09/09/2012 05:58 pm ET Updated Nov 09, 2012

A New Book Celebrates Stanley Sheinbaum

I just finished reading a small book about a very big man. The book, Stanley K. Sheinbaum: A 20th Century Knight's Quest for Peace, Civil Liberties and Economic Justice is a biography as told to -- and beautifully crafted by -- Bill Meis.

Sheinbaum has had a life of intrigue and exploits that would put many spies, politicians and even secretaries of state to shame. He's a bit of James Bond mixed with the civil rights champion Clarence Darrow. Indeed, I have always thought of him as a small Scandinavian state, audaciously leveraging the influence of his unique base as a wealthy "intellectual engage" to shift history at key moments.

As an economic development expert advising the Agency for International Development (AID) in South Vietnam in the 1960s, he exposed how the CIA used AID as cover to train police in brutal repression. When Andreas Papandreou, who later became prime minister of Greece, was arrested by the dictatorial colonels after their coup, Sheinbaum got President Lyndon Johnson to spring him from jail before he could be tortured or executed. He stepped into the breach to finance and organize Daniel Ellsberg's defense in the Pentagon Papers trial.

Later on, in the late 1980s, Sheinbaum was one of a handful of American Jewish activists who defied vicious opprobrium to meet with Yasser Arafat to persuade the PLO to foreswear terrorism in exchange for entering serious negotiations to establish a Palestinian state. After the Rodney King riots in LA, Sheinbaum was appointed by Mayor Tom Bradley as chairman of the Police Commission. And, oh yes, he was a Regent of the University of California and a publisher.

As a founding fellow of the famous Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions headed by the former "great books" president of the University of Chicago, Robert Maynard Hutchins, Sheinbaum always believed in the pursuit of knowledge through dialogue. To that end he became publisher of New Perspectives Quarterly (NPQ), a journal of social and political thought (full disclosure: which I edit) that soon became critically acclaimed. Bill Moyers said "I can't think without it;" Carlos Fuentes said "it is the only place where the whole world meets." As in his other endeavors, Sheinbaum put his money where his mind was. He and his wife, the accomplished artist Betty Warner Sheinbaum, sold de Kooning's "Pink Lady" to fund NPQ in its initial years.

On the liberal side of American politics, Sheinbaum was for a long time a "kingmaker" as part of the so-called Malibu mafia that helped put Jerry Brown into the governor's office twice. Bill Clinton to this day will recall that Sheinbaum was among the first who leant support to his fledgling run for the presidency.

Everyone in LA knew of the salons regularly held at the Sheinbaum's art filled Brentwood home. It was for many years the nexus of politics and Hollywood glamour. On any given evening you might find Gregory Peck, Warren Beatty or Barbra Streisand there mingling among the Moore sculptures. When King Hussein and Queen Noor of Jordan wanted to meet the "Hollywood royalty" on a visit to LA they turned to the Sheinbaums.

Should I go on? Best to pick up the book where you can read all this in Sheinbaum's warm and witty voice so faithfully rendered by Meis. You can get the book on