Ernest R. May


May, Ernest. "Intelligence: Backing into the Future." Foreign Affairs 71, no. 3 (Summer 1992): 63-72.

This is an excellent article for anyone interested the state of the reform discussion at the end of 1991. Many of the themes examined here continue to be discussed.


May, Ernest R. Strange Victory: Hitler's Conquest of France. New York: Hill and Wang, 2000.

Adams, IJI&C 14.3, finds that the author "persuasively establish[es] the pivotal role played by intelligence in France's sudden and ignominious collapse in 1940." For May, Germany's massive panzer attack through the Ardennes forest is a "classic example of intelligence surprise." He points to "severe flaws in the methods used in Allied intelligence collection and analysis, and large gaps between this information and the key decisionmakers." On the other side, May sees a "close integration of intelligence with the German high command."

For Bath, NIPQ 18.1, May's "research is impressive, combining as it does material on German and French intelligence, rather than treating each separately as had been done previously. The result is a clear and authoritative study."

[WWII/Eur/Fr/Gen & Ger]

May, Ernest.

1. "Studying and Teaching Intelligence: The Importance of Interchange." Studies in Intelligence 38, no. 5 (1995): 1-5.

Keynote address at "Symposium for Teaching Intelligence," 1-2 October 1993, sponsored by the CIA Center for the Study of Intelligence.

2. "Writing Contemporary International History." Diplomatic History 8 (1984): 103-113.

[CIA/Academe; RefMats/Teaching][c]

May, Ernest R., ed. American Cold War Strategy: Interpreting NSC 68. New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1993.

Clark comment: This volume includes the text of NSC 68. According to Cold War Connection, "Top Books on the Cold War,", this work combines "an elegant summary of the politics of the early Cold War" and "selections of writings by historians and policy-makers of different political persuasions, offering students and teachers the opportunity to compare a wide variety of interpretative positions."

[GenPostwar/CW & NatSec/90s]

May, Ernest R., ed. Knowing One's Enemies: Intelligence Assessment Before the Two World Wars. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984.

Clark comment: My introduction to this work by my then-colleague Hayden Peake, who first recommended that I read it and then loaned me his copy to do so, changed my view of intelligence from something that I was doing to a potential field of academic study. Decades after that discovery, I am still studying the field with no end in sight and with no hope of ever managing to read everything.

Seabury, IJI&C 1.1, comments that each contribution is "a 'net assessment' of intelligence service performances by major powers before the outbreak of the two world wars." The essays have "dispassionate objectivity" and are of "uniformly high caliber." This is a "seminal and indispensable" work.

That strongly positive assessment is shared by Herbig, I&NS 1.3, who writes: "The essays are generally of such high quality, and the editor has framed the tasks of his contributors so precisely, that the book is that rare beast, a multi-authored work that is also coherent, enlightening and readable.... The essays ... break new ground by laying out the mechanisms for intelligence gathering available to the various governments, their degree of success and luck, and the quality of the judgements their leaders produced from intelligence."


May, Ernest R., and Philip D. Zelikow, eds. Dealing with Dictators: Dilemmas of U.S. Diplomacy and Intelligence Analysis, 1945-1990. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006.

Barnhill, Air & Space Power Journal (2008), notes that this work "is a collection of case studies developed for the intelligence and policy course offered between 1986 and 2002 at Harvard University to senior government and military intelligence officials.... [T]he authors present six case studies.... Arranged chronologically, the cases include the collapse of China, the United Nations intervention in the Congo, the removal of the Shah of Iran, the US relationship with Nicaragua's Somozas, the fall of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, and the run-up to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.... Assuming a competent instructor, these scenarios will serve as the basis for raising awareness of how much harder it is to handle a crisis in real time than in retrospect."

[Analysis/Gen; GenPostwar/Policy; RefMats/Teaching/NatSec]

May, Ernest R., and Philip D. Zelikow, eds. The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997.

Clark comment: This work consists of the edited transcripts of the taped meetings of President Kennedy's Executive Committee (Ex-Com) during the 13 days of the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962.

For Hendrickson, FA 77.3 (May-Jun. 1998), as invaluable as these tapes will prove to historians, "they still leave ample room for argument over what brought about the crisis, whether the participants acted wisely, and how it was resolved." Pincus, WPNWE, 20 Oct. 1997, notes that there are no stunning new facts here. However, he adds that "a great deal ... is new if you want to understand the day-to-day evolution of a policy and the people involved in a crisis through all its ups and downs."

Powers, London Review of Books (13 Nov. 1997) and Intelligence Wars (2004), 171-184, says that the editors "have convincingly placed the White House deliberations within the political and military context of the missile crisis itself. To this they have added a brilliant account of the shared assumptions which Kennedy and his advisers brought to their discussions."


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