world affairs column for The Boston Globe.

While posted in Turkey, Kinzer hosted the country’s first radio show devoted to blues music.  He is the author of the entry on Jelly Roll Morton in The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge.

In 2008 Kinzer was awarded an honorary doctorate by Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois.  The citation said that "those of us who have had the pleasure of hearing his lectures or talking to him informally will probably never see the world in the same way again."

The University of Scranton awarded Kinzer an honorary doctorate in 2010.  “Where there has been turmoil in the world and history has shifted, Stephen Kinzer has been there,” the citation said.  “Neither bullets, bombs nor beating could dull his sharp determination to bring injustice and strife to light.”

Research

Kinzer's research is focused on the way the United States acts in the world. He seeks to understand the cultural and social roots of American foreign policy, as well as the political and economic ones.

Much of Kinzer's work has involved re-interpreting history and exploring episodes that are not well known. His books on the American-led operations that deposed governments in Guatemala and Iran during the 1950s, and his history of American regime-change operations, Overthrow, have sharpened his focus on the long-term effects of foreign intervention.

Kinzer's newest book, which tells the stories of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his brother, CIA Director Allen Dulles, uses the framework of biography to ask: Why does the United States behave as it does in the world?

As tensions have risen in Iran and Turkey, Kinzer has written about their challenges. He is also researching the history of anti-imperialism in the United States, and seeking to discover why it has never managed to win broad popular support.

Publications

The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War
Times Books – October 2013

Beyond Military Intervention: A 'Wacko Birds' Manifesto for US Foreign Policy
"Never mind John McCain's jibe at those who challenge the consensus on American 'might is right', the US needs this debate."
The Guardian - March 24, 2013

John Kerry and the Restraint of American Power in US Foreign Policy
"The key issue facing Hillary Clinton's replacement at State is whether he can temper interventionist instincts with new realism."
The Guardian - January 31, 2013

Libya and the Limits of Intervention
"A dose of humility might lead Americans to realize that military intervention always produces unforeseen consequences."
Current History - November 2012

US Inadvertently Creates a Terrorist Haven in Mali
Boston Globe - July 15, 2012

Iran's First Great Satan Was England
New York Times - December 3, 2011

Libya is not 'Another Rwanda'
"The disciplined Tutsi rebel force led by Paul Kagame in 1994 in Rwanda differs greatly from the ragtag opposition in Libya today."
The Boston Globe - April 1, 2011

News|Recent News

Rep. Bill Keating of Massachusetts

Bill Keating is 'not OK': In search of a progressive challenger for my business-as-usual representative (written by Stephen Kinzer)

July 12, 2019 The Boston Globe

Senior Fellow Stephen Kinzer in The Boston Globe, "We are outraged by the corruption of our political system, and by the suffering it is causing countless human beings around the United States and beyond. Yet when we look at our own representatives in Congress, we see the same bland, business-as-usual, go-along-to-get-along politics that created this matrix of crisis."

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Senior Fellow Stephen Kinzer

BPR Interviews: Stephen Kinzer

June 10, 2019 Brown Political Review

Senior Fellow Stephen Kinzer sat down with the Brown Political Review for an interview, saying "My training is not from being a scholar, but rather from being out in the world and working as a journalist."

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Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Invitation to an arms race (written by Stephen Kinzer)

June 6, 2019 The Boston Globe

Senior Fellow Stephen Kinzer in The Boston Globe, "For most of the 20th century, the United States was strong enough to keep allies in line and rivals at bay. Today, however, other countries are not so easily intimidated. Many have lost confidence in the US."

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Iran Revolutionary Guard soldiers

Why are we so fixated on Iran? (written by Stephen Kinzer)

May 28, 2019 The Boston Globe

Senior Fellow Stephen Kinzer in The Boston Globe, "It has little to do with Iran’s behavior, which is no more provocative today than it was a year or a decade ago. Instead it is the product of fevered tempers in Washington."

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