An Intriguing Life: A Memoir of War, Washington, and Marriage to an American Spymaster

Overview

From wartime England to Nixon’s America and beyond, Cynthia Helms was witness to some of the seminal events of our time—Vietnam, Watergate, and especially the demoralization of the CIA in the 1970s for political purposes. Opening with her feminist “epiphany” in 1968 (the annus horribilus as she describes it) that led her to end her first marriage of 24 years, this memoir reveals a world where appearances always had to be questioned, where rumors and gossip carried the weight of ...
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An Intriguing Life: A Memoir of War, Washington, and Marriage to an American Spymaster

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Overview

From wartime England to Nixon’s America and beyond, Cynthia Helms was witness to some of the seminal events of our time—Vietnam, Watergate, and especially the demoralization of the CIA in the 1970s for political purposes. Opening with her feminist “epiphany” in 1968 (the annus horribilus as she describes it) that led her to end her first marriage of 24 years, this memoir reveals a world where appearances always had to be questioned, where rumors and gossip carried the weight of intrigue.

Helms grew up on a farm in Maldon, England and served as one of the original Boat Crew Wrens during World War II. She came to the United States after the war with her first husband, a physician. Her later marriage to Richard Helms introduced her to a world previously known only to her in books, not just the physical world from Mexico to Fiji to Iran, but also the world of a spymaster who enjoyed the confidence of some of the most important leaders of the late twentieth century. Her time as the ambassador’s wife in Tehran on the eve of the Iranian Revolution is especially telling, as she witnesses the charming but deeply flawed Shah slowly lose his way with his own people. Her “inside the beltway” observations are no less captivating, especially when her husband was being vilified by ambitious congressmen for events that happened long ago and far away and in a completely different national security context. Fascinating and highly readable, An Intriguing Life is a window to our most recent history.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Readers eager for secret-spilling must content themselves instead with these engaging home and hearth reminisces from the veteran of Britain's WWII all-female naval brigade who later became the wife of CIA Director Richard Helms. After moving to the US and, after four children, ditching an emotionally distant first husband, she marries Helms, who directed the agency under Presidents Johnson and Nixon. She parcels out a plethora of stories and the occasional tidbit about life among the Washington glitterati. Although Helms sometimes slides into a wearying round of name-dropping, she serves up perceptive accounts of her sojourn in pre-revolution Iran as well as her work as a Smithsonian radio host and environmental activist. She dishes on congressional efforts to force Richard to own up to CIA excesses during the Cold War, yet throughout remains a model of discretion. Helms adds little to what is known about her husband's tenure at the CIA or well-known episodes like Watergate , but she emerges as a pioneering woman who seized her destiny at a time when women were slowly beginning to transcend expectations placed upon them to meet the fresh demands and challenges of a new era. (Dec.)
Alan K. Simpson
Cynthia Helms is a bright, savvy, tenacious and spirited woman who mingled with some of the headliners of the 20th and 21st centuries. She not only witnessed changes in the lives of girls and women, she lived them. And along the way, her insights into the powerful and her willingness to puncture the pompous make this must reading for students of history and human nature who want to know what it really was like in those Georgetown salons.
David Ignatius
This is the untold version of the ‘Greatest Generation’ story—the women’s side—as recounted by one of the giants. Cynthia Helms fought in World War II as a British Wren and lived under the Nazi bombs—but her real passage was into the modern and independent life of American woman. She tells the story with honesty and humor—of marriage and divorce, and of the great romance that led to her second marriage with Richard Helms, the greatest spymaster America ever produced. The tale moves from Cynthia’s girlhood on a farm in Essex, through her near-expulsion from boarding school for using the unspeakable word “bugger,” through her education as a lady (note, for example, her account of the proper way to eat asparagus) to a wartime nuptial that proved to be loveless—all on the road to meeting Helms and discovering what she calls “the companionship of marriage.” This book is charming, passionate and laced with the inside secrets that will make it a must-read for Washington insiders. Who else but Cynthia Helms could go to a party at the British Embassy and end up sitting next to the Beatles’ Paul McCartney?
Michael R. Beschloss
Cynthia Helms’s memoir is an absorbing, wise, and often captivating look at the many worlds experienced by this extraordinary woman, including wartime England; Washington, D.C. at the zenith of its glamour and influence; and Iran just before the deluge, offering unique glimpses of life at the top with LBJ, Nixon, and the Shah of Iran. Perhaps most of all, she brings us a poignant and revelatory portrait of her soulmate, Richard Helms, one of the most important Americans of the twentieth century, whose legendary self-effacement and discretion have obscured vital aspects of his life and personality before now.
The Washington Times
Cynthia Helms, now 90, has had a remarkable, if not, strictly speaking, an intriguing, life. If there’s any person of note she hasn’t met on either side of the Atlantic, it’s not obvious from her book, co-written withChris Black.
Bookpleasures.com
. . . Since [Cynthia Helms's] second husband was the director of central intelligence, he had constant contact with United States presidents, court justices, public figures and high society personalities. The chapters amass a plethora of who’s who, name-dropping and stories ranging between gossip, rumors and historical incidences. Besides Nancy Reagan, Pat Nixon and the White House, tales are told about Warren Buffet, Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor along with Bill Gates, Henry Kissinger and Paul McCartney. More international luminaries were added such as Moshe Dayan, King Hussein and the shah during trips abroad and when her husband became ambassador to Iran.
Intelligencer
[A]n extraordinary story.... A fascinating look into the life of a very private man and the wife he adored.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781442221314
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/16/2012
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 787,680
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Cynthia Ratcliff Helms is the widow of Richard M. Helms, the director of intelligence for the United States. They were married for 34 years. She grew up on a farm in Maldon, England and served as one of the original Boat Crew Wrens during World War II. She came to the United States after the war with her first husband, a physician. Throughout her life, she has been involved in many civic and charitable causes. She was a founder of Concern Inc., a ground breaking environmental organization aimed at women, and served on the board of the World Resources Institute for 15 years. She serves as an Honorary Trustee of the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Museum and the Fund for the U.S. Botanical Gardens; and serves on the boards of the Pamela Harriman Foreign Service Fellowships and the Iraq Women’s Fellowship Foundation. She is the author of An Ambassador’s Wife in Iran (1981 Dodd, Mead & Co.) and Favourite Stories from Persia (1982 Heinemann Education Books. Visit her website here.

Chris Black is a writer and communications consultant. She was a political reporter for more than 30 years and worked at the Boston Globe and as a White House and Congressional Correspondent for Cable Network News (CNN).

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1: In Search of a Life of My Own
Chapter 2: Maldon
Chapter 3: World War II and the Boat Crew Wrens
Chapter 4: Coming to America
Chapter 5: Annus Horribilis
Chapter 6: Mrs. Richard Helms
Chapter 7: Two Oaths
Chapter 8: Exploring the World
Chapter 9: The Legal Case
Chapter 10: Life Goes On
Acknowledgments
Index
About the Authors
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