Wild Bill Donovan: The Spymaster Who Created the OSS and Modern American Espionage

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Overview

He was one of America's most exciting and secretive generals—the man Franklin Roosevelt made his top spy in World War II. A mythic figure whose legacy is still intensely debated, "Wild Bill" Donovan was director of the Office of Strategic Services (the country's first national intelligence agency) and the father of today's CIA. Donovan introduced the nation to the dark arts of covert warfare on a scale it had never seen before. Now, veteran journalist Douglas Waller has mined government documents and private ...
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Wild Bill Donovan: The Spymaster Who Created the OSS and Modern American Espionage

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Overview

He was one of America's most exciting and secretive generals—the man Franklin Roosevelt made his top spy in World War II. A mythic figure whose legacy is still intensely debated, "Wild Bill" Donovan was director of the Office of Strategic Services (the country's first national intelligence agency) and the father of today's CIA. Donovan introduced the nation to the dark arts of covert warfare on a scale it had never seen before. Now, veteran journalist Douglas Waller has mined government documents and private archives throughout the United States and England, drawn on thousands of pages of recently declassified documents, and interviewed scores of Donovan's relatives, friends, and associates to produce a riveting biography of one of the most powerful men in modern espionage.

The son of poor Irish Catholic parents, William Joseph Donovan married into Protestant wealth and fought heroically in World War I, where he earned the nickname "Wild Bill" for his intense leadership. After the war he made millions as a lawyer on Wall Street until FDR tapped him to be his strategic intelligence chief. A charismatic leader, Donovan was revered by his secret agents. Yet at times he was reckless, risking his life unnecessarily in war zones and engaging in extramarital affairs that became fodder for his political enemies.

Wild Bill Donovan reads like an action-packed spy thriller, with stories of daring young men and women in Donovan's OSS sneaking behind enemy lines for sabotage, breaking into Washington embassies to steal secrets, plotting to topple Adolf Hitler, and suffering brutal torture or death when they were captured by the Gestapo. It is also a tale of political intrigue, of infighting at the highest levels of government, of powerful men pitted against one another. Deftly separating fact from fiction, Waller investigates the successes and the occasional spectacular failures of Donovan's intelligence career, making for a gripping and revealing portrait of this most controversial spymaster.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

"Wild Bill" Donovan (1883-1953) was a real-life legend. The most influential spymaster in American history, he established the Office of Strategic Service, the nation's first intelligence agency, and its successor, the C.I.A. Donovan was no mere paper-pushing bureaucrat: He earned two Purple Hearts and other military honors during World War I and unapologetically spied on allies and enemies alike. As Douglas Waller's definitive new biography shows, he was also a bundle of contradictions: Charismatic and controversial; born to poor Catholic parents, married into Protestant wealth; a dedicated Republican candidate who became the protégée of Democrat F.D.R. (Hand-selling tip: To write this book, veteran investigative reporter Waller tapped thousands of recently declassified documents.)

Jennet Conant
…entertaining history…This book is not the place to seek a comprehensive appraisal of the O.S.S.'s far-flung intelligence operations. Its many successes and debacles are only hastily sketched here. Waller is more concerned with the politics of personality, and the legacy of Donovan's complex, larger-than-life character. As he amply shows, Donovan was a combination of bold innovator and imprudent rule bender, which made him not only a remarkable wartime leader but also an extraordinary figure in American history.
—The New York Times
David Wise
…superb, dramatic yet scholarly…Wild Bill Donovan is the first carefully researched, in-depth biography of the legendary World War II spymaster. For anyone interested in the history of American intelligence, it is required reading.
—The Washington Post
AMERICA IN WWII
WILLIAM DONOVAN WAS a soldier, earning a Medal of Honor and foreign decorations in combat during World War I. He was a powerful New York attorney, well-connected with the business and political elites of New York, the nation, and the world. He was one of the most prominent Catholic laymen of his era, with entrée into the Vatican. He was a friend and advisor to presidents and prime ministers. He was America's first professional spymaster, founder of what was eventually to become the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), (now the CIA) despite opposition from FBI head J. Edgar Hoover….Almost from start to finish, the life of Bill Donovan as told by Douglas Waller is adventure on a grand scale. Biographies are seldom page-turners. This one is. Full of colorful action and fascinating detail, Waller's biography pulses with vigorous life.
From the Publisher
"Waller's realism about these issues combined with an obvious affection for the remarkable charter of Wild Bill Donovan have resulted in a splendid biography." —-The Los Angeles Times
Kirkus Reviews

An exhaustive but never dull account of the founder of America's original intelligence agency, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

Former Time correspondent Waller (A Question of Loyalty: General Billy Mitchell and the Court-Martial that Gripped the Nation, 2004, etc.) has plumbed archives and newly declassified OSS files to produce a definitive life of William Joseph Donovan (1883–1959). The son of Irish immigrants, Donovan was already a successful lawyer when his exploits in World War I earned him the Medal of Honor. Afterward, he dabbled in Republican politics and bitterly opposed the New Deal, but travels during the 1930s convinced him of the danger of war. After Germany invaded Poland, Roosevelt began cultivating anti-isolationist Republicans. Aware that America's primitive, parochial intelligence agencies were split among feuding fiefdoms in the Army, Navy, State Department and FBI, Roosevelt persuaded Donovan to fix matters. Taking office in July 1941, he created a worldwide organization that ran espionage networks, dropped saboteurs behind enemy lines, supplied guerrillas from France to China and dispensed propaganda. Waller delivers an entertaining account of the OSS's colorful personalities, devious plots, triumphs, debacles and often nasty fireworks that occurred under Donovan's charismatic leadership. Ironically, he never united the many feuding intelligence entities—nor has anyone since. The military fiercely guarded their agencies, and the FBI's J. Edgar Hoover detested Donovan and worked hard to undermine him. Waller concludes that OSS operations contributed only modestly to the war effort. Its successor, the CIA, has not done better, and experts still debate whether spying and covert operations do more harm than good.

A wholly satisfying biography of the man whose vision continues to guide American intelligence operations—both the daring and unconventional thinking and the delusions.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780594550303
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication date: 2/21/2012
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 51,743
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author


Douglas Waller is a former correspondent for Newsweek and Time and the author of Wild Bill Donovan, The Commandos, and Big Red.

Johnny Heller has won two prestigious Audie Awards, earned numerous Audie nominations, and was named one of the Top 50 Narrators of the Twentieth Century by AudioFile magazine.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 68 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(17)

4 Star

(11)

3 Star

(21)

2 Star

(12)

1 Star

(7)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 68 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2011

    Poorly written - don't waste your time

    If this were a high school term paper, it would get a D. This book was loaded with grammatical errors and lacked any kind of continuity of thought or underlying theme. It was as if the author had gone through a trunk of papers and put them in rough chronological order. There is no insight into Donovan, just a recitation of his actions. Particular emphasis was placed on his numerous character flaws, which would be worthwhile if this was in contrast to his standing as a historical figure.

    4 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 2, 2011

    Great bio on the "Father of the CIA"

    An excellent quick summer read on Wild Bill Donovan, a creator of the CIA. Donovan wss quite a character , Ivy League educated at Columbia, war hero, successful lawyer, friend to many powerful political and world leaders of his time, family man and phillanderer this book is a fact filled history of Donovan and his life and the leading role he played in creating the CIA based on his experiences in the OSS as well as a military man and war hero. I highly recommend this to thode interested in the history of the CIA , history, world politics and the spy game as seen through the life and times of arguably the most interesting spy of all time.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 26, 2014

    Good View of how today's Can About

    This book is a good view of how the CIA was reluctantly and with prejudice came into being from the WWII OSS. It certainly was helpful that I had previously read the WWII biographies of Winston and Franklin, and the Dulles Brothers, along with readings on Eisenhower and D-Day.

    Putting these all in context, helps me to get a more complete view od WW II and how the "Cold War" philosophy happened.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2014

    You have to be dedicated histtoian to get through it.

    That period of history intrigues me, bu the book seem far too long and introduces way too characters and titles in too much detail. It's kind of a slog getting through it. although I intend to finish I feel the author could have summarized some of the details much better. It's well written, but just too long. I did consider stopping reading it about half way through, trying to keep all of he characters straight. Less is more sometimes.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 29, 2013

    Really interesting

    I found this book to be really interesting. I had heard of the OSS and seen a couple of old movies made about the organization. The book gave me a good insight into the creator of the OSS and a lot of information about all that was involved.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 28, 2012

    Great stories

    Donovan life is a fear less tale. He fought a multi-front war between the axis powers, the beltway, homefront and through the press. A true pioneer of bipartisanship, he was overlooked as the trailblaser of covert affairs that he was.

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  • Posted January 4, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Highly Recommended

    Bought this book for my husband for Christmas, he had mentioned that he wanted it. He hasn't read it yet but I am sure it is a good book and that he will enjoy it.

    0 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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