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Disciples: The World War II Missions of the CIA Directors Who Fought for Wild Bill Donovan Hardcover – October 6, 2015
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"Disciples is a fantastic book, one of the very finest accounts of wartime spookery I’ve seen. . . . it’s a hell of a good tale, aided immeasurably by Mr. Waller’s skill at disentangling the knotted story lines of his protagonists and his dexterous straightening of the often contradictory accounts of the shadow war’s dauntingly complex machinations. . . . his eye for journalistic color (honed by his stints as a correspondent for Time and Newsweek) turns his solid research into taut narrative. . . . Disciples is a remarkable work of synthesis." (The Wall Street Journal)
“Entertaining and richly detailed . . . a textured adventure story that emerges from Waller’s command of the archival material and his fluid writing style. That latter gift helps Waller overcome what could have been the cumbersome task of weaving together four distinct war experiences . . . Waller moves among these biographies with ease.” (The Washington Post)
“Entertaining and enlightening . . . absorbing . . . [Waller’s] story of Dulles’ tortuous dance with a German informant while running the OSS activities in Switzerland is worthy of John le Carré. His tales of Colby’s paramilitary operations in France and Norway include riveting episodes of heroism (and a possible war crime that got lost in the Allied victory) that would fit in the best war novels. . . . [Waller] makes the case that these four men’s wartime actions deeply colored what they did as CIA directors. Their zeal in fighting the Nazis, and their acquired love of intrigue, escalated during the battle against communism. Ardor became audacity. And each fell from grace. It’s a messy business.” (The Charlotte Observer)
“Waller has clearly mastered the material and tells each man’s story with verve and energy. Based on extensive research in original sources, which he lays out in endnotes, the chapters are literal page-turners.” (Studies in Intelligence)
“Eye-opening . . . Waller keeps the interest high and the pages turning in one of the more interesting spy books this year.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“Meticulously researched...Waller’s easygoing writing style and extensive use of primary sources make this work worthwhile for those interested in espionage history.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Douglas Waller knows the world of spies and he knows how to tell a story. The World War II adventures of these future spymasters are fascinating and instructive about the moral ambiguities of espionage and covert action. A gripping read from the pen of a master.” (Evan Thomas author of "Being Nixon" and "Ike’s Bluff")
“Waller reintroduces us to the legendary spymasters who fought in World War II. In his gripping book, Waller gives us the little known backstories of the future intelligence chiefs and their cunning use of espionage and sabotage. Decades later, accused of bungled operations, crimes, and abuse of power, they would all go to war again, but this time just across the river in Washington.” (James Bamford, author of The Shadow Factory)
“Allen Dulles, Bill Casey, Bill Colby and Richard Helms became symbols of the CIA’s worst Cold War failures and scandals. Waller vividly chronicles their accomplishments as young OSS operatives who put their lives at risk during World War II. This is an enthralling story of patriotism, courage, dedication, and at times reckless panache. Given the trajectory of their postwar lives, it is also a tragedy—a true American tragedy.” (Andrew Nagorski, author of Hitlerland and the forthcoming The Nazi Hunters)
“Meticulously researched . . . Waller’s easygoing writing style and extensive use of primary sources make this work worthwhile for those interested in espionage history.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Douglas Waller follows up his best-seller Wild Bill Donovan . . . with a ripping WWII sequel, Disciples . . . . Waller . . . drops a discerning dime on a series of backstories of espionage and sabotage provoked by Donovan’s ‘disciples’. . . Allen Dulles, Richard Helms, William Colby and William Casey, [who] later became CIA directors.” (The Buffalo News)
“This book will make a dandy holiday gift for the spy story buff who eats up yarns about the dark side of the world of intelligence and those masters of intrigue who exist inside the web. This is an authoritatively researched and smoothly written tale. . . Disciples will make good reading for your favorite spy buff.” (The Washington Times)
"Waller’s Disciples offers the reader a thoroughly researched and highly detailed history of these influential spies who ignited the covert action industry of the late twentieth century." (Military Review)
“Disciples is a lengthy but marvelous work—assiduously researched and richly written—that actually delivers on its subtitle.” (International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence)
About the Author
Douglas Waller is a former correspondent for Newsweek and Time. He has authored five previous books on the military or foreign policy, including the bestsellers, The Commandos and Big Red, and the critically acclaimed biography of General Billy Mitchell, A Question of Loyalty. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Top customer reviews
Allen Dulles was an international lawyer who started out his career in the State Department (rather easy to do, when your uncle is the Secretary of State). Richard Helms started out as a reporter stationed in pre-WWII Berlin. William Colby was an "army brat" who volunteered for service and was frustrated that his poor eyesight was keeping him out of the action. Finally, William Casey was a brilliant research analyst with a gift for organization that Donovan's OSS clearly needed. Of the four, Dulles was really the only "active" spy, and a pretty good one. Based in Switzerland, he wasn't shy about letting it be known he was interested in information and willing to pay for it. Helms and Casey were generally based at OSS's London office running spy operations. Colby's was a true "shooting war", as he ended up doing commando duty in both France and Norway. For each of them, serving in the OSS was, for them, a "Good War".
The book only spends about 30 pages (in the hardcover version) discussing each man's turn as DCI. In that brief space, it does a pretty good job explaining the controversies (some self inflicted, some not) that marred their service, and in three of the cases, ended up getting the Director fired (Casey resigned for health reasons, but was up to his neck in Iran-Contra when he resigned). I found the last paragraph of that chapter was the best summary of what went wrong for each of these men as DCI; why, it was that doing what was deemed "good work" in the OSS seemed to go so terribly wrong at the CIA.
One of the themes talked about in other books I've read about the CIA is the basic issue that outside of spying against a known enemy in a hot or cold war situation, Americans aren't comfortable with having a spy operation. Add to that a penchant the CIA has for moving beyond pure intelligence gathering and analysis into clearly illegal operations, getting caught up in the mess might be part of the job of DCI. This book doesn't try to solve that riddle, but it's one I thought about when I was finishing it.
Douglas Waller writes a good book. I enjoyed the topic, and I enjoyed how it was written. I recommend this to anyone interested in the "spook" careers of these men before there was a CIA.
The author divides the book into sections to made the comparison easier to understand. Especially since it details such complicated matters as starting a spy agency, gathering intelligence, sorting material and reporting information back to the united states.
Of particular interest is the role espionage played in Switzerland during the second world war. The author goes into great detail regarding the members of the Austrian and German underground and the information they brought the allies. In particular, this section of the book details the American knowledge of the attempt on Hitler’s life known as Valkyrie.
Allen Dulles was the man in charge of the Switzerland operation and quite frankly. I think it sounds like he enjoyed every moment of his work during the war. He was a master spy whose operations gathered intense information about the fall of Germany.
Also quite interesting were the training of the Jedburgh. This complicated training lead to men, and sometimes women, who volunteered for some of the most dangerous missions in world war two. Among these men was William Colby who lead commando missions in France and Norway. The Norway history is quite fascinating and an area I’ve not read much about. But anything to with commandos on skis is bound to be interesting. Colby was clearly possessed of great courage.
Richard Helms and Bill Casey will complete the history book. Anyone interested in the history of 20th century e espionage will clearly recognize these names. I will leave the rest of the details regarding their actions in World War Two and Vietnam to the reader of this book. But needless to say, it is as interesting as anything that was done by Dulles or Colby.
This book is expertly researched and is fairly easy to read. It makes for a wonderful introduction to fine history regarding espionage and the kind of men who choose this line of work.
I enjoyed it tremendously and would recommend reading the book Counter Spy by Richard Cultler as another perspective on World War Two. The book A drop in the Night by Royce Fulmer for more information about the methods of delivering spies. Finally, if you are interested in behind the lines action in Normandy I would recommend reading Bailout over Normandy by Ted Fahrenwald.