THE VERY BEST MEN: Four Who Dared: The Early Years of the CIA by Evan Thomas

THE VERY BEST MEN: Four Who Dared: The Early Years of the CIA

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Thomas (The Man to See, 1991, etc.), assistant managing editor at Newsweek, depicts a quartet of well-born spies and their role in the CIA's early days. The Office of Strategic Services was a favorite refuge of callow Ivy Leaguers during WW II. After the war these upper-class spooks drifted back to white-shoe law firms--and were bored to tears. In 1948 a klatch gathered to form what eventually became the CIA's Directorate of Plans, its clandestine operations wing. Thomas's four spies are: Frank Wisher, aroused to anticommunism after spying in Romania during the war; Desmond FitzGerald, haunted by the specter of nuclear destruction; Tracy Barnes, who had spied for Allen Dulles in OSS; and Richard Bissell, who as a student at Groton had spent his spare time memorizing train schedules between foreign capitals. More scions than spies, they got together after work at informal, high-spirited Georgetown cocktail parties with a few selected journalists and fellow old boys from the State Department. They were glamorous, invidious, idealistic, and a bit mad. Wisher began to lose his marbles during the Hungarian Revolution; soon thereafter he was hospitalized for manic-depression, and in 1965 he killed himself. When a friend of suave Tracy Barnes opined that Ian Fleming's James Bond thrillers must be exaggerated, Barnes replied, ""On the contrary, they're understated."" Bissell, known to colleagues as the second most powerful man in Washington when he was head of the Directorate of Plans, took the fall for the Bay of Pigs fiasco. Together the four tried to contain the spread of communism by toppling governments in countries like Guatemala and Iran. In the end their ineptitude in the realm of covert operations was equalled only by that of Soviet economic planners. A vivid, arresting work of journalistic history.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1995
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster