He was one of America's most exciting and secretive generals - the man Franklin Roosevelt made his top spy in World War II. A mythic figure whose legacy is still intensely debated, "Wild Bill" Donovan was director of the Office of Strategic Services (the country's first national intelligence agency) and the father of today's CIA. Donovan introduced the nation to the dark arts of covert warfare on a scale it had never seen before. Now, veteran journalist Douglas Waller has mined government documents and private archives throughout the United States and England, drawn on thousands of pages of recently declassified documents, and interviewed scores of Donovan's relatives, friends, and associates to produce a riveting biography of one of the most powerful men in modern espionage.
The son of poor Irish Catholic parents, William Joseph Donovan married into Protestant wealth and fought heroically in World War I, where he earned the nickname "Wild Bill" for his intense leadership. After the war he made millions as a lawyer on Wall Street until FDR tapped him to be his strategic intelligence chief. A charismatic leader, Donovan was revered by his secret agents. Yet at times he was reckless, risking his life unnecessarily in war zones and engaging in extramarital affairs that became fodder for his political enemies.
Wild Bill Donovan reads like an action-packed spy thriller, with stories of daring young men and women in Donovan's OSS sneaking behind enemy lines for sabotage, breaking into Washington embassies to steal secrets, plotting to topple Adolf Hitler, and suffering brutal torture or death when they were captured by the Gestapo. It is also a tale of political intrigue, of infighting at the highest levels of government, and of powerful men pitted against one another.
©2011 Douglas Waller (P)2011 Tantor
"Waller's realism about these issues combined with an obvious affection for the remarkable charter of Wild Bill Donovan have resulted in a splendid biography." (The Los Angeles Times)
I was drawn to this title primarily because of my role as an associate in the early 1980s of the now defunct NYC office of the law firm, Donovan Leisure Newton & Irvine, which claimed "Wild Bill" as its primary founder. A number of the vestiges of Donovan remained at that time, including several elderly, but rarely seen, senior partners and the afternoon tea caddy visit to each office.
I found some of the book quite interesting, including Donovan's early years and his interactions with J. Edgar Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt. There were long sections that dragged--at least for me--relating to WWII strategies and political infighting. I suspect that these sections would be of more interest to aficionados of WWII familiar with the various characters and strategies influenced by the role of the OSS.
What does come across clearly in this book is a portrait of Donovan as a free-wheeling lawyer and businessman who, either courageously or recklessly, depending on your point of view, but always with total self-confidence, threw himself into the realm of subterfuge in what he believed was the best interests of his country. Indeed, his style is can still often be detected in the modus operandi of today's CIA.
There was a lot of repetition about all the military leaders who did not like the OSS and/or Donovan. The rivalry between the US and British spy agencies became tedious. The level of detail, while scholarly, became somewhat boring on occasion.
I was looking forward to some interesting wartime spying episodes. While there were a few, a lot of the book was about the dysfunctional human interaction and competition.
Good read for those who like biographies and want considerable historical detail about the OSS. But it is not an action oriented or fast paced story.
Yes, because I learn that the legend of Bill Donovan is partly true and partly fiction.
Just a wrap up of what happened following his death.
No follow up needed. The story of the CIA had been told.
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