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My Father the Spy: A Family History of the CIA, the Cold War, and the Sixties
     

My Father the Spy: A Family History of the CIA, the Cold War, and the Sixties

by John H. Richardson
 

As his father nears death in his retirement home in Mexico, John H. Richardson begins to unravel a life filled with drama and secrecy. John Sr. was a CIA "chief of station" on some of the hottest assignments of the Cold War, from the back alleys of occupied Vienna to the jungles of the Philippines—and especially Saigon, where he became a pivotal player in the

Overview

As his father nears death in his retirement home in Mexico, John H. Richardson begins to unravel a life filled with drama and secrecy. John Sr. was a CIA "chief of station" on some of the hottest assignments of the Cold War, from the back alleys of occupied Vienna to the jungles of the Philippines—and especially Saigon, where he became a pivotal player in the turning point of the Vietnam War: the overthrow of South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem. As John Jr. and his sister came of age in exotic postings across the world, they struggled to accommodate themselves to their driven, distant father, and their conflict opens a window on the tumult of the sixties and Vietnam.

Through the daily happenings at home and his father's actions, reconstructed from declassified documents as well as extensive interviews with former spies and government officials, Richardson reveals the innermost workings of a family enmeshed in the Cold War—and the deeper war that turns the world of the fathers into the world of the sons.

Editorial Reviews

Booklist
Readers will not only find absorbing narratives but also the early signs of America’s now highly contentious culture wars.
Baltimore Sun
An exceptional work ... about a man ... whose family album is pasted into a book of American history.
New York Times Book Review
A passionately researched and engaging memoir...poignantly distanced.
Ben Sisario
Richardson…takes his father's silence as a kind of challenge to understand him, and in a passionately researched and engaging memoir reconstructs his life as best he can, in a way that is poignantly distanced.
— The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly
The author's father, the hero of this heartfelt if shapeless saga, started out a leftish romantic but eventually became the powerful CIA station chief in Vienna, Manila and then Saigon. Drawing on government documents and reminiscences of his father's colleagues, journalist Richardson (The Viper's Club), depicts his father, John Sr., as a humane, principled official coping effectively with great crises. But his home life, reconstructed from memory, personal letters and diary entries, is a less engaging domestic melodrama of intergenerational incomprehension, featuring an interminable series of chilly miscommunications, youthful provocations, drunken scenes and fumbling reconciliations. The story implicitly links the demise of American hegemony to the waning of paternal prestige, but it's not clear what one has to do with the other, and Richardson's conflation of his father's profession with his personal life lacks much substance or perspective. Remorseful, perhaps, at his own juvenile disdain, the author defends his father from critics of John Sr.'s actions in Vietnam-especially the "arrogant jerk" David Halberstam-and closes with a melancholy chronicle of his father's alcoholic decline and excruciatingly drawn-out death in 1998. Richardson stays too close to this painful material to fashion it into something more than family history. Photos. Agent, Heather Schroder at ICM. (Aug.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In this intriguing but sometimes self-indulgent memoir, Richardson (In the Little World: A True Story of Dwarfs, Love, and Trouble) pieces together the top-secret career of his CIA agent father, John H. Richardson Sr. The senior Richardson spent his post-World War II life in Austria, Greece, and other important Cold War battlefronts. His secrecy oath prevented him from discussing his work with his family, which put strains on his marriage and distanced him from his two children. The most fascinating accounts tell about his posting to Saigon in the early 1960s. A gung-ho anti-Communist, Richardson supported the Diem regime but slowly became aware of its corruption. He was eventually recalled to Washington at the request of Vietnam ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, who found Richardson too cautious about launching the coup that led to Diem's murder. Richardson never recovered from this disgrace and eventually retired to Mexico, where he battled alcoholism and the heart failure that led to his death in 1998. Though the author devotes arguably too much space to his and his sister's family problems in the 1960s (drugs, liquor, sex), he presents a lucid tale of historical detection that will appeal to readers of espionage nonfiction. Recommended for public libraries.-Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Journalist and novelist Richardson (In the Little World, 2001, etc.) tries to understand what his abstracted, distant father faced as a high-ranking CIA officer. John Richardson Sr. was an idealist: a man who loved great literature, Thomas Jefferson, and democracy, a Quaker who undertook dangerous missions during WWII. He also witnessed Tito's slaughter of Germans and Croats, as well as Stalin's pause outside Warsaw while the Germans went about their dirty work in the city; these experiences led him to join the fight to thwart communism. As he shifted from the OSS to the fledgling CIA, John Sr. essentially became a classified secret himself, and John Jr. lost his father, who was out of the loop. The author pores over all the evidence he can find concerning his father's role in various authoritarian outposts, endeavoring to make sense of an honorable man who helped facilitate a foreign policy that increasingly relied on despots and thugs. He tracks Dad from Greece to the Philippines, Vietnam during the cheery days of Diem and Nhu and strategic hamlets, and finally to Seoul under the thumb of the grim Park Chung Hee. Richardson never learns exactly what his father did, but he does artfully draw the family's home life in all its stress, distance, and disconnect. John Jr. and his sister were very much a part of the counterculture; their behavior could easily rub their father the wrong way. John Sr. was patient and decent-he railed against the ugly Americans-but he held the conviction that "we have to support vicious dictators because an authoritarian government can evolve but a totalitarian government can only be opposed from the outside." He took his authoritarian poison, Richardson notes,and "stored up the raw material for a lifetime of regrets." A beautiful, gracious act of connection with a man who kept his secrets. (8 b&w photos, not seen)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060510350
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
08/02/2005
Pages:
336
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.81(d)

Meet the Author

John H. Richardson is a writer-at-large for Esquire and the author of In the Little World and The Viper's Club. His fiction has appeared in the Atlantic Monthly and the O. Henry Prize Stories collection. He lives in Katonah, New York.

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