Catalogue


The man who tried to save the world : the dangerous life and mysterious disappearance of Fred Cuny /
Scott Anderson.
edition
1st ed.
imprint
New York : Doubleday, 1999.
description
374 p. : ill., map ; 24 cm.
ISBN
0385486650
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
New York : Doubleday, 1999.
isbn
0385486650
general note
Includes index.
local note
TRIN copy has errata slip inserted.
catalogue key
3132220
A Look Inside
Awards
This item was nominated for the following awards:
Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, USA, 2000 : Nominated
Excerpts
Excerpt from Book
You have entered the wilderness of trees and mirrors. This is a story with no obvious answers because that's how it was set up, the way it's supposed to be. --Former U.S. intelligence officer on the search for Fred Cuny Shortly after eleven o'clock on the morning of March 31, 1995, five people emerged from a building at the south end of the main square of Sleptsovskaya, a small town in the northern Caucasus republic of Ingushetia. Crossing to the tree-lined curb, they climbed aboard a battered gray ambulance and pulled away. The two-story building they had just left housed a Russian government agency with a very long name: the Ministry of States of Emergency and Elimination of Consequences of Natural Disasters--or "Emergency Situations" for short. There had been a number of "emergency situations" in the Russian Federation since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but the most pressing one in Ingushetia that spring of 1995 was the war in neighboring Chechnya. At the end of March the conflict between the Russian army and Chechen separatists was only fourteen weeks old, but already tens of thousands were dead, whole towns and cities flattened, and the tide of battle had moved steadily westward to lap at the Ingushetia frontier. In Sleptsovskaya, a dusty, dull town less than a mile from the border, the fighting was now so close that on some nights its windows rattled from the concussion of Russian artillery, certain breezes carrying the sounds of combat so distinctly--the tap-tap-tap of machine-gun fire, even the soft, metallic clank produced by a tank moving over uneven ground--that it seemed the war had reached its own streets. But it was at night that most of the killing in Chechnya took place,and when the Russian-built UAZ ambulance left the main square thatsunlit morning all was quiet, as if Sleptsovskaya was still what it hadalways been: a sleepy agricultural town set amidst a beautiful and fertilevalley, its bare trees and fields awaiting the first stirrings ofspring. The five people in the UAZ ambulance were bound for Chechnya, apparently planning to conduct a "needs assessment" tour of the war zone. In addition to the local driver, the party consisted of two Russian Red Cross doctors, an interpreter, and the leader of the mission, a fifty-year-old Texan named Frederick C. Cuny. An already imposing figure at six foot three, made more so by his trademark hand-stitched cowboy boots with their two-inch heels, Fred bore a strong resemblance to the late actor Slim Pickens, a comparison accentuated by his somewhat paunchy frame and a soft North Texas drawl. While not strikingly handsome by traditional measure, there was about him an extraordinary sense of self-assuredness, an air of quiet authority and determination that most people found deeply charismatic; women, in particular, seemed to find him quite entrancing. With his close-cropped graying hair, habitual lopsided grin, and vaguely martial bearing, he gave the impression of an aging, slightly quirky ex-military man who was not taking very good care of himself, and he looked rather out of place for the wilds of the North Caucasus. Then again, Fred Cuny looked out of place in most of the forsaken spots he usually found himself in. As founder and president of the Intertect Relief and Reconstruction Corporation, Fred was one of the world's most accomplished disaster relief experts, both a pioneer and an iconoclast in the field of international humanitarian aid. Operating out of a threadbare office in Dallas, he and his Intertect consultants had spanned the globe over the past twenty-five years to battle the catastrophes wrought by both nature and man--earthquakes in Guatemala, cyclones in Madagascar, wars on four continents. A man of astounding energy and will, he had repeatedly achieved what others deemed impossible, before quickly moving on to the next impossible task. On the strength of such accomplishmen
First Chapter
You have entered the wilderness of trees and mirrors. This is a story with no obvious answers because that's how it was set up, the way it's supposed to be. --Former U.S. intelligence officer on the search for Fred Cuny

Shortly after eleven o'clock on the morning of March 31, 1995, five people emerged from a building at the south end of the main square of Sleptsovskaya, a small town in the northern Caucasus republic of Ingushetia. Crossing to the tree-lined curb, they climbed aboard a battered gray ambulance and pulled away.

The two-story building they had just left housed a Russian government agency with a very long name: the Ministry of States of Emergency and Elimination of Consequences of Natural Disasters--or "Emergency Situations" for short. There had been a number of "emergency situations" in the Russian Federation since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but the most pressing one in Ingushetia that spring of 1995 was the war in neighboring Chechnya. At the end of March the conflict between the Russian army and Chechen separatists was only fourteen weeks old, but already tens of thousands were dead, whole towns and cities flattened, and the tide of battle had moved steadily westward to lap at the Ingushetia frontier. In Sleptsovskaya, a dusty, dull town less than a mile from the border, the fighting was now so close that on some nights its windows rattled from the concussion of Russian artillery, certain breezes carrying the sounds of combat so distinctly--the tap-tap-tap of machine-gun fire, even the soft, metallic clank produced by a tank moving over uneven ground--that it seemed the war had reached its own streets.

But it was at night that most of the killing in Chechnya took place,and when the Russian-built UAZ ambulance left the main square thatsunlit morning all was quiet, as if Sleptsovskaya was still what it hadalways been: a sleepy agricultural town set amidst a beautiful and fertilevalley, its bare trees and fields awaiting the first stirrings ofspring.

The five people in the UAZ ambulance were bound for Chechnya, apparently planning to conduct a "needs assessment" tour of the war zone. In addition to the local driver, the party consisted of two Russian Red Cross doctors, an interpreter, and the leader of the mission, a fifty-year-old Texan named Frederick C. Cuny.

An already imposing figure at six foot three, made more so by his trademark hand-stitched cowboy boots with their two-inch heels, Fred bore a strong resemblance to the late actor Slim Pickens, a comparison accentuated by his somewhat paunchy frame and a soft North Texas drawl. While not strikingly handsome by traditional measure, there was about him an extraordinary sense of self-assuredness, an air of quiet authority and determination that most people found deeply charismatic; women, in particular, seemed to find him quite entrancing. With his close-cropped graying hair, habitual lopsided grin, and vaguely martial bearing, he gave the impression of an aging, slightly quirky ex-military man who was not taking very good care of himself, and he looked rather out of place for the wilds of the North Caucasus. Then again, Fred Cuny looked out of place in most of the forsaken spots he usually found himself in.

As founder and president of the Intertect Relief and Reconstruction Corporation, Fred was one of the world's most accomplished disaster relief experts, both a pioneer and an iconoclast in the field of international humanitarian aid. Operating out of a threadbare office in Dallas, he and his Intertect consultants had spanned the globe over the past twenty-five years to battle the catastrophes wrought by both nature and man--earthquakes in Guatemala, cyclones in Madagascar, wars on four continents. A man of astounding energy and will, he had repeatedly achieved what others deemed impossible, before quickly moving on to the next impossible task. On the strength of such accomplishments, he had earned an assortment of grandiose nicknames: "the Lone Ranger of emergency assistance," "the Red Adair of humanitarian relief"--and one he was especially fond of, "the Master of Disaster."

Along the way, however, Fred had fueled a fair amount of both resentment and suspicion. In recent years, many of his colleagues in the disaster relief fraternity, a fraternity where at least the appearance of neutrality was carefully maintained, had grown alarmed by his outspoken partisanship in different war zones around the world, as well as by his unusually cozy relationship with the American military. By the mid-1990s an increasing number of those who encountered Fred Cuny in the field began to suspect he might actually be an American intelligence agent. It was speculation Fred did little to discourage.

He had first come to Chechnya seven weeks earlier, in February 1995, at the behest of billionaire financier and philanthropist George Soros. Arriving amid the Russian army's "pacification" of the capital of Grozny--a scorched-earth campaign that was steadily reducing the city to rubble and killing hundreds of civilians each day--Fred had spent a week shuttling across the battle lines, meeting with both senior Chechen rebel commanders and Russian generals in an attempt to arrange a cease-fire, one long enough to evacuate the estimated 30,000 civilians still trapped in the city. In the end, the Russian high command vetoed his plan, and the shelling had resumed.

Professionally, that first brief sojourn onto the battlefield had been a bitter experience for Fred. In typical fashion, he had come to Chechnya with a number of bold ideas to salvage the place, but with the Russian military tightening their hold on the breakaway republic and openly contemptuous of any effort to ease civilian suffering, the "Master of Disaster" had been able to accomplish little. After laying the groundwork for a tiny emergency medical team that would operate out of Ingushetia, Fred had left the region, his far more ambitious goals indefinitely postponed.

But that trip had affected him in another, more personal way. Even for an eyewitness to some thirty conflicts over the previous quarter century, Fred had never seen a war to match the brutality or terrifying unpredictability of Chechnya. To friends and coworkers back in the United States, he called it "the scariest place I have ever been."

That reaction, however, simply served as a goad to greater action. Throughout March, Fred had waged a dogged--and increasingly public--campaign in the United States excoriating the Russian military for its brutal tactics in Chechnya. He had met with senior State Department officials in Washington, and testified before a congressional subcommittee. In early April a long article he had written in the same vein would appear in the New York Review of Books.

So prominent had Fred become on the topic of Chechnya that many of his colleagues worried that it made him a marked man in the eyes of the Russian military--and a dead man should he ever return to the region. Now he was back, having flown into the Sleptsovskaya airport on the afternoon of March 29.

Shortly after nine o'clock on that last morning of Friday, March 31, Fred called his assistant at the Soros office in Moscow, Elisabeth Socolow. Toward the end of the conversation he mentioned he was going into Chechnya later that morning on a quick "needs assessment" tour, but would return to neutral Ingushetia by evening or the next day at the latest.

Wary of the Russian telephones, Elisabeth did not press him for details on the trip, but she detected something strange in Fred's voice; usually jocular and engaging, his tone that morning was flat, somber. "Is everything okay?" she finally asked.

There was a pause. "Just think about me," Fred said softly, then hung up.
Excerpted from The Man Who Tried to Save the World: The Dangerous Life and Mysterious Disappearance of Fred Cuny by Scott Anderson
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 1999-04-19:
Not even Anderson's intrepid reporting and formidable storytelling skills can bring clarity to the case of Fred Cuny, the legendary relief worker who disappeared in Chechnya in 1995. This is the fault of circumstances rather than of the author, a veteran reporter and novelist (Triage). Known as the Master of Disaster, Cuny was a charismatic Texan who made a career out of bringing relief to civilians displaced by war, winning a reputation for cutting through the bureaucratic tangles of larger relief organizations and governments. Anderson seeks to shed light on two enigmas: the character of Fred Cuny, and the mystery of his disappearance. On the first score, Anderson succumbs to some facile psychologizing; on the second, he does much better, portraying the "snake pit" that was Chechnya, a place where arms smuggling, drug trafficking and graft obscured the lines of battle so completely that it was frequently impossible to determine who was fighting whom at any given moment. Cuny, who had seen his share of battle zones, called it "the scariest place I have ever been." The skill with which Anderson leads readers through a maze of lies and half truths advanced by Russian intelligence, Chechen rebels and others makes readers believe that Chechnya is impenetrable. So, by the book's end, when Anderson advances his own theory about Cuny's disappearance (that he was killed on orders of Chechen president Dzhokar Dudayev, who feared Cuny knew too much about whether or not Dudayev had leftover Soviet nuclear weapons), readers will be hard-pressed to judge whether it's more plausible than any of the conspiracy theories that precede it. And yet, confronted with a Gordian knot of facts and a succession of unreliable sources, Anderson does an admirable job of searching for the truth in a land that truth forgot. Major ad/promo; first serial to Men's Journal; film rights to Monkey Productions (a Disney Company); author tour. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Appeared in Library Journal on 1999-06:
At the time of his 1995 disappearance in Chechnya's killing fields, Fred Cuny had attained an extraordinary reputation for providing disaster relief. His efforts had saved literally thousands of refugees in Central America, Kurdistan, and Bosnia, among other places. Where Cuny's advice was ignored (Somalia), the result was greater tragedy. Freelance journalist Anderson, author of the novel Triage (LJ 9/1/98), pieces together the testimony of the many who knew Cuny from the time of his Texas boyhood through his last chaotic days with a mobile trauma unit in Chechnya. Depicting the shifting venues of Cuny's work as a private consultant and sometime employee of the State Department and the Soros Foundation, Anderson helps us distinguish Cuny's "myth" from his remarkable life. In his personal quest to penetrate the "fog of intrigue" surrounding his subject, Anderson delivers a plausible explanation of Cuny's death and reveals the unique terrorism of Russia's Chechnyan war. As a biography, this book begs questions, but as a nonfiction mystery it is gripping. Recommended for public and most academic libraries.ÄZachary T. Irwin, Pennsylvania State Univ., Erie (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Reviews
Review Quotes
Initial Praise forThe Man Who Tried to Save the World: "This is war at its most brutal, and war reporting at its finest. Scott Anderson's tour through Chechnya in search of a lost American humanitarian ranks as one of the most thrilling stories I've ever read. That Anderson made it out alive is incredible, but this is not just an adventure story, but a mystery of the first order." --Sebastian Junger, author ofThe Perfect Storm "This is the kind of book I love: a can-of-worms odyssey by a journalist with balls of brass and a relentless determination to get to the truth. What starts out as a search for facts turns into a Conradesque epic, a journey into a real-life heart of darkness where every hall is mirrored, nothing is what it seems, and every truth uncovered leads to a deeper mystery.The Man Who Tried to Save the Worldhas all the elements of a Hollywood blockbuster--an enigmatic Yank with military and spy connections, shadowy Russian spooks, mysterious women, bandits and brigands, Chechnyan warlords, even missing nukes--with this difference: It's all true." --Steven Pressfield, author ofGates of Fire "Scott Anderson'sThe Man Who Tried to Save the Worldis a taut thriller of wartime intrigue that also happens to be true. Through the story of Fred Cuny's disappearance, Anderson gives us the story of Chechnya, and he does so with a reporter's exactitude and a novelist's sense of the tragic and absurd. A powerful, many-layered book." --Darcy Frey, author ofThe Last Shot
This item was reviewed in:
Publishers Weekly, April 1999
Booklist, May 1999
Chicago Tribune, May 1999
Kirkus Reviews, May 1999
New York Times Book Review, May 1999
Library Journal, June 1999
Wall Street Journal, June 1999
New York Times Book Review, July 1999
Washington Post, September 1999
San Francisco Chronicle, November 1999
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Summaries
Main Description
What makes a man a hero, and what price must he pay? For one man, the answers came in the scariest place on earth. Fred Cuny spent his life in terrible places. In countries rent by war, earthquake, famine, and hurricane, Cuny saved hundreds of thousands of lives with a fearlessness that amazed all who knew him. A Texan, a teller of tall tales, a womanizer, and a renegade, Cuny grew ever more daring in his globe-trotting adventures as his motivations became murkier. Was he a danger junkie? A CIA spy? Or a man who truly believed he had the wits and courage to save the world? After twenty-five years of heroic work that earned Cuny the nickname "Master of Disaster," he set off to the rogue Russian republic of Chechnya, a land of gangsters and Islamic terrorists, a quasi-state engaged in an unimaginably savage war with a Russian army of drunken, brutal incompetents. Cuny went to try to stop the war, but for the first time in his life he was scared, unsure of himself in an insane landscape where betrayal and murder lurked behind every face. He failed to stop the horror, yet soon returned to Chechnya on a mysterious mission. Cuny was last seen on a lonely mountain road, headed for a rebel fortress that was being subjected to the most intense artillery bombardment since World War II. War correspondent Scott Anderson became obsessed with Cuny's fate, and ventured into the deadly war zone himself in search of answers to several haunting questions: Whom was Cuny working for? What happened to him, and why? Most powerfully, what sort of man believes he can save the world? The answers to these questions form the heart of this extraordinary narrative, a true-life thriller that brings to light the chaos, treachery, and danger of the "new world order."The Man Who Tried to Save the Worldis a tour de force of literary journalism and an utterly compelling read.

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