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The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters Hardcover – Bargain Price, April 1, 2000

4.0 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Hardcover, Bargain Price, April 1, 2000
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

It is well known that the CIA funded right-wing intellectuals after World War II; fewer know that it also courted individuals from the center and the left in an effort to turn the intelligentsia away from communism and toward an acceptance of "the American way." Frances Stonor Saunders sifts through the history of the covert Congress for Cultural Freedom in The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters. The book centers on the career of Michael Josselson, the principal intellectual figure in the operation, and his eventual betrayal by people who scapegoated him. Sanders demonstrates that, in the early days, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and the emergent CIA were less dominated by the far right than they later became, and that the idea of helping out progressive moderates--rather than being Machiavellian--actually appealed to the men at the top.

Many intellectuals were still drawn to Stalin's Russia. Saunders superbly traces the crisis of conscience that McCarthyism and its associated book-burning caused, and the subsequent rise of more moderate ideals. This exhaustive account, despite neglecting some important side issues, is an essential book. --Roz Kaveney, Amazon.co.uk

From Kirkus Reviews

An impressively detailed, eye-opening study by film producer Saunders of the CIAs clandestine sponsorship of artists and intellectuals during the Cold War. Using interviews and archival data (taken mostly from sources outside the CIA, who routinely ignored her requests under the Freedom of Information Act), Saunders pieces together an elaborate network of CIA money-laundering schemes that funded cultural organizations opposed to communism. Starting with black accounts siphoned off from the Marshall Plan in the late 1940s, Saunders details how the CIA created or used nonprofit organizations such as the Ford Foundation to funnel millions of dollars to institutions like the Congress for Cultural Freedom and its affiliated programs. While few will be shocked that conservatives like Irving Kristol participated in CIA-backed projects, laymen will be surprised at how the Boston Symphony Orchestra and various abstract expressionist painters (via the Museum of Modern Art under Nelson Rockefeller, its president and an adviser to Eisenhower) benefitted from this largesse. At times the high volume of data and personalities muddies the story, and one would expect more cloak-and-dagger spy stories in such an exhaustive study, but thankfully Saunders does address the crucial issue her subject raisesnamely, the consequences of intellectuals accepting money (consciously or unconsciously) from political sources. She pays considerable attention to old controversies, such as (CIA-backed) Encounters refusal to publish an article by its former editor Dwight Macdonald, and Conor Cruise OBriens attack on the same journal for its disavowed but evident American boosterism. She can also make the CIA appear enlightened, as when she describes how the Ivy Leaguers of the Agency supported leftist artists over the objections of Senator Joseph McCarthy. In the end, however, Saunders has little tolerance for state-sponsored thinkers. She concludes that when, in the late 1960s, the artists and writers involved in CIA projects began denying rumors of their patrons background, they were (in words taken from an interview) crummy liars. An illuminating investigation that will surprise general readers and aid scholars and students.-- Copyright © 2000 Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: New Press, The (April 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 156584596X
  • ASIN: B0044KMRX0
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,911,673 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on December 18, 2000
Format: Hardcover
As a reading experience, the narrative is oddly fascinating; as a source of obscure information, the material is richly rewarding; but as a history of the culture wars of the early cold war period, the book is mediocre at best. The narrative succeeds because the author keeps it moving nicely, providing biographical information when needed, but never as a drag. (Turns out that key shapers of early CIA were pedigeed establishment figures, lending weight to view of the Agency as an establishment - and not a populist - response to post-war world.) The intrigues lack the usual blood and guts of CIA operations, but are fascinating nonetheless, as intellectuals battle one another on both sides of the iron curtain. Saunders has done a service by providing information from research on this little known corner of the cold war. (Who among the general readership would otherwise know of the political intrigues that surrounded the promotion of non-representational art!) As a history of the culture war, the book doesn't work nearly as well, mainly because the events unfold without much historical context to illuminate them. For example, we learn very little of why various conferences were scheduled by the CIA's front organization, The Congress fo Cultural Freedom. Were they part of a larger propaganda offensive, perhaps in response to an aggressive Soviet move, or maybe to provide a paid holiday for penniless academics. etc. By and large, the adversarial Soviet Union, a key player in the drama, remains a very shadowy and unanalyzed presense throughout.
It's always tricky in a book about the Cold War to adopt a correct distance from the material. In this case, I believe Saunders succeeds admirably given the politically charged subject matter.
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Most people are probably aware that the CIA sponsored a lot of activities, legal and extralegal, in the war against the Communist bloc known as the Cold War. But it is perhaps less well-known to what extent the CIA was involved in sponsoring, bribing and suborning writers, musicians, actors and intellectuals to agitate against the Soviet Union and its allies, as well as communism and Marxism in general. In particular the CIA-run organization "Congress for Cultural Freedom" and its flagship intellectual journal 'Encounter' had a great influence in the West in terms of effective propagandizing for the US point of view.

Frances Stonor Saunders, an independent film producer and writer for the New Statesman, has now produced an authoritative modern history of the CIA and the Congress, as well as related organizations, focusing both on the global political dimen. She focuses on the global politics, but also on the individuals involved on all sides, the many prominent writers and intellectuals in the organizations, and what it looked like from the CIA's perspective, for which she makes use of newly declassified documents. She shows convincingly that the "non-Communist Left" was by and large bribed or cajoled by the CIA, in so far as they didn't enthousiastically volunteer, into joining their propaganda front. She also shows that later denials by people such as Stephen Spender and Melvin Lasky of their knowledge of CIA involvement is extremely unrealistic and most likely just another lie.
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Format: Paperback
Eric Ehrman's review fully fails to explain the value of this book. First he says there's nothing new here because Simone de Beauvoir wrote a novel that touches on it. If he fails to understand the difference between a novel and history then he can't be taken seriously.

He also suggests that the question about why Conor Cruise O'Brien criticized Camus is a "bigger picture." What a mind-bogglingly stupid statement!

The point of this book is that after WWII, Western Europe was in danger of falling under the sway of the Soviet Union. Capitalism had been blamed for not only the worldwide depression, but both world wars, and socialism was seen by many as a more respectable alternative. As well, Russia had a respectable cultural heritage, while Americans were seen as gum-chewing cowboys. So keeping Western Europe in the free world was a huge task. If Ehrmann thinks a tiff between O'Brien and Camus is a bigger picture than this...well, words to describe the utter silliness of that escape me.

Of course the most important--and famous--policy towards that goal was the Marshall Plan. Keep Europeans from starving after the war, and rebuild their economies, and voila, they're on our side. But there was a cultural war as well, and this is Saunders' focus. The CIA of the time was an intriguing good old boy's club, very much in the manner of the British intelligence service at the time, filled with highly educated, cultured, and well-bred folks (read John Le Carre's novels and you'll get a sense of the type). These people understood that cultural issues were important--as blue-blood Yankees they had been raised with a sense of noblesse oblige, and many of them came from families that had created the great art museums for the very purpose of bringing culture to the masses.
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