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Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA Paperback – May 20, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Is the Central Intelligence Agency a bulwark of freedom against dangerous foes, or a malevolent conspiracy to spread American imperialism? A little of both, according to this absorbing study, but, the author concludes, it is mainly a reservoir of incompetence and delusions that serves no one's interests well. Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times correspondent Weiner musters extensive archival research and interviews with top-ranking insiders, including former CIA chiefs Richard Helms and Stansfield Turner, to present the agency's saga as an exercise in trying to change the world without bothering to understand it. Hypnotized by covert action and pressured by presidents, the CIA, he claims, wasted its resources fomenting coups, assassinations and insurgencies, rigging foreign elections and bribing political leaders, while its rare successes inspired fiascoes like the Bay of Pigs and the Iran-Contra affair. Meanwhile, Weiner contends, its proper function of gathering accurate intelligence languished. With its operations easily penetrated by enemy spies, the CIA was blind to events in adversarial countries like Russia, Cuba and Iraq and tragically wrong about the crucial developments under its purview, from the Iranian revolution and the fall of communism to the absence of Iraqi WMDs. Many of the misadventures Weiner covers, at times sketchily, are familiar, but his comprehensive survey brings out the persistent problems that plague the agency. The result is a credible and damning indictment of American intelligence policy. (Aug. 7)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Tim Weiner, multiple Pulitzer Prize winner, longtime New York Times reporter, and the author of Betrayal: The Story of Aldrich Ames, American Spy (1995) and Blank Check: The Pentagon's Black Budget (1991) hits his marks in Legacy of Ashes. Drawing on more than 50,000 documents and 300 on-the-record interviews with key players (10 of them former directors of the agency; all of the book's many notes and quotations are attributed), Weiner treats his subject with a ruthless, journalistic eye, skewering Republican and Democratic administrations alike for the CIA's slide into mediocrity. One critic finds a weakness in Weiner's exuberant dismantling of the old guard at the expense of more contemporary analysis. Still, this is an important book that will capture the attention of anyone interested in the CIA's checkered history.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 848 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (May 20, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780307389008
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307389008
  • ASIN: 0307389006
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (356 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #41,427 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Tim Weiner has won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for his reporting and writing on American national security. As a correspondent for The New York Times, he covered the Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon in Washington, and reported on war and terrorism from Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Sudan, and many other nations over the course of 15 years.

His new book, ONE MAN AGAINST THE WORLD: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon, was hailed as "[an] eye-opening study of Richard Nixon's booze-soaked, paranoid White House years and the endless tragedies they wrought" by Kirkus Reviews prior to publication. "It speaks volumes about Nixon that there is still more to learn about him, 40-plus years after Watergate. It speaks further volumes that what we are learning is even worse than what we knew."

Publisher's Weekly said ONE MAN AGAINST THE WORLD is a "devastating account of Nixon's presidency, drawing on documents declassified in the last seven years.... Chilling excerpts from tape recordings that have only recently been made accessible include cold-blooded exchanges between Nixon and [Henry] Kissinger in which the two debate the merits of committing war crimes in order to win in Vietnam. This is powerful raw material, but Weiner's brilliant turns of phrase transform it into something extraordinary."

His previous books include ENEMIES, a history of the FBI acclaimed as "fascinating" by The Wall Street Journal. LEGACY OF ASHES, his chronicle of the CIA, won the 2007 National Book Award; it was a bestseller across the United States and around the world. He has lectured at the CIA, universities, political think tanks, and Presidential libraries. He directs the Carey Institute's nonfiction residency program in upstate New York and teaches as the 2015 Anschutz Distinguished Fellow in American Studies at Princeton.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

243 of 259 people found the following review helpful By Retired Reader on August 10, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As Tim Weiner makes clear in the first pages of this book, the driving force for the creation of CIA was to establish a clearing house where all intelligence information available to the U.S. could collated, vetted, and organized into coherent knowledge. And as he also makes clear this mission was subverted and overshadowed from the start by the culture of the veterans of the WWII Office of Strategic Services (OSS) who dominated the early CIA. These veterans were far more comfortable with covert action and clandestine collection of intelligence than desk bound intelligence analysis. So from the time of its creation to the present, the Directorate of Intelligence (analytic shop) has existed in the shadow of the Directorate of Operations (DO). Virtually every CIA Director from the beginning has focused on one or all of the following: initiating DO operations; cleaning up messes left by DO operations; or reorganizing the DO to do a better job.

This book is a case in point. Although ostensibly about CIA as an institution, the book really focuses on DO and its alleged failures. This fascination with the DO by journalists, Presidents, and CIA Directors has allowed the analytic arm of CIA to atrophy from almost the very first. Yet the many failures and embarrassments that Weiner has chosen to chronicle in this book are as much the fault of DI as DO.

Now this book is essentially a massive and well written critique of CIA and especially the DO. For the most part it is pretty accurate, but as CIA has pointed out in a rather pitiful rebuttal of the book, it is not entirely fair and balanced. For example, in 1998 India exploded a nuclear weapon to the utter surprise and amazement of the entire U.S. Intelligence Community (IC).
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113 of 134 people found the following review helpful By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAME on July 11, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The incident which gives this book its title reveals something essential about its tone and direction. At the end of his two - terms of office President Eisenhower called into his office, the former legendary OSS officer and director of the CIA Allen Dulles, and said to him point- blank. " After eight years you have left me , a "legacy of ashes." In other words the institution whose task it was to provide vital intelligence to the U.S. Executive on world - affairs had not done its job. Eisenhower was concerned about what legacy would be handed on to his successor, President Kennedy. And surely enough some months later 'The Bay of Pigs' fiasco occurred in great part because of the faulty plan and information provided by the CIA's Richard Bissell. Bissell believed an infiltrating semi- Army of 1600 would easily defeat Castro's sixty- thousand troops. The result was the Kennedy Administration's first major disaster.
The two - sides of Intelligence work, the gathering of information, and the undertaking of covert operations are generously surveyed in this work. Weiner a long- time reporter for the NY Times devoted twenty- years to this book, and in the course of it read through fifty- thousand declassified CIA Intelligence documents. He also interviewed ten former directors of the CIA.
He points out errors made all along the way. Frank Wisner at the beginning ignored 'intelligence gathering' and sent during the Korean War thousands of hired agents to suicidal behind- the- enemy- lines operations. In the Bay of Pigs fiasco and in numerous other operations the CIA instead of providing hard, truthful contradictory analysis essentially worked to politically support a prior decision of the Executive branch. Speaking 'truth to power' has not been its essential strong point.
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148 of 191 people found the following review helpful By jl on October 5, 2007
Format: Hardcover
While Legacy of Ashes provides interesting bits of information regarding the CIA's distant and recent past, it is not good history because it provides almost no context for the events that it describes. It leaves one with the impression of a CIA populated by comic book bad guys, lunatics and clowns.

In the Second World War and the period immediately thereafter, having been forced out of a self-imposed hiatus from dealing with the rest of the world, the United States had come face-to-face with totalitarianisms and the unparalleled carnage they had wrought. We learned of the Nazi death camps, the victims of communism in countries that were grist for the Soviet mill and, as time went on, untold millions who died for Mao's Marxist experiments in China. It should be no surprise that those who witnessed the slaughter and destruction that followed what appeared to be a triumphant march of ideology would be able to justify extreme measures to slow it down. This central reality gave rise to dramatic changes in the U.S. military including the build-up of a nuclear arsenal, the Marshall plan, communist "witch hunts", the space program, and the CIA. In short, the world was a very different and much more dangerous place than we had imagined, the U.S. was the only major western nation left intact, and we were struggling to find effective ways to deal with existential threats.

Unfortunately, very little of this context is provided in Legacy of Ashes. Too often we are left with nothing but the operational details of failed efforts to accomplish - what? The CIA and/or the White House wanted to overthrow Guatemala and Iran or assassinate Castro because personalities were enamored of covert operations?
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