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An Intriguing Life: A Memoir of War, Washington, and Marriage to an American Spymaster Hardcover – December 16, 2012


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Editorial Reviews

Review

Cynthia Helms, now 90, has had a remarkable, if not, strictly speaking, an intriguing, life. If there’s any person of note she hasn’t met on either side of the Atlantic, it’s not obvious from her book, co-written with Chris Black. (The Washington Times)

Readers eager for secret-spilling must content themselves instead with these engaging home and hearth reminisces from the veteran of Britain’s WWII all-female naval brigade who later became the wife of CIA Director Richard Helms. After moving to the US and, after four children, ditching an emotionally distant first husband, she marries Helms, who directed the agency under Presidents Johnson and Nixon. She parcels out a plethora of stories and the occasional tidbit about life among the Washington glitterati. Helms...serves up perceptive accounts of her sojourn in pre-revolution Iran as well as her work as a Smithsonian radio host and environmental activist. She dishes on congressional efforts to force Richard to own up to CIA excesses during the Cold War, yet throughout remains a model of discretion. Helms...emerges as a pioneering woman who seized her destiny at a time when women were slowly beginning to transcend expectations placed upon them to meet the fresh demands and challenges of a new era. (Publishers Weekly)

[A]n extraordinary story.... A fascinating look into the life of a very private man and the wife he adored. (Intelligencer)

This is the untold version of the ‘Greatest Generation’ story—the women’s side—as recounted by one of the giants. Cynthia Helms fought in World War II as a British Wren and lived under the Nazi bombs—but her real passage was into the modern and independent life of American woman. She tells the story with honesty and humor—of marriage and divorce, and of the great romance that led to her second marriage with Richard Helms, the greatest spymaster America ever produced. The tale moves from Cynthia’s girlhood on a farm in Essex, through her near-expulsion from boarding school for using the unspeakable word “bugger,” through her education as a lady (note, for example, her account of the proper way to eat asparagus) to a wartime nuptial that proved to be loveless—all on the road to meeting Helms and discovering what she calls “the companionship of marriage.” This book is charming, passionate and laced with the inside secrets that will make it a must-read for Washington insiders. Who else but Cynthia Helms could go to a party at the British Embassy and end up sitting next to the Beatles’ Paul McCartney?


(David Ignatius, columnist, The Washington Post)

Cynthia Helms is a bright, savvy, tenacious and spirited woman who mingled with some of the headliners of the 20th and 21st centuries. She not only witnessed changes in the lives of girls and women, she lived them. And along the way, her insights into the powerful and her willingness to puncture the pompous make this must reading for students of history and human nature who want to know what it really was like in those Georgetown salons.



(Alan K. Simpson, United States Senator, Wyoming (Ret.))

. . . Since [Cynthia Helms's] second husband was the director of central intelligence, he had constant contact with United States presidents, court justices, public figures and high society personalities. The chapters amass a plethora of who’s who, name-dropping and stories ranging between gossip, rumors and historical incidences. Besides Nancy Reagan, Pat Nixon and the White House, tales are told about Warren Buffet, Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor along with Bill Gates, Henry Kissinger and Paul McCartney. More international luminaries were added such as Moshe Dayan, King Hussein and the shah during trips abroad and when her husband became ambassador to Iran.

(Bookpleasures.com)

Cynthia Helms’s memoir is an absorbing, wise, and often captivating look at the many worlds experienced by this extraordinary woman, including wartime England; Washington, D.C. at the zenith of its glamour and influence; and Iran just before the deluge, offering unique glimpses of life at the top with LBJ, Nixon, and the Shah of Iran. Perhaps most of all, she brings us a poignant and revelatory portrait of her soulmate, Richard Helms, one of the most important Americans of the twentieth century, whose legendary self-effacement and discretion have obscured vital aspects of his life and personality before now.
(Michael R. Beschloss, author; Presidential Historian for NBC News)

About the Author

Cynthia Ratcliff Helms is the widow of Richard M. Helms, the director of intelligence for the United States. They were married for 34 years. She grew up on a farm in Maldon, England and served as one of the original Boat Crew Wrens during World War II. She came to the United States after the war with her first husband, a physician. Throughout her life, she has been involved in many civic and charitable causes. She was a founder of Concern Inc., a ground breaking environmental organization aimed at women, and served on the board of the World Resources Institute for 15 years. She serves as an Honorary Trustee of the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Museum and the Fund for the U.S. Botanical Gardens; and serves on the boards of the Pamela Harriman Foreign Service Fellowships and the Iraq Women’s Fellowship Foundation. She is the author of An Ambassador’s Wife in Iran (1981 Dodd, Mead & Co.) and Favourite Stories from Persia (1982 Heinemann Education Books. Visit her website here.


Chris Black is a writer and communications consultant. She was a political reporter for more than 30 years and worked at the Boston Globe and as a White House and Congressional Correspondent for Cable Network News (CNN).



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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers; 1 edition (December 16, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1442221313
  • ISBN-13: 978-1442221314
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,200,775 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Cynthia Ratcliff Helms is the widow of Richard M. Helms, the director of intelligence for the United States. They were married for 34 years. She grew up on a farm in Maldon, England and served as one of the original Boat Crew Wrens during World War II. She came to the United States after the war with her first husband, a physician. Throughout her life, she has been involved in many civic and charitable causes. She was a founder of Concern Inc., a ground breaking environmental organization aimed at women, and served on the board of the World Resources Institute for 15 years. She serves as an Honorary Trustee of the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Museum and the Fund for the U.S. Botanical Gardens; and serves on the boards of the Pamela Harriman Foreign Service Fellowships and the Iraq Women's Fellowship Foundation. She is the author of An Ambassador's Wife in Iran (1981 Dodd, Mead & Co.) and Favourite Stories from Persia (1982 Heinemann Education Books).

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By connywithay on January 22, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Title: An Intriguing Life
Author: Cynthia Helms with Chris Black
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
ISBN: 978-1-4422-2131-4

"I had always wanted to be my own person, to have my own life and make a contribution to the world. Although I viewed my experience as the mother of four wonderful children as among the most enriching and valuable of my life, this new phase that began in my mid-forties was simply wonderful," states Cynthia Helms in her book, "An Intriguing Life: A Memoir of War, Washington, and Marriage to an American Spymaster."

This one hundred and ninety-nine page hardbound book has a photograph of a mature, contented-looking woman on the front cover. Targeted toward adults who want to learn the behind-the-scenes in political and social Washington D.C. during the nineteen sixties to date, this autobiographical read is from the wife of a key player who hob-knobbed with dignitaries, kings and justices. The book is not a "grandmother did this or that" tome that only those in her family can enjoy, but a firsthand viewpoint of being the spouse, sidekick and dinner hostess to Washington "insiders." The sixteen pages of black and white photographs are interesting and the over-nine page index includes all names, places and topics discussed.

With the prodding of family and friends, the author writes about her life, starting the first chapter in the 1960s when she is divorcing her first husband, the country is in turmoil over the death of Kennedy and King and she is searching for a new life of her own.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By M. S. Clark on March 1, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I read this book because it was selected by my book club and would most likely not have read it otherwise. Mrs. Helms says at the start of the book that she wrote it because her family wanted her story told. It might have been better if she had just given it to her family, rather than publishing it.

Though Mrs. Helms seems to be a lovely woman, and is to be commended for creating an interesting job for herself at a time when few women worked, the majority of the book is an endless list of the "important" people and the "elite" with whom she hobnobbed. When she wasn't name dropping, she was touting her husband as a man who never did any wrong and who was wronged by the country he so nobly served. The book lacked balance. I am sure Dick Helms served according to his best lights, but those were turbulent times and many wrongs were committed.

In a nutshell, it wasn't worth the time it took to read it.
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By linda houden on March 8, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I learned so much about Washington DC and the CIA and living in the city of government. It also showed to go after your dreams to make your life happy.
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By Jeannne Multhaup on March 4, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Such an honor to read about A lady who was so all of her life. She brings honor to her former husbands, family, friends & readers! I loved spending time with her!!!!!
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
After watching Cynthia Helms on C-Span book/tv, her love of life and learning made me curious. I purchased this easily readable book on my Kindle Fire immediately!

Born in England in a rural community of upper middle-class family, her life changed drastically when the war began. She enlisted and served. I won't give away her story. It is absolutely riveting.

After marriage and moving to America plus raising a large family, she details accounts of her life in America and strong desire to learn new things and be independent. She recounts varied stories of a life filled with adventure and intrigue, working at the Smithsonian, marriage to the head of the CIA (Richard Helms), interactions with presidents and well-known Washington figures and her charitable work. She was courageous, generous, and determined to live a life of meaning.

At 90 years old, she remains an amazing personality, an attractive woman, a fine writer and story-teller. I thoroughly enjoyed her book and highly recommend it if you like memoirs. Since she is still alive, you can easily check her facts too!
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By Johanna Yeganeh on January 24, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Interesting book. Mrs. Helms relates her wonderful experiences during World War II, living in U.S. and abroad. I recommend it strongly!
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By Anne Huntington on February 4, 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I kept waiting for something exciting to happen, but this is simply a remembrance written for the author's children. Not very interesting unless you know her personally.
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