A Brotherhood of Spies: The U-2 and the CIA’s Secret War

Monte Reel. Doubleday, $27.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-385-54020-9
This gripping work of narrative nonfiction tells the extraordinary story of the U-2—the ultralightweight high-altitude spy plane that was the CIA’s “first technological development project”—and the 1960 U-2 crash in the Soviet Union that made public the U.S.’s first peacetime espionage program. The plot revolves around four characters: Edwin Land, the “brilliant scientist,” inventor, and corporate leader of Polaroid who threw himself into clandestine work; Clarence Johnson, the “fiery engineer” behind the U-2’s unconventional design; Richard Bissell, the “bookish bureaucrat” tasked with overseeing the covert project; and Francis Powers, the U-2 pilot who was shot down and captured in the Soviet Union. Drawing on interviews, declassified documents, and secondary sources, Reel (Between Man and Beast) captures the secrecy involved in developing the plane (including hiding an emergency-landed prototype from the occupants of a military base), the wrangling between the old covert operations guard and the innovators from outside of espionage, and the international scandal engendered by the revelation that the U.S. had given up its former aversion to peacetime spying. Along the way, Reel seamlessly integrates other related narrative threads: the birth of the military-industrial complex, the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and other technological innovations spurred by the U-2 project. This exemplary work provides a wholly satisfying take on a central chapter of the Cold War—a dramatic story of zeal and adventure. (May)

Reviewed on: 03/19/2018
Release date: 05/08/2018
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