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

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

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by Douglas Waller
     
 

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Now in paperback: “Entertaining history…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 Book Review).

He was one of America’s most exciting and secretive generals—the man

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Overview

Now in paperback: “Entertaining history…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 Book Review).

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 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.

William Joseph Donovan’s life was packed with personal drama. The son of poor Irish Catholic parents, he married into Protestant wealth and fought heroically in World War I, where he earned the nickname “Wild Bill” for his intense leadership and the Medal of Honor for his heroism. After the war he made millions as a Republican lawyer on Wall Street until FDR, a Democrat, 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, engaging in extramarital affairs that became fodder for his political enemies—and he endured heartbreaking tragedy when family members died at young ages.

Wild Bill Donovan reads like an action-packed spy thriller, with stories of daring young men and women in his 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. Donovan fought enemies at home as often as the Axis abroad. Generals in the Pentagon plotted against him.

J. Edgar Hoover had FBI agents dig up dirt on him. Donovan stole secrets from the Soviets before the dawn of the Cold War and had intense battles with Winston Churchill and British spy chiefs over foreign turf. Separating fact from fiction, Waller investigates the successes and the occasional spectacular failures of Donovan’s intelligence career.

It makes for a gripping and revealing portrait of this most controversial spymaster.

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Editorial Reviews

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:
9781416576204
Publisher:
Free Press
Publication date:
02/21/2012
Edition description:
Simon & Schuster
Pages:
480
Sales rank:
545,803
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.30(d)

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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

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