World War II commando, Cold War spy, and CIA director under presidents Nixon and Ford, William Egan Colby played a critical role in some of the most pivotal events of the twentieth century. A quintessential member of the greatest generation, Colby embodied the moral and strategic ambiguities of the postwar world, and first confronted many of the dilemmas about power and secrecy that America still grapples with today.
In Shadow Warrior, eminent historian Randall B. Woods presents a riveting biography of Colby, revealing that this crusader for global democracy was also drawn to the darker side of American power. Aiming to help reverse the spread of totalitarianism in Europe and Asia, Colby joined the U.S. Army in 1941, just as America entered World War II. He served with distinction in France and Norway, and at the end of the war transitioned into America's first peacetime intelligence agency: the CIA. Fresh from the fight against fascism, Colby zealously redirected his efforts against international communism. He insisted on the importance of fighting communism on the ground, doggedly applying guerilla tactics for counterinsurgency, sabotage, surveillance, and information-gathering on the new battlefields of the Cold War. Over time, these strategies became increasingly ruthless; as head of the CIA's Far East Division, Colby oversaw an endless succession of assassination attempts, coups, secret wars in Laos and Cambodia, and the Phoenix Program, in which 20,000 civilian supporters of the Vietcong were killed. Colby ultimately came clean about many of the CIA's illegal activities, making public a set of internal reports, known as the "family jewels", that haunt the agency to this day. Ostracized from the intelligence community, he died under suspicious circumstances - a murky ending to a life lived in the shadows.
Drawing on multiple new sources, including interviews with members of Colby's family, Woods has crafted a gripping biography of one of the most fascinating and controversial figures of the twentieth century.
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"Starred Review. An engrossing account of Colby's contentious life and career, from early intelligence recruit during the Second World War to his suspicious demise in the Chesapeake Bay.... Scathingly critical of both the CIA and the government it served, Woods' thoroughly entertaining portrait reveals plenty of warts, as well as a thoughtful character, surprisingly liberal and sophisticated about the limitations of CIA derring-do." - Publishers Weekly
"A thorough biography of 'the ultimate subversive' that probes the shadowy U.S. intelligence efforts through the Vietnam War.... Woods looks at a complicated individual who was at heart a liberal activist, schooled in the ideas of unconventional warfare championed by his father, a military man and instructor... A nuanced treatment." - Kirkus
"Randall Woods has turned his formidable skills as a biographer to one of the most controversial and enigmatic personalities of the Cold War. The result is a prodigiously researched, richly revealing portrayal of William Colby's life and times in all their contradictions: political, personal, and moral." - Hugh Wilford, author of The Mighty Wurlitzer
"This is one of the best books written on the CIA. Randall Woods investigates the life of William Colby - from World War II to Vietnam to the end of the Cold War. Woods describes the vital work of America's covert operatives, and he also analyzes the dangers and difficulties for our democracy. Woods brings the world of spies and spooks to life, tells us why they matter, and shows the many dimensions of Colby's life at the center of this world." - Jeremi Suri, Author of Liberty's Surest Guardian: American Nation-Building from the Founders to Obama
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Randall B. Woods is John A. Cooper Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Arkansas. Author or coauthor of ten books, including LBJ: Architect of American Ambition and Fulbright: A Biography, which won the Robert D. Ferrell Prize, Woods lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
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