If you followed the Iran-Contra scandal in the late 1980s and early '90s, you might remember diplomat Charles Hill as the man who took the notes. That was Hill's brief moment in the public spotlight, and it was an inglorious one. Hill, the executive assistant to Secretary of State George Shultz, was publicly scolded for withholding evidence by not turning over all the notes he took during meetings at which Shultz discussed aspects of the Iran arms sale scheme. Throughout his diplomatic career, from Vietnam to the Middle East to the United Nations, Hill was always the man who took the notes, as he sat at the elbow of the great men he served: Shultz, Henry Kissinger, Boutros Boutros-Ghali. He was one of the faceless bureaucrats who really run the world, but seldom end up in front of the cameras.
Hill has reinvented himself as a professor at Yale University, a legendary figure to international relations students. One such student, Molly Worthen, was so impressed that she decided to become Hill's biographer. With his cooperation, she has produced The Man on Whom Nothing Was Lost, a penetrating chronicle of the man and his times. As biographer, Worthen deftly describes the impact that Hill had on U.S. foreign policy by touching the rudder, while interweaving the wrenching story of the collapse of his first marriage to a woman who turned to alcohol as she and her husband failed to connect. As memoirist, Worthen shows us how her pursuit of Hill's history helped lead to her own maturation as a woman and a biographer, still sympathetic to her subject, but more clear-eyed and skeptical than she started out. She concludes that the professor whom so many of today's students see as a paragon of ethical judgment did, whatever his rationalizations, withhold evidence from federal investigators. Hill has strongly denied that charge, and would doubtless object to some other judgments Worthen makes about his life. But he can't argue with Worthen's skill, psychological insight and compassion.