Saturday, January 13, 2024

Edward Jay Epstein, Author and Stubborn Skeptic, Dies at 88.


Edward Jay Epstein, Author and Stubborn Skeptic, Dies at 88

He questioned the findings of the Warren Commission, called Edward Snowden a prized Russian asset and exposed the diamond industry’s economic impact.


 A black-and-white portrait of a young Edward Jay Epstein, wearing a jacket and narrow tie.

Edward Jay Epstein in 1966, the year he turned his master’s thesis into a best-selling book on the Kennedy assassination.Credit...Marc Green/Viking Press


Edward Jay Epstein, an iconoclastic author whose deeply researched books challenged conventional wisdom about controversies ranging from whether John F. Kennedy was killed by a lone assassin to whether the whistle-blower Edward Snowden was really a Russian spy, has died in Manhattan. He was 88.

The cause was complications of Covid, his nephew Richard Nessel said. He said Mr. Epstein was found dead in his apartment on Tuesday.

A professional skeptic, Mr. Epstein wrote more than two dozen nonfiction books, many involving allegations of government conspiracies and corporate dereliction. Some raised more questions than they answered.

 In an improbable start to a prolific career, he debuted as an author early in 1966 when he transformed his master’s thesis at Cornell University into a book, “Inquest: The Warren Commission and the Establishment of Truth.” The New York Times called it “the first book to throw open to serious question, in the minds of serious people,” the conclusions reached by the presidential panel appointed to investigate President Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. ..............................................................................................

.........He was born Edward Jay Levinson on Dec. 6, 1935, in Brooklyn to Albert and Betty (Opolinsky) Levinson. His mother was an abstract sculptor, his father a financier in the fur trade who died of a heart attack when Edward was 7. His mother remarried, to Louis Epstein, an English-born shoe manufacturing executive, who adopted Edward in 1945. He was raised in the Midwood section of Brooklyn, where he attended Midwood High School, and in Rockville Centre, on Long Island, where he graduated from South Side High School.

At Cornell, Mr. Epstein was an erratic student. He was suspended after the 1956 spring semester for failing four courses, although he had received good grades in a 19th-century European literature course taught by Vladimir Nabokov and an A in Professor Hacker’s class on the U.S. Congress.

When he returned after 1963, Mr. Epstein completed his undergraduate degree and a master’s simultaneously, both in government. He graduated in 1966.

 Mr. Epstein and Henry Kissinger, both in suits and with white hair, chatting at a table as others mill around.

Mr. Epstein speaking with former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger at a publication party for the Snowden book in 2017. Credit...via Nessel Family

“He was the most interesting student I ever had,” Professor Hacker said. “There was a kind of mock ingenuousness about him. He would pretend he didn’t know anything.”

Mr. Epstein earned a doctorate in 1972 from the Harvard-M.I.T. Joint Center for Urban Studies, where his coursework was overseen by Prof. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the future U.S. senator from New York.

For three years Mr. Epstein taught political science at Harvard, the University of California, Los Angeles, and M.I.T., and wrote part time for The New Yorker. But he decided to return to the city of his birth to become a full-time author rather than pursue an academic career any further.

“I wanted to be in New York, ever since I met Clay Felker,” the editor of New York Magazine, he said in an interview last year with the online magazine Air Mail. “He knew the whole world.”

Mr. Epstein lived alone in a lavish rent-controlled apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. His niece and nephews are his closest survivors..............................................

.......................Michael Wolff, a fellow maverick investigative author, said of Mr. Epstein by phone, “He saw his job as a journalist as challenging, or, in fact, undermining, all conventional wisdom, which he did with a rigor born of both deep research and of knowing exactly who to call — because part of his trade was to know everybody.”

He added: “Ed’s politics were the joie de vivre of skepticism. Was he right? Curiously, I don’t think he was out to be right. He was out to ask the questions that others avoided or didn’t think of.”

Sam Roberts is an obituaries reporter for The Times, writing mini-biographies about the lives of remarkable people.







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