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“Enthralling. . . . Lying and stealing and invading, it should be said, make for captivating reading, especially in the hands of a storyteller as skilled as Anderson.” —The New York Times Book Review
A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF THE YEAR
At the end of World War II, the United States was considered the victor over tyranny and a champion of freedom. But it was clear—to some—that the Soviet Union was already seeking to expand and foment revolution around the world, and the American government’s strategy in response relied on the secret efforts of a newly formed CIA. Chronicling the fascinating lives of the agents who sought to uphold American ideals abroad, Scott Anderson follows the exploits of four spies: Michael Burke, who organized parachute commandos from an Italian villa; Frank Wisner, an ingenious spymaster who directed actions around the world; Peter Sichel, a German Jew who outwitted the ruthless KGB in Berlin; and Edward Lansdale, a mastermind of psychological warfare in the Far East. But despite their lofty ambitions, time and again their efforts went awry, thwarted by a combination of ham-fisted politicking and ideological rigidity at the highest levels of the government. Told with narrative brio, deep research, and a skeptical eye, The Quiet Americans is the gripping story of how the United States, at the very pinnacle of its power, managed to permanently damage its moral standing in the world.
The roots of America's decline in international reputation since WWII lie in the government's confused and hypocritical actions during the first decade of the Cold War, according to this fascinating history by journalist Anderson (Fractured Lands). Tracking the careers of CIA agents Michael Burke, Edward Lansdale, Peter Sichel, and Frank Wisner from the late 1940s through the 1950s, as the focus of their work shifted from Europe to Asia and Central America, Anderson documents clandestine operations in Albania and the Vietnamese jungle; meetings with increasingly hawkish American officials, in particular Secretary of State John Foster Dulles; and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover's meddling in CIA affairs. Anderson notes the harrowing emotional cost on his subjects (Wisner committed suicide; Burke and Sichel ultimately left the CIA "in despair") as the U.S. threw its support behind autocratic leaders and missed opportunities to aid legitimate liberation movements such as the 1956 Hungarian revolution. Such blunders, Anderson writes, recast the U.S. from WWII savior to "one more empire in the mold of all those that had come before." Laced with vivid character sketches and vital insights into 20th-century geopolitics, this stand-out chronicle helps to make sense of the world today.