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The Old Boys: The American Elite and the Origins of the CIA Paperback – January 15, 2001


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 474 pages
  • Publisher: Tree Farm Books (January 15, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0971066019
  • ISBN-13: 978-0971066014
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #378,640 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Kirkus Reviews

A sprawling chronicle that details how a clutch of Ivy- educated Wall Street attorneys and their associates--the ``Old Boy network''--created the Central Intelligence Agency and influenced the formative decades of the cold war. Hersh (The Mellon Family, 1978, etc.) has performed a prodigious job of research, conducting more than 100 interviews and burrowing through mounds of archives and declassified documents. His narrative runs from the 1919 Versailles conference, where the young Dulles brothers observed uncle Robert Lansing, Woodrow Wilson's secretary of state, to the Bay of Pigs operation and the frustrating retirement years of its principals. Six men occupy the foreground here: sanctimonious John Foster Dulles and his hedonistic younger brother Allen, who before their heyday as Eisenhower cold warriors were well-heeled corporate lawyers who ran interference for German firms instrumental in the Nazis' prewar rearmament; legendary OSS chief ``Wild Bill'' Donovan; Frank Wisner, ultimately CIA operations chief; New Deal diplomat William C. Bullitt; and Carmel Offie, the dandyish assistant to Bullitt and Wisner and a master of diplomatic sleight-of-hand. Hersh hopes to show how these latter-day Wilsonian ``global salvationists,'' aching to roll back the Communist menace, forged an intelligence apparatus intoxicated with the black arts of covert activities- -loosely supervised, often amateurish, sometimes harebrained. He sheds light on the frantic wartime operations of Allen Dulles and Wisner in Europe, as well as on how much the Americans benefited from the bulging Soviet files of ex-Nazi intelligence chief Reinhard Gehlen. Yet time and again, Hersh projects his insouciance until it begins to grate (e.g., George Kennan was a ``brilliant, mavericky, neurasthenic cheese-parer''). Dulles & Co. deserve a more straightforward treatment than this arch account that bites off more than it can chew. (Eight-page b&w photo insert--not seen.) -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"...skillfully captures what is probably the most important conclusion to draw about Donovan, Dulles, and Wisner..." -- New York Times Book Review, 1992<br /><br />"...thoughtful portrait of the CIA as an often amateurish, usually misguided bureaucracy...most revealing." -- Baltimore City Paper, 1992<br /><br />"Burton Hersh has brought to life the dark and secret world of American intelligence in its formative years." -- Daniel Schorr, NPR political analyst<br /><br />"...skillfully captures what is probably the most important conclusion to draw about Donovan, Dulles, and Wisner..." -- New York Times Book Review, 1992<br /><br />"...thoughtful portrait of the CIA as an often amateurish, usually misguided bureaucracy...most revealing." -- Baltimore City Paper, 1992<br /><br />"Burton Hersh has brought to life the dark and secret world of American intelligence in its formative years." --Daniel Schorr, NPR political analyst

More About the Author

Burton Hersh Literary Background

After a rousing undergraduate career at Harvard, during which he won the History and Literature Prize, the top Bowdoin Prize, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa, Burton Hersh pushed off into a life as a professional writer animated by occasional triumphs and more or less constant controversy. After college he spent a year in the Black Forest as a Fulbright student, then a stint in the military as a radio operator along the Czech border and a high-clearance German translator and intelligence specialist for the Seventh Army. Then, newly married, he moved to the Austrian Alps and wrote his still - fortunately - unpublished first novel.

He returned to the United States in 1961 just as John F. Kennedy was taking over the presidency. Throughout the subsequent decade he specialized in well-paid magazine articles on skiing, culture and politics for a variety of magazines from Horizon to Esquire. After four years in New York and New Haven he wrote his first published novel, The Ski People, and the widely anthologized Esquire piece on the fledgling Senator Kennedy, whose life would generate three books by Hersh over the next four decades.

The first, The Education of Edward Kennedy, with its moment-to-moment breakdown of the events surrounding the Chappaquiddick cookout, was regarded by right-wingers as a whitewash of Kennedy's stumbling performance that terrible evening. The book was followed up by the bestselling The Mellon Family and, in 1992, after a decade of massive interviewing and research, The Old Boys: The American Elite and the Origins of the CIA. Bitterly resented inside the Agency for spilling all its secrets though cherished by the likes of John Le Carre, the group biography is now required reading for every incoming officer and in evidence on most desks at Langley, its institutional history.

In 1997 Hersh published The Shadow President, a treatment of Kennedy's subsequent twenty-five years that drew raves from critics from Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. to Tom Wicker to Daniel Schorr. A novel, The Nature of the Beast, that explored the ethical substructure of the CIA and was widely praised by critics up to the Agency's own Inspector General, came out in 2003. In 2007 a book that came out of a whole career of journalistic, social, and at times political involvement with the Kennedys and explored the secret family connections to the underworld that undoubtedly led to Jack Kennedy's assassination, Bobby and J. Edgar, brought down a tsunami of attacks from both the left and the right. Insults - but nothing specific ever to refute the details of who killed JFK and how - have poured in ever since from ignorant commentators.

In 2010 a thoroughly edited and much expanded and updated version of the two previous books on Edward Kennedy came out, Edward Kennedy: An Intimate Biography, and was generally hailed as definitive on Kennedy's life and career. It contained the ins and outs of the very nearly lethal vendetta between Kennedy and Richard Nixon and the reminiscences of the woman who had been Kennedy's great love during the most trying years of his middle life.

Much additional detail is available on Burton Hersh's website, www.treefarmbooks.com. He vents his opinions on a more or less weekly blog, What's Left Out: http://burtonhersh.blogspot.com/ Keep reading!

Customer Reviews

3.1 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 48 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 4, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is a remarkable book by a remarkable writer. It caused howls of protest from the CIA and US media elite when first published, but there is no doubt that Hersh has the goods: the book is now on the CIA reading list!
Hersh himself clearly did vast independent primary research and interview work for the book. His anatomy of the Dulles brothers, Frank Wisner, Wild Bill Donovan, Bill Casey,and the creepy but omnipresent Carmel Offie is superb. Wall Street staffed the US intelligence elite, in 1941 as in 2001---and oil and high finance were and still are that world's elixir. Lastly, the index and notes are a boon to future researchers. [Interestingly, none of the Dulles-adoring biographies published of late cites any of Hersh's work. Hmmmm.]
Hersh has a novelist's skill in bringing this cast of real characters to life: the descriptions are unforgettable, but the research, especially to me, a fellow digger in contemporary intelligence history, is awe-inspiring. Hersh has not written a book predicated on others' books: there is a treasure trove here of original research, especially in relation to the Wall Street connections to Nazi business and, critically, to the SAFEHAVEN investigation, rediscovery of which of course broke the Holocaust gold story some years back.
But most of all, this book is hugely entertaining and not a little amusing, told in a confidingly baroque language, it's true, but imagine you're hearing these stories in a clubland chair, from someone Who Knows Stuff, of a long and fascinating evening. Listen carefully: your attention'll be rewarded.
This is nuanced, detailed writing about complicated history: one's reading effort, I found, rewards---this is an important book laying open the defining people and defining events of the US intelligence empire. It's no surprise Hersh is in high demand as an intelligence expert since Sept 11th, as the CIA and its watchers look for answers.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Iceboxlogic on May 2, 2007
Format: Paperback
I first consulted THE OLD BOYS some years ago, in connection with some tricky wartime research for the investigative unit of the CBC. Since then, I've re-read it---twice. THE OLD BOYS is a book that rewards rereading, in no small way because it's authoritative, painstakingly researched, and---no mean thing in history as potentially arcane as this---richly amusing. Not only can Hersh engrave Aubreyesque portraits of players major and minor with a novelist's eye but his depth of psychological insight into such complex characters as the Dulles brothers, not to mention the men who carry the OSS into the CIA of more modern times, like Helms and Casey, is, bluntly, masterful. Those who knock this book clearly haven't heard what a freshly retired Director of Operations at the CIA has said on the record about THE OLD BOYS: it's a masterpiece he gives copies of to the uninitiated every Christmas. Buy it. Pass it on. And, while you're at it, get a copy of BOBBY AND EDGAR, Hersh's new book on the long war between Bobby Kennedy and J Edgar Hoover, with Joe Kennedy Sr lurking behind the arras...
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Vic Currier on March 5, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Positives: Excellent, easy read, verified as well documented, based in early research of little known, formerly classified top-secret information released in the mid-1980's but not widely read ...because most of the "Old Boys" were long past their prime -- or dead at the time of this book's release. By curious coincidence, the original "key" authorities on the history of the National Security Agency and CIA - ALL died in the 1970's - taking with them to the grave, the most well-kept secrets under penalty of both the British Official Secrets Act and similar American laws carrying onerous penalties ...meaning author Hersh could not have benefited by direct input of those directly involved ...whether by their positive comments or those rendered in protest. Based on my last 6-years researching about one such little known figure in the U.S. Intelligence community for a forth coming authorized historical biography, Hersh's book is a MUST READ for intelligence professionals ...in short, know from whence you came ...newer information will soon blow the lid off hundreds of "authoritative intelligence entity" studies to substantially find that Hersh's conclusions will be proven mostly correct.

Negatives: Tens of thousands of pages of information redacted, sanitized, and recently released to the public (through 2014) will substantially change some of the "base line" conclusions Hersh formed, logically (...and reasonably, with regard to Hersh's scholarly credit), suffer to a degree in the absence of proof (...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mister B on March 22, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The author provides amazing detail about the origins of U.S. intelligence - ultimately leading to what is now known as the CIA. After reading this expose it is easy to see why the CIA has bungled some things, along with their successes. It seems clear that up to, and including WW 2, Americans were essentially amateurs at foreign intelligence. I guesss that traditional American isolationism was partly at least the root cause of this - the U.S. simply did not want to get involved in foreign intrigue. As far as the book is concerned, my only slight negative is the prose is very hard to read - a somewhat disjointed and funky writing style that does not flow easily. I seemed to need to read this book with a dictionary by my side. I must say the details are extensive for anyone who wants/needs to go deep into the history of the CIA.
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