Real-life thriller retraces the manhunt for a notorious Nazi
When it comes to writing, Neal Bascomb is a creature of habit. He begins his day at the same coffee shop in Greenwich Village, New York, where he has written all his books. He drinks regular coffee, and he takes it black. He reads The New York Times. When he puts the paper down, it's time to have a second cup of coffee, and to write. He uses one of the fancy pens he's received as a gift, and any notebook he has available. Then he sets about writing his first draft in longhand.
"I've been coming to the same place almost every day for the past 10 years," Bascomb says. "The place has a good feel to it. It's public, yet no one bothers me. People come in and out. I sit at a table and open a notebook. The sounds around me become white noise. It's beautiful."
Bascomb breaks around noon, and returns to his home in Brooklyn for lunch with his wife and two daughters. Then he returns to the coffee shop to write again until dinnertime.
"Two good sessions, and a 1,000 words, and I'm happy," he says.
In contrast to his rigid writing routine, Bascomb's nonfiction books are remarkably diverse in subject. His latest, Hunting Eichmann, is an engaging account of the manhunt for Adolf Eichmann, the notorious Nazi commander who was the architect of the mass extermination of Jews during World War II.
Written in rich detail and with authority, the quality of Hunting Eichmann would suggest the author is an expert on World War II, the Holocaust and war crimes. But this is his first foray into such subjects.
Bascomb's first book, Higher, described the battle between America's most gifted architects to build the world's tallest skyscraper during the Roaring '20s. He followed with The Perfect Mile, the tale of Roger Bannister and two other runners struggling to be the first to run the mile in under four minutes. Bascomb then wrote Red Mutiny, chronicling the 1905 munity aboard the Russian battleship Potemkin.
The diversity of Bascomb's subjects makes perfect sense, given that he is a journalist in pursuit of a good story.
"I like to find stories that are very intriguing, with a strong narrative," he explains.
While his approach allows Bascomb to avoid being pigeonholed, many book authors develop a specialty, which enables them to develop an audience.
"It may not be the best idea in terms of my career," he admits. "There is value in focusing. a) You become an expert. And b) you keep your audience. In essence, I'm finding a new audience each time I write a book. I suppose there are those who love Neal Bascomb, but I'm not sure how many of them are out there."
Bascomb actually has quite a few fans, given that his books have met with critical acclaim and have made numerous bestseller lists. Hunting Eichmann has the same potential, thanks to Bascomb's painstaking research and lively writing.
The book follows the life of Eichmann, a lieutenant colonel in the notorious Nazi SS who organized the deportation of Europe's Jews to concentration camps. When Germany surrendered, Eichmann escaped and lived under an alias in Argentina until his capture by Israeli spies in 1960. He was convicted of crimes against humanity and hanged.
Hunting Eichmann tracks the Nazi officer's rise to power and recounts his acts of genocide. It outlines his harrowing escape, his undercover life in Argentina and his suspense-filled capture. The story is thoroughly researched and rich in detail.
Bascomb, 37, first became interested in Eichmann in 1992, when he was a young college student studying abroad in Luxembourg.
"I was this Midwestern kid who found himself in a place where there was a lot of World War II history. Then when some Holocaust survivors came to talk to us, it struck me in the solar plexus." Bascomb recalls.
Years later, when he was researching the subject, Bascomb was excited to discover new material on Eichmann, and he began a journey that took him around the world to learn about the fugitive Nazi's life. He traveled to Buenos Aires to interview former Nazi soldiers. While there, he also discovered in court files the long-lost passport Eichmann used to escape Europe. Bascomb also traveled to Israel to interview former operatives with Mossad, the spy agency that tracked down and captured Eichmann.
"For 50 years, they had not spoken about this. They had a pretty dramatic story to tell. [And] discovering the passport—it was a powerful feeling to add to history," Bascomb says.
Writing Hunting Eichmann also was a satisfying experience for Bascomb, in large part because the real-life manhunt for Eichmann was structurally similar to a mystery novel.
"It was like writing it as a novel, except everything is true," he says. "It was exciting to get to that level—trying to tell it as if you were reading a novel, except this is history."
While Bascomb is about to embark on an eight-city tour for Hunting Eichmann, he already is busy researching his next book, which is about high school science students. His eager pursuit of his next project, which is taking him to New York, Detroit and Santa Barbara, California, is due in part to his continued curiosity as a journalist. But there are also some practical reasons.
"I write books full time. I don't freelance, I don't teach. So when one project is done, I like to get cracking on the next one," he explains.
But his wife has her own theory.
"My wife says I pick my books depending upon where I want to travel next," Bascomb laughs. "That may seem true when I'm researching in Santa Barbara in January. But in my defense, I was in Detroit the week before."
John T. Slania is a journalism professor at Loyola University in Chicago. Copyright 2009 BookPage Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2009 January #1
Step-by-step account of the 15-year pursuit of the Holocaust's leading bureaucrat.When Hitler ordered Gestapo chief Heinrich Himmler to kill all European Jews, Himmler assigned the details to ObsturmbannfÃ¼hrer Adolf Eichmann. More civil servant than warrior, Eichmann managed train schedules, kept records and dealt with foreign governments responsible for identifying and rounding up Jews. He ended the war an obscure figure absent from Allied lists of Nazi war criminals. Soon, however, survivors, including Simon Wiesenthal, organized to track down those responsible for the genocide who were still free, and Eichmann became a prime target. Bascomb (Red Mutiny: Eleven Fateful Days on the Battleship Potemkin, 2007, etc.) plumbed the archives and interviewed survivors to produce a surprisingly detailed history of Eichmann's movements during his years of freedom, as well as the work by many individuals that led to his capture. At the end of war, Eichmann spent seven months in Allied prison camps under an alias. Fearing detection after his name became prominent during the Nuremberg trials, he escaped and spent several dreary years as a lumberjack and chicken farmer. He moved to Argentina with the help of an efficient organization created by former SS officers to smuggle ex-Nazis out of Europe. When his wife and children disappeared from Austria in 1952, it was obvious Eichmann must still be alive, but by then the U.S. and West German governments had lost interest in hunting Nazis, and even Israel gave it a low priority. Several individuals turned up clues to his location, but not until 1959 did an Israeli secret service agent visit Argentina and confirm his presence there. Bascomb devotes the book's second half to the complex mission that enabled Israeli agents to kidnap Eichmann and spirit him back for trial.Absorbing and appalling, with some grim satisfaction provided by a stark depiction of the unrepentant Eichmann's execution. Copyright Kirkus 2009 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Library Journal Reviews 2008 November #2
The author of high-profile titles like The Perfect Mile and Red Mutiny, Bascomb takes on the task of tracking Adolf Eichmann's disappearance post-World War II and eventual capture by Israel's Mossad-even finding the passport that Eichmann used to escape Europe. With a four-city tour; rights sold to nine countries. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal Reviews 2009 January #1
Bascomb (The Perfect Mile) revisits a well-documented episode in the establishment of Israel and postwar international crime and punishment, the seizure of the Holocaust logistician Adolf Eichmann by Mossad agents in 1960. Eichmann's arrest, trial, and execution, unfolding over three years, was arguably Israel's primal, grand international initiative, and among the varied reactions to the proceedings Hannah Arendt's controversial rumination stands out as a key 20th-century text in journalistic moral philosophy. Bascomb's concern, however, is action. In a singing prose style, he demonstrates that while the discovery of Eichmann in Argentina and subsequent abduction operation were fairly simple, virtually everything that had to go right went brilliantly, final testament that the task was managed and executed with great discipline. The details elicited from Bascomb's interviews with a startling range of people associated with the events freshen interest in this famous story, here enhanced by the use of previously unpublished photographs. Recommended for public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/08.]-Scott H. Silverman, Bryn Mawr Coll., PA Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2008 December #2
After WWII, notorious Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann lived comfortably in Buenos Aires under an alias. Nazi hunters like Simon Wiesenthal sought Eichmann fruitlessly until 1956, when Eichmann's son bragged about his father's war exploits to his girlfriend's father, a half-Jew who had been blinded by the Gestapo and who alerted a Jewish attorney general of Hesse in Germany known for his prosecution of Nazis. Bascomb (The Perfect Mile) details Eichmann's wartime atrocities and postwar escapes, and how, in 1960, the Israelis decided to have secret service operatives (one of whom, Isser Harel, recounted these events in 1975's The House on Garibaldi Street)--mostly Holocaust survivors--secretly kidnap Eichmann and fly him to Israel on El Al, disguised as an airline employee. Tried in Israel in 1961, Eichmann was executed in 1962. These were early days for Israel's now-legendary intelligence agencies, Mossad and Shin Bet, and it's fascinating how they accomplished their goal without the technical and monetary support that's now standard. Although Bascomb's prose is awkward, his work is well researched, including interviews with former Israeli operatives and El Al staff who participated in the capture, as well as Argentine fascists. This is a gripping read. Illus. (Mar.)[Page 51]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.