The Quiet Americans: Four CIA Spies at the Dawn of the Cold War—A Tragedy in Three Acts

Scott Anderson. Doubleday, $30 (576p) ISBN 978-0-38554-045-2

The roots of America’s decline in international reputation since WWII lie in the government’s confused and hypocritical actions during the first decade of the Cold War, according to this fascinating history by journalist Anderson (Fractured Lands). Tracking the careers of CIA agents Michael Burke, Edward Lansdale, Peter Sichel, and Frank Wisner from the late 1940s through the 1950s, as the focus of their work shifted from Europe to Asia and Central America, Anderson documents clandestine operations in Albania and the Vietnamese jungle; meetings with increasingly hawkish American officials, in particular Secretary of State John Foster Dulles; and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover’s meddling in CIA affairs. Anderson notes the harrowing emotional cost on his subjects (Wisner committed suicide; Burke and Sichel ultimately left the CIA “in despair”) as the U.S. threw its support behind autocratic leaders and missed opportunities to aid legitimate liberation movements such as the 1956 Hungarian revolution. Such blunders, Anderson writes, recast the U.S. from WWII savior to “one more empire in the mold of all those that had come before.” Laced with vivid character sketches and vital insights into 20th-century geopolitics, this stand-out chronicle helps to make sense of the world today. Agent: Sloan Harris, ICM Partners. (Sept.)