Absorbing, appalling history.

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LEGACY OF ASHES

THE HISTORY OF THE CIA

The CIA started off on the wrong foot in 1947 and never regained it, maintains Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Weiner (Blank Check, 1990, etc.).

Presidents Truman and Eisenhower believed intelligence could prevent another Pearl Harbor by uncovering Soviet intentions, but the CIA never predicted an important Soviet or terrorist move, the author avers. The agency devotes most of its budget to covert operations, most of them bungled. Aided by an avalanche of documents declassified since 2000, Weiner offers a dismal litany of failed operations the agency did its best to cover up. Thousands of potential insurgents or saboteurs sent into Russia and its satellites, North Korea, China and Vietnam were quickly eliminated. Clumsy attempts to overthrow unfriendly (i.e. neutral) governments usually failed. Two widely praised successes—the 1953 Iranian coup that placed the Shah on the throne and the overthrow of a leftist Guatemalan government in 1954—are now considered mistakes. Suppressing news of the 1961 invasion at Cuba’s Bay of Pigs was impossible, but even that disaster did not put an end to covert operations, because presidents valued them. Readers will wince at the CIA’s involvement in plots to murder Fidel Castro, the brutal 1973 coup in Chile and massive spying on American protest groups. The Soviet collapse, unpredicted as usual, was a blow from which the agency has not recovered, states the author. The military has taken over much responsibility for covert action, with no greater success. Though highly critical of the CIA, Weiner makes two important mitigating points. First, democracies are not obligated to fight fire with fire: CIA money won more hearts and minds than pseudo-KGB ruthlessness, and KGB debacles contributed mightily to the USSR’s decline. Second, many presidents demanded bad intelligence. Chief executives either ignored or angrily demanded recasting of such good information as the reports that North Vietnam was nowhere near defeat, Soviet missile capacity was overrated and evidence for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was feeble.

Absorbing, appalling history.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-385-51445-3

Page Count: 752

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2007

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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