Summary and book reviews of The Quiet Americans by Scott Anderson

The Quiet Americans

Four CIA Spies at the Dawn of the Cold War--A Tragedy in Three Acts

by Scott Anderson

The Quiet Americans by Scott Anderson X
The Quiet Americans by Scott Anderson
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  • Published:
    Sep 2020, 576 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Peggy Kurkowski
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About this Book

Book Summary

From the bestselling author of Lawrence in Arabia, a gripping history of the early years of the Cold War, the CIA's covert battles against communism, and the tragic consequences which still affect America and the world today.

At the end of World War II, the United States dominated the world militarily, economically, and in moral standing - seen as the victor over tyranny and a champion of freedom. But it was clear - to some - that the Soviet Union was already executing a plan to expand and foment revolution around the world. The American government's strategy in response relied on the secret efforts of a newly-formed CIA.

The Quiet Americans chronicles the exploits of four spies - Michael Burke, a charming former football star fallen on hard times, Frank Wisner, the scion of a wealthy Southern family, Peter Sichel, a sophisticated German Jew who escaped the Nazis, and Edward Lansdale, a brilliant ad executive. The four ran covert operations across the globe, trying to outwit the ruthless KGB in Berlin, parachuting commandos into Eastern Europe, plotting coups, and directing wars against Communist insurgents in Asia.

But time and again their efforts went awry, thwarted by a combination of stupidity and ideological rigidity at the highest levels of the government - and more profoundly, the decision to abandon American ideals. By the mid-1950s, the Soviet Union had a stranglehold on Eastern Europe, the U.S. had begun its disastrous intervention in Vietnam, and America, the beacon of democracy, was overthrowing democratically-elected governments and earning the hatred of much of the world. All of this culminated in an act of betrayal and cowardice that would lock the Cold War into place for decades to come.

Anderson brings to the telling of this story all the narrative brio, deep research, skeptical eye, and lively prose that made Lawrence in Arabia a major international bestseller. The intertwined lives of these men began in a common purpose of defending freedom, but the ravages of the Cold War led them to different fates. Two would quit the CIA in despair, stricken by the moral compromises they had to make; one became the archetype of the duplicitous and destructive American spy; and one would be so heartbroken he would take his own life.

The Quiet Americans is the story of these four men. It is also the story of how the United States, at the very pinnacle of its power, managed to permanently damage its moral standing in the world.

1
OPERATION DOGWOOD

As Frank Wisner watched from a dark corner of the nightclub, the diverted stage spotlight swept over the crowd until it found the man who had just stepped through the entranceway. He was in his mid-forties, bespectacled and wore a well-tailored suit. He was also clearly well known at the Park Hotel for, along with drawing the spotlight, his arrival caused the nightclub band to slide into a different jazzy number.

I'm involved in a dangerous game,

Every other day I change my name,

The face is different, but the body's the same,

Boo boo, baby, I'm a spy!

Wisner felt a growing irritation, directed less at the song than at the man being serenaded. His name was Lanning "Packy" Macfarland, and he was, in fact, a spy, the head of the Istanbul branch of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), America's wartime intelligence agency. He was also the man that Frank Wisner, a fellow OSS officer, had made the 1,400-mile overland journey from Cairo to meet.

You have heard of Mata Hari,

We ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Anderson's overriding argument is that America tarnished its reputation as a defender of freedom in the 1950s. By supporting totalitarian movements and covertly undermining or overthrowing democratically elected foreign governments that might prove troublesome down the road, America abdicated its moral leadership. What makes his case most persuasive are the experiences of the four CIA spies who lived on the front lines and saw the results on the ground. The author draws from their written and verbal accounts, which are detailed, damning and tragic in the sense of what could have been. The Quiet Americans is a riveting testament to those early Cold War warriors who put their lives on the line for a mission that eventually lost its meaning in the frenetic overreach of American foreign affairs...continued

Full Review Members Only (775 words).

(Reviewed by Peggy Kurkowski).

Media Reviews

New York Times
Enthralling...Lying and stealing and invading, it should be said, make for captivating reading, especially in the hands of a storyteller as skilled as Anderson...the climate of fear and intolerance that it describes in Washington also feels uncomfortably timely.

Washington Post
If all of this sounds rather grim, Anderson’s book, The Quiet Americans: Four CIA Spies at the Dawn of the Cold War — a Tragedy in Three Acts, is anything but...[a] skillful and engaging writer, he manages to provide efficient historical context for these local-but-global situations, each one hopelessly complex in its own right.

Library Journal
A fascinating and compulsively readable account of wartime spying.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Over the course of the narrative, the author amply shows how the CIA was increasingly pushed to function as an instrument of politically charged ambitions. An engrossing history of the early days of the CIA.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[F]ascinating...Laced with vivid character sketches and vital insights into 20th-century geopolitics, this stand-out chronicle helps to make sense of the world today.

Author Blurb Patrick Radden Keefe, author of Say Nothing
In this sweeping, vivid, beautifully observed book, Scott Anderson unearths the devastating secret history of how the Unites States lost the plot during the Cold War. By focusing on the twisty, colorful lives of four legendary spies, Anderson distills the larger geopolitical saga into an intimate story of flawed but talented men, of the 'disease of empires,' and of the inescapable moral hazard of American idealism and power. It's a hell of a book, with themes about the unintended consequences of espionage and interventionism that still resonate, powerfully, today.

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Beyond the Book

Graham Greene's The Quiet American

Vintage cover of The Quiet American featuring a man in a suit lighting a cigaretteThe Quite Americans by Scott Anderson takes its name and inspiration from a highly popular 1955 spy novel by Graham Greene called The Quiet American.

Henry Graham Greene (1904-1991) was an English novelist, short story writer, journalist and playwright whose writing often focused on moral ambiguities set within political contexts. Many of his novels were very popular, especially his thrillers, or as he liked to call them, "entertainments."

Greene enjoyed writing "entertainments" dealing with spycraft and international espionage and was first inspired to write The Quiet American in 1951 after a jeep ride back to Saigon with a young American economic aid official. The young man regaled Greene with a lecture on how the Vietnamese needed...

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