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From the bestselling author of Lawrence in Arabia, a gripping history of the early years of the Cold War, the CIA's covert battles against communism, and the tragic consequences which still affect America and the world today At the end of World War II, the United States dominated the world militarily, economically, and in moral standing - seen as the victor over tyranny and From the bestselling author of Lawrence in Arabia, a gripping history of the early years of the Cold War, the CIA's covert battles against communism, and the tragic consequences which still affect America and the world today At the end of World War II, the United States dominated the world militarily, economically, and in moral standing - seen as the victor over tyranny and a champion of freedom. But it was clear - to some - that the Soviet Union was already executing a plan to expand and foment revolution around the world. The American government's strategy in response relied on the secret efforts of a newly-formed CIA. The Quiet Americans chronicles the exploits of four spies - Michael Burke, a charming former football star fallen on hard times, Frank Wisner, the scion of a wealthy Southern family, Peter Sichel, a sophisticated German Jew who escaped the Nazis, and Edward Lansdale, a brilliant ad executive. The four ran covert operations across the globe, trying to outwit the ruthless KGB in Berlin, parachuting commandos into Eastern Europe, plotting coups, and directing wars against Communist insurgents in Asia. But time and again their efforts went awry, thwarted by a combination of stupidity and ideological rigidity at the highest levels of the government - and more profoundly, the decision to abandon American ideals. By the mid-1950s, the Soviet Union had a stranglehold on Eastern Europe, the U.S. had begun its disastrous intervention in Vietnam, and America, the beacon of democracy, was overthrowing democratically-elected governments and earning the hatred of much of the world. All of this culminated in an act of betrayal and cowardice that would lock the Cold War into place for decades to come. Anderson brings to the telling of this story all the narrative brio, deep research, skeptical eye, and lively prose that made Lawrence in Arabia a major international bestseller. The intertwined lives of these men began in a common purpose of defending freedom, but the ravages of the Cold War led them to different fates. Two would quit the CIA in despair, stricken by the moral compromises they had to make; one became the archetype of the duplicitous and destructive American spy; and one would be so heartbroken he would take his own life. The Quiet Americans is the story of these four men. It is also the story of how the United States, at the very pinnacle of its power, managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.


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From the bestselling author of Lawrence in Arabia, a gripping history of the early years of the Cold War, the CIA's covert battles against communism, and the tragic consequences which still affect America and the world today At the end of World War II, the United States dominated the world militarily, economically, and in moral standing - seen as the victor over tyranny and From the bestselling author of Lawrence in Arabia, a gripping history of the early years of the Cold War, the CIA's covert battles against communism, and the tragic consequences which still affect America and the world today At the end of World War II, the United States dominated the world militarily, economically, and in moral standing - seen as the victor over tyranny and a champion of freedom. But it was clear - to some - that the Soviet Union was already executing a plan to expand and foment revolution around the world. The American government's strategy in response relied on the secret efforts of a newly-formed CIA. The Quiet Americans chronicles the exploits of four spies - Michael Burke, a charming former football star fallen on hard times, Frank Wisner, the scion of a wealthy Southern family, Peter Sichel, a sophisticated German Jew who escaped the Nazis, and Edward Lansdale, a brilliant ad executive. The four ran covert operations across the globe, trying to outwit the ruthless KGB in Berlin, parachuting commandos into Eastern Europe, plotting coups, and directing wars against Communist insurgents in Asia. But time and again their efforts went awry, thwarted by a combination of stupidity and ideological rigidity at the highest levels of the government - and more profoundly, the decision to abandon American ideals. By the mid-1950s, the Soviet Union had a stranglehold on Eastern Europe, the U.S. had begun its disastrous intervention in Vietnam, and America, the beacon of democracy, was overthrowing democratically-elected governments and earning the hatred of much of the world. All of this culminated in an act of betrayal and cowardice that would lock the Cold War into place for decades to come. Anderson brings to the telling of this story all the narrative brio, deep research, skeptical eye, and lively prose that made Lawrence in Arabia a major international bestseller. The intertwined lives of these men began in a common purpose of defending freedom, but the ravages of the Cold War led them to different fates. Two would quit the CIA in despair, stricken by the moral compromises they had to make; one became the archetype of the duplicitous and destructive American spy; and one would be so heartbroken he would take his own life. The Quiet Americans is the story of these four men. It is also the story of how the United States, at the very pinnacle of its power, managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

30 review for The Quiet Americans: Four CIA Spies at the Dawn of the Cold War—A Tragedy in Three Acts

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lori

    Audible Audiobook – Unabridged Scott Anderson (Author, Narrator), Robertson Dean (Narrator), Random House Audio (Publisher) It's a long read, but worth the time it takes. Generously provided by: Reviews https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-re... https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/01/bo... https://www.washingtonpost.com/outloo... https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-quie... (behind a paywall) Audible Audiobook – Unabridged Scott Anderson (Author, Narrator), Robertson Dean (Narrator), Random House Audio (Publisher) It's a long read, but worth the time it takes. Generously provided by: Reviews https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-re... https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/01/bo... https://www.washingtonpost.com/outloo... https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-quie... (behind a paywall)

  2. 5 out of 5

    Left Coast Justin

    Mr. Anderson appears incapable of releasing anything less than excellent books. Or at least, nonfiction books; I was less enamored of two fictional works. Is this an indictment of the CIA and its predecessors? Or of bureaucracies in general? Or of people who fail to acknowledge the collective wisdom that a bureaucracy accretes? Any of these would work as an organizing principle to review this book. Perhaps Anderson's real intent, sly dog, is to use this examination of recent history to raise very Mr. Anderson appears incapable of releasing anything less than excellent books. Or at least, nonfiction books; I was less enamored of two fictional works. Is this an indictment of the CIA and its predecessors? Or of bureaucracies in general? Or of people who fail to acknowledge the collective wisdom that a bureaucracy accretes? Any of these would work as an organizing principle to review this book. Perhaps Anderson's real intent, sly dog, is to use this examination of recent history to raise very real alarm bells about the present. One of the operatives in this book, weary of tossing patriotic Polish volunteers into the Soviet maw with no discernible benefit, opined that no operation should be established without first, during the planning stages, outlining the means by which it could be shut down once it outlived its usefulness. The same could be said of intelligence agencies as a whole. The fearless, important and noble actions that protected Allied lives in the Second World War morphed into a bunch of spooks with nothing to do. Some tried to keep the spread of Stalinism in check, but others engaged in overthrows of Guatemala and "Project Fat Fucker," which deposed the Egyptian King Farouk. (Farouk was not a slender man.) (Two interesting asides: The man who named the operation was Miles Copeland, father of Stewart Copeland, the drummer for 1980's band The Police. Also, anybody who's read The Alexandria Quartet may remember the scene in which the corruption of Farouk and his ministers was illustrated by Nessim, who larded the pages of a Koran with high-denomination bills and presented it as a gift to one of them. Only after the gift had been deemed sufficiently generous was the topic of the meeting discussed.) Anderson illustrates clearly how evil, incompetent people elevated to high posts can do almost incalculable damage. The biggest enemy of the CIA was not Stalin or Fidel Castro, but J. Edgar Hoover. So petty and vindictive was this man that, when he learned the FBI would not be responsible for collecting overseas intelligence, he decided to destroy the people who won that right. He was more than happy to use Joseph McCarthy to wreck the careers of hundreds of CIA workers. The reasoning was: If a person is homosexual, then by definition they have something to hide, and if they have something to hide, then they are vulnerable to communist spies applying pressure to them to cough up information. Such was the tenor of the times that neither evidence of wrongdoing nor actual evidence of homosexuality were required; one person had to resign from the government, I kid you not, because while working in Italy he was served in a restaurant numerous times by a known gay waiter. In addition to the sheer hatefulness of this, Hoover may have been guilty of enormous hypocrisy as well. Similarly, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles was such a hawk that the U.S. ignored its own spies and failed to seize several opportunities to have a better relationship with the Soviets, and particularly Kruschkev. On the many occasions when Krushkev liberalized his policies and attempted to reach some sort of understanding with the U.S., the U.S. brushed him off, reasoning that this was just a wolf-in-sheep's-clothing attempt to obscure their true world-domination nature. Such an attitude admits no solution. And don't get me started on Vietnam. Absent our interference, it would probably be a capitalist and well-off nation now, somewhat like its neighbor Thailand. I may be making this book sound boring. It isn't. Anderson both teaches and makes you think. (An addendum added a few weeks later: One of the pleasures of reading this is that one of the major events took place in a small palace that lies at the end of a street that I used to live on. I always wondered what function that palace served in modern times; now I know it's a hangout for diplomats and spooks.)

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jill Mackin

    I so enjoyed this book. Filled with stories of the unintended outcomes of American idealism via the actions of the CIA during the Cold War. Frank Wisner, Michael Burke, Peter Sichel, and Edward Lansdale were flawed, but fascinating men who came together within the CIA to defend freedom, but were all morally compromised by decisions they made.

  4. 5 out of 5

    David

    2.5 stars. Act 1: Great section, lots of interesting information relating to WWII and the four featured spies. Act 2: Generally good but meandered a bit. Act 3: Will this book never end? I can't complain so much about the material in the book but I had great difficulty with how it was presented. In isolation, everything was okay to very good but it never fit together as a cohesive subject. I thought this was a book about four CIA employees during the early years of the Cold War. It kind of is but no 2.5 stars. Act 1: Great section, lots of interesting information relating to WWII and the four featured spies. Act 2: Generally good but meandered a bit. Act 3: Will this book never end? I can't complain so much about the material in the book but I had great difficulty with how it was presented. In isolation, everything was okay to very good but it never fit together as a cohesive subject. I thought this was a book about four CIA employees during the early years of the Cold War. It kind of is but not really. As the book progresses the Burke/Landsdale/Sichel/Wisner stories become scarcer and less impactful. The author went on long detours about the Dulles brothers, Presidents Truman and Eisenhower, Vietnam and a few other subjects and it really diminished my interest in the titular characters. The author attempted to combine too many story lines into one book and it simply didn't work well overall.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

    The Quiet Americans by Scott Anderson Published August 31, 2020 / by Littoral Librarian Publication Date September 1, 2020 I am of the generation raised when being patriotic was the default: we dutifully recited the Pledge every school day, stood at parades when the flag went by, etc. etc. We were taught that the U.S. was unquestioningly on the “right side” in every conflict, and that we were against tyranny, and definitely always pro-freedom and democracy, while the “other side” was oppressive, au The Quiet Americans by Scott Anderson Published August 31, 2020 / by Littoral Librarian Publication Date September 1, 2020 I am of the generation raised when being patriotic was the default: we dutifully recited the Pledge every school day, stood at parades when the flag went by, etc. etc. We were taught that the U.S. was unquestioningly on the “right side” in every conflict, and that we were against tyranny, and definitely always pro-freedom and democracy, while the “other side” was oppressive, authoritarian, and they were the “bad guys.” Scott Anderson, historian and author of Lawrence In Arabia, turns his focus to the Cold War era and the development of the espionage industry under the CIA in The Quiet Americans. After WWII, the USSR was busy around the world working to expand their influence, and the US response was run by the new CIA office. There were four men whose spy efforts were part of this activity around the world. Frank Wisner was from a wealthy Southern family, Peter Sichel was a German Jew who had escaped the Nazis, Michael Burke was a former football star, and Ed Lansdale was an ad executive (think “Mad Men”) before he became a spy. Together, these four were in charge of operations such as directing wars against “Communist insurgents” in Southeast Asia, plotting various coups, and planning ways to outwit the KGB in Berlin. Despite the portrayal of the spies on the “good” team as the heroes in spy stories, the U.S basically gave up any pretense of being morally superior as they moved from being defenders of freedom to being just sad characters ruined by the work they had done. Possibly if the leadership in Washington had been less ideologically rigid and had maintained ideals that made the country so well respected following the War, things might have gone better for these four. But the messes they got into prompted two to quit the CIA, one to become a stereotypical “bad guy” while still on “our side,” and one just gave up and killed himself. In the mid to late 60s, I was in college studying history as I watched the war in Vietnam prompt millions to react in various ways, but it was clear that the days of blindly trusting the government to be on the side of good/freedom/right were OVER. A professor of mine once used the analogy that the U.S. was like a big, dumb, lumbering football player who only wants to win the game, make the score, or stop the opposition, and lamented the way we could only watch as that player went stumbling around the globe, just making things worse. My own reaction to the disillusionment was to quit school and marry a Navy man in the summer of 1968. (not the smartest choice I could have made). I had hoped this book would help me regain some of optimism about our country’s future as in 2020 we wobble toward an election while battling COVID and wildfires, with a lunatic in charge. Five stars because Anderson is such an incredibly good writer and historian. He makes the reader care about the four individuals who are the focus of the larger story of the development of the CIA, and tells the story of the men and their work beautifully. Thanks to Doubleday Books and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review. Subtitled “Four CIA Spies at the dawn of the Cold War — A Tragedy in Three Acts,” it will definitely be an eye opener for anyone interested in espionage in general or the CIA in particular.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jerome

    A well-written and entertaining work. Anderson vividly tells the story of the CIA’s early years through the experiences of Frank Wisner, Michael Burke, Edward Lansdale, and Peter Sichel. I’ve read a lot about Wisner and Lansdale, a little about Burke (mostly dealing with Albania), and Sichel was a new figure to me. Still, if you’ve read about this subject before, you probably won’t find that many new revelations. He also covers J. Edgar Hoover and his distrust of the new Agency. Anderson faults t A well-written and entertaining work. Anderson vividly tells the story of the CIA’s early years through the experiences of Frank Wisner, Michael Burke, Edward Lansdale, and Peter Sichel. I’ve read a lot about Wisner and Lansdale, a little about Burke (mostly dealing with Albania), and Sichel was a new figure to me. Still, if you’ve read about this subject before, you probably won’t find that many new revelations. He also covers J. Edgar Hoover and his distrust of the new Agency. Anderson faults the CIA’s political superiors for much of what ended up going wrong; he’s pretty critical of George Kennan, for example, who he calls a “two-faced weasel,” and of Eisenhower. The narrative is engaging and moves along at a brisk pace but can jump back and forth a bit, and the style is a little breezy at times. Each person’s life is divided into short chapters, and the narrative might have been smoother if Anderson had focused on them in longer sections. At one point Anderson writes that the CIA failed to appreciate the interplay between moderate and hardliners in the Politburo after Stalin’s death, and views it as a missed opportunity. Anderson does not, however, explain how CIA should have learned of these divisions, or how US policymakers should have exploited them. A nuanced and insightful work.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Pearse Anderson

    Fucking wild book, a really interesting spy history. I have more thoughts upcoming in the Los Angeles Review of Books, so you'll have to wait for a full review for then. UPDATE: My review is available here https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/t... Fucking wild book, a really interesting spy history. I have more thoughts upcoming in the Los Angeles Review of Books, so you'll have to wait for a full review for then. UPDATE: My review is available here https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/t...

  8. 5 out of 5

    Bob

    I was already familiar with two of the four men (Lansdale and Wisner), but all four of the stories are tied into the war years of the OSS and its 1947 successor, the CIA - particularly the Office of Policy Coordination ("OPC"), created in 1948 as the covert operations arm of the new agency. Focused on the work of these men in Eastern Europe and Central America and, for Lansdale, the Phillipines and Vietnam, Anderson pulls together the difficulties - practical and political - that the agency face I was already familiar with two of the four men (Lansdale and Wisner), but all four of the stories are tied into the war years of the OSS and its 1947 successor, the CIA - particularly the Office of Policy Coordination ("OPC"), created in 1948 as the covert operations arm of the new agency. Focused on the work of these men in Eastern Europe and Central America and, for Lansdale, the Phillipines and Vietnam, Anderson pulls together the difficulties - practical and political - that the agency faced, reminding readers that the operations that are known best are of course the failures, not the successes. I have read about the Agency's operations to influence elections in Italy and in Greece, two of the key focal points of the early years of the Cold War battle against communist expansion, and I have read about Lansdale, but the depth of the stories, and interviews with participants, make this a fascinating look at the early years of OPC and covert operations, including what went wrong in policy and operations in fighting the Cold War and missing opportunities like Hungary in 1956 and, of course, in Vietnam.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Bonnieb

    Wow! A spy memoir, a history of the late 40s and 50s, and a revelation of oh so many mistakes the U.S. made in those decades. This is an important piece of rewriting the history of our foreign relations and insights into the Truman and Eisenhower administrations in those decades. I was shocked by much, but maybe shocked most by the incredible power of the Dulles brothers, John Foster as Secretary of State and Alan as head of the newly formed CIA. This is a dense 470 pp book that is sometimes lik Wow! A spy memoir, a history of the late 40s and 50s, and a revelation of oh so many mistakes the U.S. made in those decades. This is an important piece of rewriting the history of our foreign relations and insights into the Truman and Eisenhower administrations in those decades. I was shocked by much, but maybe shocked most by the incredible power of the Dulles brothers, John Foster as Secretary of State and Alan as head of the newly formed CIA. This is a dense 470 pp book that is sometimes like reading a spy thriller--except it is real. Other times, it dips into military history, not a favorite of mine but providing new perspectives. It is not an easy read. It is an excellent read. As I read it, I kept saying to myself, “Why didn’t I know this?"

  10. 4 out of 5

    Socraticgadfly

    Excellent book about the first decade or so of the CIA, with enough of an overview of its OSS ancestor to set the table. I was familiar with the basics of two of the four main protagonists, Frank Wisner and Ed Lansdale. I had heard of Michael Burke's name in conjunction with the pre-Steinbrenner Yankees but knew nothing of his CIA past. And, I knew nothing at all of Peter Sichel, whether in the CIA, as a Holocaust survivor, or as a scion of a German wine family who eventually introduced to/inflic Excellent book about the first decade or so of the CIA, with enough of an overview of its OSS ancestor to set the table. I was familiar with the basics of two of the four main protagonists, Frank Wisner and Ed Lansdale. I had heard of Michael Burke's name in conjunction with the pre-Steinbrenner Yankees but knew nothing of his CIA past. And, I knew nothing at all of Peter Sichel, whether in the CIA, as a Holocaust survivor, or as a scion of a German wine family who eventually introduced to/inflicted on America the famous Blue Nun label after leaving the spook shack. Anderson humanizes both of the former two without whitewashing any of their doings, especially Wisner on the Guatemalan coup. He does note that Wisner had, in the past, been less favorable to such things and a general voice of caution, but, for a variety of reasons, whether nudged by Allen Dulles or totally willingly, took it on. Anderson later notes Wisner's despair over Washington doing nothing over the Hungarian uprising and Cabot Lodge deliberately sandbagging the UN looking at it. Out in the field at the time, he was unable to add his voice in Washington, although it probably wouldn't have helped change things anyway. An interjection at this point. For all the people who tout Eisenhower's "farewell address" warning about the military industrial complex, let's remember that with the Mossadegh coup followed by the Arbenz coup, he had willingly decided to replace much of it (but not all of it — mutual assured destruction and more nukes!) with the spying-snooping-overthrowing complex. And, Anderson leans toward the side of historians who say Ike was in no way a creature of his Cabinet or other advisors, but made them (in this case, ultimately John Foster Dulles and brother Allen) his tools. Add in that Ike willingly agreed with Foster Dulles to make no effort at rapproachment with the early post-Stalin leadership, above all, the initial CPSU general secretary, Georgi Malenkov (who wanted the USSR to cut back on the arms race and work on more consumer goods manufacture), and Ike comes off as pretty loathsome. (That's not even counting his abandoning Hungarians to their fate, when Anderson thinks a US intervention could have been pulled off without World War III. But, if Ike was worried about that, he had only himself to blame due to developing the "New Look" and MAD.) On Lansdale, Anderson says he wasn't the "ugly American" in Vietnam, or the Philippines before that, despite the book of that name, allegedly about him, coming out in 1958. Indeed, Lansdale wanted the US and South Vietnam to follow through with the Geneva Accords mandated Vietnam-wide elections, and he thought Diem could have one. That said, Anderson does note in the epilogue that Lansdale later became the ugly American indeed when in charge of Operation Mongoose. A side note to that, and more on how, as Anderson notes, US regime change backfires? An Argentine doctor named Ernesto Guevara was in Guatemala in 1954 during the coup. Burke? His main claim to fame in the early years of the CIA was running various infiltrators into places like Albania, then Ukraine. He took a while to stop being credulous about their success, but eventually realized these operations weren't working, and became burned out on CIA work and left. Sichel? The most interesting of all. In interviewing many Germans in the early post-1945 years, he had what he told Anderson (Sichel is still alive) was "the conversation" with those claiming to be "good Germans." He would essentially say, I don't want to hear about your past, that's your conscience. I want you to be good today. But, as with some members of the Gehlen Org, he at times in recruiting some CIA operatives, consciously decided to never have "the conversation." Anderson asks him about this, and Sichel eventually comes off as stuck and still unable to answer clearly. Besides Ike and other antagonists mentioned above, two others are of note. J. Edgar Hoover hated the CIA's existence, and even before it was officially created out of its predecessor, conspired to take down Wild Bill Donovan. He also repeatedly went after Wisner. And, George Kennan gets called things like "two-faced weasel." From having previously read "Lawrence in Arabia," this book lived up to that one indeed. On politics, I wouldn't call Anderson a leftist, but I would call him an insightful left-liberal.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Emily Carlin

    The Quiet American's content gets 5 stars (if not 6). The writing, on the other hand, gets 3 stars (if not 2). Good on a structural level but painful on a sentence by sentence level (imo). I knew I was in for a tough ride when the last sentence of the preface made my head hurt: This book is the chronicle of those four men. In its own way, it is also the chronicle of the greater tragedy in which they participated, of how at the very dawn of the American Century, the United States managed to snat The Quiet American's content gets 5 stars (if not 6). The writing, on the other hand, gets 3 stars (if not 2). Good on a structural level but painful on a sentence by sentence level (imo). I knew I was in for a tough ride when the last sentence of the preface made my head hurt: This book is the chronicle of those four men. In its own way, it is also the chronicle of the greater tragedy in which they participated, of how at the very dawn of the American Century, the United States managed to snatch moral defeat from the jaws of sure victory, and be forever tarnished. ...My head hurts anew. Anyway...This book recounts the final years of WW2 into the first decade or so of the Cold War through the interwoven stories of four CIA operatives: Edward Landsdale, Frank Wisner, Michael Burke, and Peter Sichel. Anderson does not paint a particularly rosy portrait of the motives or of the strategic prowess of the United States during these years. It's less an indictment of CIA employees themselves and more one of their bosses. Most notably: Eisenhower, Eisenhower's Secretary of State John Dulles, the director of the CIA + John's brother Allen Dulles, and some Joseph McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover sprinkled in as well. Anderson points to Eisenhower's New Look policy as the source of many of the worst miscalculations during the early years of the Cold War. New Look held that the nature of war had changed such that a large standing army was no longer the best way to intimidate enemies. Instead, Eisenhower invested in the threat of "massive retaliation" (i.e. nuclear weapons) as well as covert operations, which were seen as a relatively inexpensive way to fight. So the US avoided overt military action in the Soviet Union and its satellite states because of the risk that it would escalate into nuclear war -- a risk that the US created itself (at least in part) by way of the New Look policy. This led directly to the many proxy wars of the time as well as to inconsistent application of US military resources. For example, when the Hungarian Revolution occurred in 1956, it seemed like it should have been the US's dream come true; the CIA had been trying (and failing) to foment anti-communist revolution in Eastern Europe and elsewhere for years. Now a revolution was unfolding, and Hungarians were ready for Americans to back them up against the Soviets. However, no Americans came. The rationale for this non-intervention owed in part to New Look -- the US had painted itself into a corner of only being able to retaliate massively or through subtle covert operations. There wasn't any middle ground that would allow for sending soldiers to support the revolution. Anderson quotes historian Elizabeth Hazard: "Not only had the US held out false hope to those who were willing to risk their lives in a desperate crusade, but its policies had subverted the possibility of an early detente with the Soviet Union....by abandoning those who had placed their faith in its promises, the United States betrayed the hollowness of its pretense as the champion of liberty and exposed its willingness to exploit the desperate hopes of its clients." The situation in Hungary illuminated one of the wildest observations that Anderson makes: The United States had no idea would do if one of the CIA's many covert operations to spark anti-communist revolution were to actually succeed. Even though the missions had no clear end goal or follow-through in mind, even though they were failing left and right, the US persisted because to be doing *something* was seen as better than doing nothing. Here's one of the CIA operatives, Peter Sichel, reflecting on this bias towards action (however misguided), as a ninety-something year old: We need to get away from this idea that were are always right in the world, and that somehow when we're invading countries or overthrowing their governments, we're doing it to help them. We're not helping them. It is often easier to act, especially with the belief that we are always right, than to wait and let problems solve themselves. This is the disease of empires." While Anderson has a definite perspective in the way he recounts these years (one that is evident in the book's subtitle: "A Tragedy in Three Acts), he really comes alive in the last few chapters. He argues that you can draw a line from the way anti-communist rhetoric was weaponized during the Cold War to some of the country's current divisions: [T]he excesses and crimes committed in the name of anti-communism in the early Cold War carved a dividing line through the American body politic, planting the seeds of the blue-state/red-state schism that we grapple with today. Amid the domestic Red Scare, those who embraced the belief that America was under siege from within traveled one divergent path, while those who believed it was largely a cynical myth traveled another, with both paths ultimately so antithetical to each other as to make their travelers all but impervious to contradictory facts. As political scientists have pointed out, by knowing which side of the political divide a person chose during the Red Scare of the late 1940s, it's possible to predict with near certainty their and their offspring's political views on foreign affairs ever after: their support or opposition to the Vietnam War in the 1960's, their children's support or opposition to Ronald Reagan's Star Wars initiatives in the 1980s, their grandchildren's support or opposition to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. This is a book that would reward a reread, I think. It's so dense with names, dates, references, that it can be hard to follow, at times, at least for someone like me who went into it with a pretty superficial understanding of the Cold War. Even so, I learned a lot this first time around -- both about the (oft misguided) larger political forces of the time and a ton of delightful (but also disturbing) details, like the involvement of the CIA's covert operations branch, the OPC, in the founding of the Paris Review. In the acknowledgments, Anderson references the gutting of the Freedom of Information Act. One disturbing incident recounted in the book, wherein John Foster Dulles tries to engineer a protest in East Berlin that would result in lives lost and thus be an anti-Soviet propaganda win, was described in Michael Burke's memoir. However, the CIA's Publications Review Board scrubbed it from the version that was published. Anderson writes: "By what rationale it is a matter of national security to withhold an eyewitness account, written three decades after the fact, of how one of the most powerful Secretaries of State in American history tried to provoke an incident in which he knew -- indeed hoped -- that innocent people would be killed? There is no adequate rationale, and this becomes no longer the sanitizing of history, but rather its attempted erasure." Luckily, Anderson was able to describe the incident because an anonymous CIA official told him how to find Burke's uncensored memoir. All of which is to say that the end of this book has inspired what I'll pick up next, Baseless: My Search for Secrets in the Ruins of the Freedom of Information Act, by one of my favorite authors, Nicholson Baker.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Brandon Forsyth

    Nothing short of a masterpiece. I’ve always been interested in America’s foreign policy rhetoric of “values” and “interests”, and this book does an exceptional job of examining the origins of those concepts being at odds with each other - all while being a cracking spy story at the same time. It’s difficult for me to state how much I enjoyed this - at times it felt like it was written just for me. I thoroughly enjoyed Scott Anderson’s previous LAWRENCE IN ARABIA, and will now have to search out Nothing short of a masterpiece. I’ve always been interested in America’s foreign policy rhetoric of “values” and “interests”, and this book does an exceptional job of examining the origins of those concepts being at odds with each other - all while being a cracking spy story at the same time. It’s difficult for me to state how much I enjoyed this - at times it felt like it was written just for me. I thoroughly enjoyed Scott Anderson’s previous LAWRENCE IN ARABIA, and will now have to search out everything else he’s ever done. Do not miss this one!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    No denying Anderson is an immense talent. This work, however, has too much exposition and too little analysis on ground that has been well-trod before, and unfortunately the book doesn’t live up to its promise of a tragedy in three acts. Rather it amounts to little more than a jumble of plot threads and doesn’t really contribute anything new to the scholarship on U.S. covert action during the early Cold War.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Arista

    It was fine, but can we have an honest talk about how many books need a good editor to skinny down a 500 page book to the 350 pages it should be? Do publishing houses not empower editors to do that anymore? My God, I’m so tired of reading through repetitive word-flab for the meat of what the author is trying to say. . .

  15. 4 out of 5

    Zella Kate

    3.5 stars. Interesting look at the early days of the CIA and the Cold War, with a focus on 4 different employees/covert operatives whose stories provide a pathway into the larger institutional narrative and context. The book is well written and well researched, providing a searing indictment of the organization's hypocrisy in its quest to battle communism, which caused the four men profiled to either quit in disgust, fade into obscurity, or go insane (literally). However, as intriguing as the va 3.5 stars. Interesting look at the early days of the CIA and the Cold War, with a focus on 4 different employees/covert operatives whose stories provide a pathway into the larger institutional narrative and context. The book is well written and well researched, providing a searing indictment of the organization's hypocrisy in its quest to battle communism, which caused the four men profiled to either quit in disgust, fade into obscurity, or go insane (literally). However, as intriguing as the various storylines are (and they all are quite fascinating), they aren't often stitched together in the most effective way. The structure is cumbersome, which is true of some of the sentences too. Anderson isn't a bad prose stylist at all, but sometimes his sentences almost succumb under the weight of the murky complexities he's trying to cover, and that reflects the book's larger structural issues. It seemed like, with both, he was trying to do too much, though the results are still well worth reading.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Bill

    A book with too many parts to it —- poorly written. The author works too hard trying to bunch together too many different people. Another book highly not recommended —- I am in need of finding a good book these days!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Russell

    Focusing on four men who held influential positions in the CIA from its transition from the World War II OSS, Anderson shows the development of The Agency's tactics as the Cold War began. Through repeated missions attempting to subvert the Soviet Union's influence in Eastern Europe and, later, Southeast Asia, each of the four became disillusioned and convinced that what they were, in fact, doing was sending patriots to near-certain torture and death in communist-dominated nations. One, Peter Sic Focusing on four men who held influential positions in the CIA from its transition from the World War II OSS, Anderson shows the development of The Agency's tactics as the Cold War began. Through repeated missions attempting to subvert the Soviet Union's influence in Eastern Europe and, later, Southeast Asia, each of the four became disillusioned and convinced that what they were, in fact, doing was sending patriots to near-certain torture and death in communist-dominated nations. One, Peter Sichel in Hong Kong in the late 1950's, said they should just shoot the spies the CIA planned to parachute into Mao's China themselves, as it would be cheaper and more humane. A sobering look at the failure of US rhetoric to match actions, we live with the results even today.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    A simply elegant and amazing book. It has a personal feel while sharing the lack of appreciation for people when it comes to governments in general. Our over fascination in statistics and good versus evil prevents our governments from making a true difference. Well worth reading to get a glimpse into the real machinations of America's migration pre-WWII to today. A simply elegant and amazing book. It has a personal feel while sharing the lack of appreciation for people when it comes to governments in general. Our over fascination in statistics and good versus evil prevents our governments from making a true difference. Well worth reading to get a glimpse into the real machinations of America's migration pre-WWII to today.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Peg - The History Shelf

    Check out my full book review on The BookBrowse Review here: https://www.bookbrowse.com/mag/review... Check out my full book review on The BookBrowse Review here: https://www.bookbrowse.com/mag/review...

  20. 5 out of 5

    Charles

    American Spy Objectives and Execution — Flawed for Seventy Years Author Scott Anderson tells the story of American CIA efforts during the Cold War as illustrated by profiles of four of its spies. The reader comes away with the conviction that America is not very good at spycraft — either in setting realistic and durable objectives or in execution. The four men profiled, who cut their teeth through spy missions during World War II, were directly engaged in the effort after the war to penetrate the American Spy Objectives and Execution — Flawed for Seventy Years Author Scott Anderson tells the story of American CIA efforts during the Cold War as illustrated by profiles of four of its spies. The reader comes away with the conviction that America is not very good at spycraft — either in setting realistic and durable objectives or in execution. The four men profiled, who cut their teeth through spy missions during World War II, were directly engaged in the effort after the war to penetrate the Soviet Union and its satellite Eastern European nations and to overthrow Communist rule. In the immediate postwar period, Germans and other Eastern Europeans were desperate to make a living. Information was a marketable commodity and informants had every incentive to supply information, no matter how dubious, for money. CIA case officers’ performance was judged by the number of spy chains such officers directed behind the Iron Curtain and the amount of raw material collected. Not only was this “checkbook espionage,” but also such links were easily infiltrated by the Soviets who could manipulate what information was fed to US intelligence services. Frank Wisner, the most senior of the four, had the longest CIA career, beginning in postwar Europe and extending to initiatives in Latin America and Asia. In Europe in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Wisner tried to mobilize emigre groups to create underground resistance and to overthrow Communist governments. Early on, there was evidence that the Soviets had penetrated such groups. Additionally it was quickly evident that such initiatives didn’t lead to widespread uprisings. Still, Wisner pressed on, convinced of “the need to do something” even in the face of repeated failure. Wisner had the longest CIA career of the four profiled. Ultimately he became disillusioned and committed suicide. The most realistic of the four, Peter Sichel, came to realize that most spies dropped behind the Iron Curtain were soon captured and killed. Even when small bands of insurgents survived for a few weeks or months, they were unlikely to be able to mobilize widespread rebellion against entrenched Communist regimes and would not receive support from America and its NATO allies even if rebellion took place. This was subsequently demonstrated in East Germany in 1953 and in Hungary in 1956 when citizens rose up against their Soviet-backed governments and no outside intervention took place. The most swashbuckling of the four spies profiled, Michael Burke, had been dropped behind the lines in the Balkans in the closing months of World War II. He was deeply involved in “Operation Fiend” to overthrow the Communist regime in Albania. Virtually every Albanian he recruited was swiftly arrested and executed. Remarkably, he led this initiative from palatial quarters in Rome, where his cover was pretending to be a movie director. Unsullied by failure, he retired in 1955 to take a high level job at CBS.
 Edward Lansdale had an early success in the containment of Huks rebels in the Philippines in the early 1950s. But this support of a US-backed Philippine government arguably led to hubris and miscalculations in Vietnam. In contrast to the Philippines, there was no indigenous Vietnamese government in the South in 1954 as partition loomed. The US never was able to partner with a legitimate South Vietnamese government, a key factor in a war in which the North prevailed. This, of course, presaged American experience in Afghanistan. As many small scale and unsuccessful CIA efforts were taking place, American intelligence failed to anticipate truly significant moves by major adversaries. The US had no mole in the Kremlin leadership. When Stalin died, American intelligence was unable to provide any insight into who among four potential successors was likely to assume leadership in the Soviet Union. The author is broadly critical of the Eisenhower administration and the role of John Foster Dulles as Secretary of State. He quotes British Prime Minister MacMillan, saying of Dulles, “His speech was slow, but it easily kept pace with his thoughts.” Anderson maintains that Eisenhower and Dulles ignored three opportunities for detente as Khrushchev took power — an opportunity to reach out to him immediately after Stalin’s death, again when Khrushchev delivered his 1956 anti-Stalin address, and regarding Hungary in 1956 when he was willing to loosen the Soviet grip. Anderson asserts that at the first sign of a civilian uprising, Khrushchev was willing to let Hungary go. But the US was distracted at the time because the British, French, and Israelis had invaded to seize the Suez Canal and topple Egypt’s leader Nasser. Sensing that the US had encouraged rebellion in Hungary but was unwilling to support it, Khrushchev sent in tanks to quash the revolt. Bureaucracies produce what they think senior people want, and the CIA is no exception, says Anderson. There were CIA analysts who recognized that early Eastern European infiltration operations were thoroughly compromised, that the Chinese army was about to flood into Korea, that Vietnam was a losing quagmire, and that Saddam Hussain didn’t have WMDs. To these examples, sadly, we can add 20 years of failure in Afghanistan leading to collapse to the Taliban once US forces withdrew. Overall, looking back 70 years, US intelligence failures have far outnumbered intelligence successes. Yet it’s hard to puncture the illusion that such efforts can lead to American global hegemony on the cheap. Judging from recent weeks, we still have not learned our lesson.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Maureen O'Haren

    I rarely give a book five stars, but Scott Anderson's The Quiet Americans is a well-written, fascinating account of the moral vacuity of U.S. foreign policy and CIA covert operations on five continents, beginning in the Truman administration and formalized during the Eisenhower administration, the period in focus in this book. Anderson provides a front seat ride through the careers and operations of four fascinating men, all CIA operatives, all of whom came to see that the U.S. was using the so- I rarely give a book five stars, but Scott Anderson's The Quiet Americans is a well-written, fascinating account of the moral vacuity of U.S. foreign policy and CIA covert operations on five continents, beginning in the Truman administration and formalized during the Eisenhower administration, the period in focus in this book. Anderson provides a front seat ride through the careers and operations of four fascinating men, all CIA operatives, all of whom came to see that the U.S. was using the so-called cause of "anti-communism" as an excuse to overthrow democratically elected governments and prop up murderous right-wing military dictatorships that changed the course of history and wreaked havoc on some countries for decades (and in some cases in Latin America, are part of the border issues we are struggling with today.). Anderson digs into more recent scholarship and the release of formerly classified documents to analyze with damning precision how U.S. covert operations in Iran, the Philippines and Guatemala led the Dulles brothers (Allen and John Foster) to launch bloodier actions, such as Vietnam and Chile, and abandon opportunities such as the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, that would have broad repercussions and destroy the moral standing of the U.S. in the world and divide the nation itself. The lives of Ed Lansdale, Peter Sichel, Frank Wisner and Michael Burke--the four "Quiet Americans" of this book--are exciting, inspiring and also tragic, for what they finally saw, what they tried to change, and how it affected them in the end. In choosing these four men, largely unknown by the general public, to tell this wide-ranging story, Anderson has crafted a history that is real and human. And Anderson himself has a message for us today in his epilogue, noting that the "crimes committed in the name of anti-communism in the early Cold War carved a dividing line through the American body politic, planting the seeds of the blue-state/red-state schism that we grapple with today." The book should be required reading for all of us.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kemp

    The Quiet Americans is about the formation and early years of the CIA. It covers the time period from the 1940s to the early 1960s. It covers the career and life of four members. None of whom I had heard of which, I guess, is a good thing if you’re a spy. The lives are interwoven with the formation and growth of the CIA bouncing between these four and other participants be they additional agents, government persons, or foreign actors. Frank Wisner, who is an early leader of the agency, notes that The Quiet Americans is about the formation and early years of the CIA. It covers the time period from the 1940s to the early 1960s. It covers the career and life of four members. None of whom I had heard of which, I guess, is a good thing if you’re a spy. The lives are interwoven with the formation and growth of the CIA bouncing between these four and other participants be they additional agents, government persons, or foreign actors. Frank Wisner, who is an early leader of the agency, notes that a spy organization is known for its failures because its successes are often hidden from view because they are classified or it isn’t publicized. Okay, so the book covers a lot of failures and the underbelly of diplomacy is exposed here. The US is still suffering some of the consequences of our actions in Iran I found the story interesting. Particularly the early formative years during WW2 when it was called the OSS and, much more so, the later part of the book that covered Ed Lansdale’s efforts in Vietnam. America’s involvement in Vietnam prior to the French exodus was a topic I knew little about so this section drew me in. What I didn’t like about the book is that the story is, roughly told, chronologically but the author bounces between topics in each chapter. For someone interested in one topic, like the overthrow of the Guatemalan government, it is spread amongst three or four chapters with the Vietnamese story interwoven. Chapter titles reference one arc but as many as five or six arcs might be talked about in the chapter. I’d much prefer the ability to pick a topic and read it through. That said, the topic was of interest to me and I moved steadily through the book.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kelley

    “...one of the greatest victims of the battle against communism in the early Cold War was the cause of anti-communism itself. Invoked to prop up right-wing military dictatorships and topple democratic governments, to allow its self-appointed leaders to spout easy shibboleths about ‘rollback’ and ‘liberation’ but then shirk all responsibility for its consequences, anti-communism became to many just one more political hustle, a sales pitch that sold well to the gullible or frightened or overly tru “...one of the greatest victims of the battle against communism in the early Cold War was the cause of anti-communism itself. Invoked to prop up right-wing military dictatorships and topple democratic governments, to allow its self-appointed leaders to spout easy shibboleths about ‘rollback’ and ‘liberation’ but then shirk all responsibility for its consequences, anti-communism became to many just one more political hustle, a sales pitch that sold well to the gullible or frightened or overly trusting. ... The cost was also internal, for the excesses and crimes committed in the name of anti-communism in the early Cold War carved a dividing line through the American body politic, planting the seeds of the blue-state/red-state schism that we grapple with today. ... Paradoxically, those Americans who manned the front lines of the early Cold War, the intelligence gatherers and covert action specialists of the CIA, was one group that largely bridged this schism. Most early CIA officials were politically and socially liberal, while fiercely anti-communist. Most regarded the spread of communism as a clear and present danger, fully believed that the Kremlin sought world domination, yet also loathed Joe McCarthy and regarded the domestic Red Scare that he and others traded in as a destructive sideshow. At the same time – and neatly rounding off the paradox – no branch of government has been more castigated, both for its actions and inactions, in the Cold War. ... Ultimately, though, the endless debate over whether the CIA is to be blamed for this misjudgment or that botched mission is to miss the larger truth: one of the Agency’s primary functions is to be blamed” (Anderson, 2020, pps. 456-458).

  24. 5 out of 5

    Joanne

    This was an astonishingly fascinating book; I couldn’t put it down. Covering the history of the CIA from its modern conception immediately after WWII to the mid-60s, the author focussed on four particular agents and their roles in operations reaching from Eastern Europe to the Philippines to Vietnam, with side trips to Central America and Egypt. The book is no American adventure story, though. The author detailed the incredibly cynical, ruthless, and frankly disgusting behaviours of one presiden This was an astonishingly fascinating book; I couldn’t put it down. Covering the history of the CIA from its modern conception immediately after WWII to the mid-60s, the author focussed on four particular agents and their roles in operations reaching from Eastern Europe to the Philippines to Vietnam, with side trips to Central America and Egypt. The book is no American adventure story, though. The author detailed the incredibly cynical, ruthless, and frankly disgusting behaviours of one presidential administration after another, focussing in particular on the Eisenhower years, with his rigidly ideological Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. It is truly a terrible litany of cynicism and manipulation of human beings around the world. What is so painful about this is the knowledge that absolutely nothing has changed; substitute Vietnam for Afghanistan, Guatemala for Iraq, etc. It’s just the same.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kerry

    I wanted to read this book for the context because of the spy theme. But I'm just over the cultural romanticization of men who are full of themselves, take risks because normal human daily life things aren't enough of a "thrill" for them, can't get close to anyone, and become experts at hiding their emotions. Maybe not all four of the main figures depicted in this book were like this, but at least one was, and that was enough of a turnoff for me. I did not want to have to wade through this "char I wanted to read this book for the context because of the spy theme. But I'm just over the cultural romanticization of men who are full of themselves, take risks because normal human daily life things aren't enough of a "thrill" for them, can't get close to anyone, and become experts at hiding their emotions. Maybe not all four of the main figures depicted in this book were like this, but at least one was, and that was enough of a turnoff for me. I did not want to have to wade through this "charming" dude's story to find the meat of the information I was seeking.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Brent

    Heard the author interview repeated on NPR Fresh Air, here, https://www.npr.org/2021/06/25/101014... and found it next week at my public library: could not put this down. Here's the impulse to organize against Communism, craziness, the haste, the moral push, and, shortly, moral blindness... in four early CIA agents, as well as their contemporaries. Highly recommended. Thanks, Fulton County Public Library, for the loan. Heard the author interview repeated on NPR Fresh Air, here, https://www.npr.org/2021/06/25/101014... and found it next week at my public library: could not put this down. Here's the impulse to organize against Communism, craziness, the haste, the moral push, and, shortly, moral blindness... in four early CIA agents, as well as their contemporaries. Highly recommended. Thanks, Fulton County Public Library, for the loan.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Michael A.

    Informative story of an overlooked period in American history (1944-1956), detailing the origins of the US-Soviet Cold War, through the stories of four men who defined the early years of the CIA. Thoroughly researched, it reveals the numerous missteps made by the US, which lead needlessly to lost lives and escalation, putting our very existence in jeopardy.

  28. 5 out of 5

    David Allen

    Heavy on politics and light on the operational details spy story readers crave.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Julianne

    I learned things about the Cold War from this book but at its core it’s a book centered American machismo and apologizes.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Anita Boeira

    It was very interesting, especially in the matter of covering so much history between the 40s and 50s that explains a lot of where we are at today in the world too. But men spies are not nearly as exciting as women spies.

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