Five Great Books About Spies and the CIA
I have to confess: I'm fascinated by spy books, intelligence histories, CIA memoirs, KGB confessionals. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it's because I grew up during the Cold War, when a firm line was drawn between good guys and bad. It wasn't always a clear line. Many of the good guys did bad things. And many of the bad guys were just like us.
But the intelligence community, for a bright dozen years or so between World War II and the Cuban Revolution, seemed to be trying to get it right. The battle cries were ones we could live by: Freedom. Liberty. Justice. At least, those were the goals. They weren't always the reality. And then, with the '60s, came confusion.
I was still a child in the '60s, but despite the growing doubt and satire -- "That Was the Week That Was," "Get Smart," James Bond -- the ideals managed to stick.
What are the books that reveal most about the CIA? Which ones can clear the fog to reveal, if only briefly, the truth about intelligence work? There have been high points of intelligence, surely, but there have been nadirs, too, many of them vividly recalled in the familiar images of 9/11.
As I was wondering these things, Jeff Stein, the national security editor of Congressional Quarterly, posted a list of the best books about the CIA. I also happened to have in hand a long letter from a CIA veteran, Joseph Shugrue, who had written to complain that CIA books getting good notices in Book World might not, in fact, be ones that told the truth. And then a long-time acquaintance, another wise head on intelligence subjects, weighed in with a few votes.
Here are five books, a mere sliver, of the result. Surely, you will have more to add to this handful. And if you do, so will I.
Wilderness of Mirrors: Intrigue, Deception, and the Secrets that Destroyed Two of the Cold War's Most Important Agents, by David C. Martin.
This is my favorite -- the enthralling story of the all-out war between the CIA and the KGB. At the heart of it is a FBI gunslinger, William K. Harvey, and James Jesus Angleton, the eccentric head of counter-espionage at the CIA.
The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard Helms and the CIA, by Thomas Powers.
Jeff Stein's choice for the number one spot. I have to agree this biography of the CIA director is an astonishing book; one that still manages to surprise, even though it was written in 1979. John le CarrÃ©, of all people, called it "a splendid spy story, and all the better for being nonfiction"!
Powers also wrote the very incisive Intelligence Wars: American Secret History from Hitler to Al-Qaeda. To see Jeff Stein's complete list, click here.
Eyeball to Eyeball: The Inside Story of the Cuban Missile Crisis, by Dino A. Brugioni.
Nominated by CIA retiree Joseph Shugrue, who puts it in his top two, along with the Powers. Brugioni was a first rate staff CIA officer, says Shugrue, and carefully recorded the Cuban missile crisis from the inside. (I should mention here a terrific new book about the crisis:
Michael Dobbs's One Minute to Midnight.)
The Agency: The Rise and Decline of the CIA, by John Ranelagh.
There are few authors who have attempted the whole sweeping story of the Agency in one compelling volume. But this one, published in 1986, is closest to a true picture, according to my wise-head friend.
The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence, by Victor Marchetti and John D. Marks.
Another that takes the broad view. It earns a place on this list, although it's been around for 34 event-filled years.
What else should make the list?
-- Marie Arana
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: Dave | July 24, 2008 5:51 PM
Posted by: angeline | July 24, 2008 10:30 PM
Posted by: Alex Blackwell | July 25, 2008 5:05 PM
Posted by: Joe | July 26, 2008 10:17 AM
Posted by: Jon Lauderbaugh | July 26, 2008 6:46 PM
Posted by: mark tarallo | July 26, 2008 9:09 PM
Posted by: Robert Huddleston | July 27, 2008 9:52 AM
Posted by: Alex Blackwell | July 28, 2008 3:55 PM
Posted by: Alex Blackwell | July 28, 2008 3:59 PM
Posted by: Marie Arana | July 28, 2008 4:18 PM
Posted by: Alex Blackwell | July 28, 2008 5:02 PM
Posted by: Marie Arana | July 29, 2008 12:06 AM
Posted by: Marie Arana | July 29, 2008 12:06 AM
Posted by: Joe Hernandez-Kolski | July 29, 2008 2:41 AM
Posted by: Marie Arana | July 29, 2008 12:10 PM
Posted by: Alex Blackwell | July 29, 2008 12:53 PM
Posted by: Alex Blackwell | July 29, 2008 12:57 PM
Posted by: Alex Blackwell | July 29, 2008 1:58 PM
Posted by: Jeff Stein | July 29, 2008 10:45 PM
Posted by: petrichor | July 30, 2008 4:25 AM
Posted by: Alex Blackwell | July 30, 2008 3:10 PM
Posted by: Steve | July 30, 2008 8:32 PM
Posted by: Alex Blackwell | July 30, 2008 8:42 PM
Posted by: Nicholas Dujmovic | July 31, 2008 9:37 PM
Posted by: Alex Blackwell | August 1, 2008 12:38 PM
Posted by: Alex Blackwell | August 1, 2008 2:57 PM
Posted by: Marie Arana | August 1, 2008 7:53 PM
Posted by: Nicholas Dujmovic | August 1, 2008 9:17 PM
Posted by: Alex Blackwell | August 1, 2008 9:39 PM
The comments to this entry are closed.