An admiring biography of a neglected figure in America's mid- 20th-century rise to global ascendancy. A scholarly study of the extraordinary career of David K.E. Bruce (18981977) would be welcome. Lankford, regrettably, has chosen to write a celebratory, one-dimensional study. A good storyteller, the author ladles out admiration for each of the privileged worlds that young Bruce inhabited: Born into the landed gentry of segregated Virginia, growing up in Gilded Age Baltimore, graduating from Princeton. As an officer in the postWW I army, Bruce developed a taste for the glories of war, sampled at a safe distance from any action. After marrying Ailsa Mellon, one of the wealthiest women in the world, Bruce became a confidant and art adviser to his father-in-law Andrew Mellon, one of the wealthiest men in the world. Lankford's greatest enthusiasm is reserved for Bruce's central role in building up the new postWW II American empire, based on free trade, global military interventionism, and a worldwide covert operations network. Like so many other Cold War power brokers, Bruce began a diplomatic career through his friendship with William ``Wild Bill'' Donovan, the founder of the OSS (later the CIA). Contacts in the intelligence community led to diplomatic appointments, including stints as ambassador to France and Britain, and a special mission to China. ``Tall, erect, gray- templed, distinguished in appearence, he was the model image of an ambassador,'' Lankford asserts. And his aristocratic indifference to the common people served him well in the rarefied world of old- boy networks in the intelligence and diplomatic communities. Bruce might have been, in his personal tastes and demeanor, the last American aristocrat (or at least the last to act as if governing was his by right), but he is far from being the last privileged American to step effortlessly from inherited wealth to immense political power.
Read full book review >