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

John H. Richardson, Author . HarperCollins $24.95 (312p) ISBN 978-0-06-051035-0

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.)

Reviewed on: 05/23/2005
Release date: 08/01/2005
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