Peter Grose

1. Gentleman Spy

2. Operation Rollback

1. Gentleman Spy


Grose, Peter. Gentleman Spy: The Life of Allen Dulles. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1994.

Clark comment: Publication of this biography of Allen Dulles, Director of Central Intelligence from 1953 to 1961, ranks as one of the more important events in intelligence historiography in the 1990s. Grose's research is of the highest quality, and he tells his story well. Agency critics and noncritics alike have found things to quibble about in Grose's presentation, but the heart and soul of the work remain unscathed. For anyone seriously interested in this period of American and/or intelligence history, Gentleman Spy is a mandatory read.

Richard Helms, WIR 13.3, calls Gentleman Spy a "meticulous biography" that deftly traces Dulles' "long and variegated career." However, the book "is not flawless." It repeats "the prevailing canard that the Central Intelligence Agency was conceived as a Cold War instrument.... The polemic is counterhistorical. The agency was established in 1947 to forestall a reprise of ... Pearl Harbor." Grose "stumbles at least twice in describing my [Helms] own role and behavior." Helms says he was not a skeptic about the Guatemala operation in 1954 nor a "detractor" of covert action. "Those charges are without foundation." Nevertheless, Grose "makes a major contribution to understanding the vanguard role of Dulles in the history of American intelligence."

Hood, IJI&C 8.4, sees Gentleman Spy as a "brilliantly researched biography" that "deftly keeps Dulles within the context of the turbulent history of his time and manages as well to capture his urbane ... personal life candidly and with a wry grace." With regard to the World War I period, "Grose captures the substance and atmosphere of political activity in Switzerland perfectly." And the author "tells the sometimes familiar story" of Dulles' World War II activities "well, and with interesting new detail and insight." Although much of the history of Dulles' career as DCI "is known, the book provides new data and interesting insight."

Thomas Powers, NYRB (1 Dec. 1994) and Intelligence Wars (2004), pp. 45-57, calls this an "exemplary work." The author "has ... written a genuine life -- a biography which sticks closely to the man, his character, and the influence on history that was truly and uniquely his." Surveillant 3.6 comments that Grose "brings out in far greater detail than seen in earlier accounts, this intriguing figure in American intelligence policy."

Winks, FA 73.6 (Nov.-Dec. 1994), enthuses that "there are, perhaps, a dozen [books on intelligence] that pass the historian's test: that is, they are significant, they are interesting, and they are ... true.... [This] is one of these books. It is the best book on American intelligence since Thomas Powers' ... The Man Who Kept the Secrets.... Grose writes very well, with a wry sense for the humorous situation.... [He] had the ... cooperation of ... Dulles' ... children."

To the MI 21.2 reviewer, the book is "a detailed, well-documented, and highly readable account" and "an important addition to intelligence professional literature." Thomas, Washington Post, 31 Jan. 1999, calls Gentleman Spy "a balanced biography." Rossant, Business Week, 19 Dec. 1994, believes that Grose's account of Dulles' early successes in Switzerland is "as breathtaking as any spy thriller.... But the failures of the CIA on his watch remind us what disasters can occur."

Levine, America, 23 Sep. 1995, notes that "Grose is a journalist, not an analyst, and the story he tells could have profited more from his own thought concerning the uses and abuse of intelligence gathering, covert activities and the role of elites in a democratic society. Still, Grose tells a rattling good yarn."

For MacPherson, I&NS 11.4, this is an "honest effort" and is "well-written," but it "falls short as a work of intelligence scholarship." Signals intelligence, for example, is almost completely absent from Grose's account. According to Corn, WPNWE, 12-18 Dec. 1994, this is a "comprehensive biography -- with ... often eloquent prose.... A bit frustrating is the reluctance of Grose to confront fully the sense of elitism and self-righteousness that imbued Dulles and his comrades."

See also the review article by Tim Weiner, "The Great White Case Officer," Washington Monthly, Nov. 1994, 50-53.

[CIA/Biogs & DCIs/Dulles; WWII/OSS/Individuals & GermanOps]

2. Operation Rollback


Grose, Peter. Operation Rollback: America's Secret War Behind the Iron Curtain. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.

Clark comment: Grose is the respected biographer of Allen Dulles [Gentleman Spy (1994)], and the same careful work is evident here. As interesting as the details of Western sabotage, espionage, and covert action against postwar Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union are, the highlight of Grose's extensive research is the nuance he adds to the previously perceived role of George F. Kennan in the immediate postwar years. What Grose has managed to capture in 222 pages of text makes this book one of the top reads of the first half of 2000.

For Rosenfeld, Washington Post, 31 Jan. 2000, Grose is telling "[t]he last big story of the Cold War." Operation Rollback "is full of fresh diggings from archival and human sources. But none of its tales of operational derring-do and political and bureaucratic conflict in Washington match the impact of its revelations about George F. Kennan.... Not until now ... has his name been put on Operation Rollback, of which he was both conceptualizer and diligent champion."

Kaplan, Washington Post, 21 May 2000, calls this "a serious, workmanlike account of ... [the] secret, often violent war against Soviet domination of Eastern Europe in the late 1940s and early 1950s.... Grose's tone is usually cool and even-handed, rarely polemical."

To Taylor, Booklist, the author "is an astute analyst of how the secret war was started and who its promoters in D.C. officialdom were." This is a "[w]ell-researched and contextualized" work. Bath, NIPQ 17.2, sees Grose telling "an interesting story," but "would have liked to see more emphasis on the intelligence collection activities" of the Office of Policy Coordination.

Friedman, CIRA Newsletter 26.2/3, says that the author "has produced a gripping account." Grose "is sympathetic to the good intentions of the[] courageous individuals" who struggled against the Soviet Union. However, "he also describes the naivete, folly and ineptitude" of so many who believed that their anti-communism alone would suffice.

For Granville, H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews, Oct. 2000 [], this work "has many merits and is worth reading. However, every book has its strengths and weaknesses," and this one "is no exception.... [I]t lacks a straightforward introduction informing the reader of the book's purpose and key arguments. Consequently, the author skips around topically, geographically, and chronologically." Also, "the book skims lightly over [some] key events of the 1950s such as the Hungarian Revolution" and omits others. And "[t]he reader will ... find it somewhat difficult to locate Grose's sources. They are collected at the very back of the book according to chapter, and the author's abbreviations for his main sources are given on a separate page."

[CA/00s/Gen; GenPostwar/40s/Gen & 50s/Gen]

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