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Kai Bird Edit Profile

historian , journalist

Kai Bird is an American Pulitzer Prize-winning author and columnist, best known for his biographies of political figures.


Bird was born in 1951 in Eugene, Oregon. His father was a U.S. Foreign Service officer, and Bird spent his childhood in Jerusalem, Beirut, Dhahran, Cairo, and Mumbai. His father named him after Kai-Yu Hsu, a refugee from Communist China he met at the University of Oregon.


Bird finished high school in 1969 at Kodaikanal International School in Tamil Nadu, South India. He received his BA from Carleton College in 1973 and a M.S. in journalism from Northwestern University in 1975.


Kai means "mustard" in Mandarin Chinese, and "Kai-Yu" suggests somebody who adds spice to life. After graduation from Carleton, Bird received a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, which enables students to do a year of independent study outside the United States. He used the fellowship to do a photojournalism project in Yemen.

Two years later, Goldmark was also awarded a Watson Fellowship, and the two of them spent 15 months as freelance journalists traveling through Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan. "We filed weekly stories with papers like the Christian Science Monitor and Hong Kong’s Far Eastern Economic Review," Bird says. "We hardly made any money, but we enjoyed what we were doing." Bird was an associate editor of The Nation magazine from 1978–82 and then a Nation columnist.


  • Bird is a recipient of a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship (1973), an Alicia Patterson Journalism Fellowship (1981), a Guggenheim Fellowship (1982), and a John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Grant for Research and Writing (1993–95). In 2001-2002 he was a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Bird and co-author Martin J. Sherwin won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for or Autobiography for American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer (Knopf, 2005).

    He and Sherwin also won the 2005 National Book Critics Circle Award for their biography of Oppenheimer. In 2008, they also won the Duff Cooper Prize. Crossing Mandelbaum Gate was a finalist for the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award in the "Autobiography" category.


  • Other Work

    • Author: The Chairman: John Jay McCloy, The Making of the American Establishment, 1992, The Color of Truth: McGeorge Bundy & William Bundy, Brothers in Arms, 1998. Co-author (with Martin J. Sherwin): American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer 2005 (National Book Critics Circle award for biography 2005, Pulitzer Prize for biography, 2006). Co-editor: (anthology) Hiroshima's Shadow: Writings on the Denial of History and the Smithsonian Controversy, 1998.


Married Susan Gloria Goldmark, June 7, 1975. 1 child, Joshua Kodai Goldmark.

Eugene Hall

Jerine Newhouse Bird

Susan Gloria Goldmark

Joshua Kodai Goldmark Bird