At the Beginning

The Hersh and Winks Works on the Early Years

Included here:

1. Burton Hersh

2. Robin W. Winks


1. Hersh, Burton. The Old Boys. The American Elite and the Origins of the CIA. New York: Scribner's, 1992.

Powers, NYRB (13 May 1993) and Intelligence Wars (2004), 295-320, suggests that "if you want a sense of the brash confidence of the early days of the CIA, you will find much reliable information in The Old Boys that has seen the light nowhere else. If Hersh can be faulted it is because he gives his cast of characters hardly any of the credit they can claim for eventual American victory in the cold war."

According to MacPherson, I&NS 8.2, The Old Boys is "more ... an evocation of a peculiar atmosphere." It presents a "gossipy detailing of elite anecdotes in a style that is more flippant than witty. Hersh also tends to affect a world-weary tone that grows increasingly irritating over 450 pages." The book's "interpretive framework is often flimsy.... [Hersh] indulges in some remarkably cavalier caricaturing of the circumstances pertaining to America's transition to Cold War.... One could ... just as easily underscore a military 'old-boy net' experienced in the use of 'operationally oriented' intelligence as war by other means." Overall, this is an "uneven, superficial portrait."

FILS 11.2 finds that the book's major subjects are "presented in jarringly colorful terms..., yet their professional contribution to U.S. national security receives only limited space.... [Hersh] maintains that these well-educated, experienced, elitist members of the intelligence community caused real wreckage to our democratic institutions, but he fails to prove this charge." Bates, NIPQ 9.1, comments that the reader "will learn precious little about the CIA and intelligence" from The Old Boys. The book's "structure is difficult to follow"; it is "choppy and difficult reading."

For Johnson, NYTBR, 14 Jun. 1992, the author "is easily diverted from his subject." The three "main subjects remain largely stick figures." Donovan "is given short shrift," while Dulles "flits in and out of the narrative superficially." The "most complete portrait is of Frank Wisner.... Yet even he keeps getting lost in the parade of piddling extras that keep marching across stage." Hersh's writing style "is inelegant ... at best." In addition, several of Hersh's assertions "lack adequate support." Only when he begins discussing rolling back the Iron Curtain does "the author's extensive research and interviews begin to yield valuable insights."

NameBase notes that "[t]en years of work, hundreds of interviews, and access to numerous library collections have produced this narrative of CIA history, from its emergence out of William Donovan's OSS to ... the Bay of Pigs." The reviewer finds that "Hersh's writing style is different -- a bit haughty (or even elitist), but seldom boring. His view of the CIA's self-anointed Ivy Leaguers playing in their international sandbox ... is basically critical. However, one cannot shake the suspicion that Hersh's objections are based more on closet envy than on ethical considerations."


2. Winks, Robin W. Cloak and Gown: Scholars in the Secret War, 1939-1961. New York: Morrow, 1987. London: Collins/Harvill, 1987. 2d. ed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996.

Robin W. Winks, Yale University history professor, died on 7 April 2003 at the age of 72. Winks, a prolific author on a wide range of subjects, "may best be remembered for 'Cloak and Gown: Scholars in the Secret War, 1939-1961,' which garnered much attention for revealing the great extent to which American spy agencies had recruited Ivy League university faculty and students." Adam Bernstein, "Espionage Historian Robin Winks Dies," Washington Post, 9 Apr. 2003, B6.

Friedman, Parameters 27 (Summer 1997), notes that the second edition of this' book "corrects errors in the first edition and expands on some of the earlier material." Winks's chapter on the career of James J. Angleton is "the best and most complete treatment" of this "complex and controversial character." Robarge, Studies 53.4 (Dec. 2009), calls the chapter "the most insightful biographical sketch of Angleton yet written."

Thomas Powers, NYRB, 17 Aug. 1989, and Intelligence Wars (2004), 125-126, sees Cloak and Gown as "a fascinating and useful omnium-gatherum of information about intelligence built around short accounts of the careers of four Yale men who worked for the OSS, including [James J.] Angleton.... Wicks provides a good portrait of the young Angleton in London and later in Italy" where he was chief of OSS' counterintelligence branch. To Gove, IJI&C 3.3, the book's detail "is tremendous" and it is "well written and exciting."

In a statement that is the very definition of sour grapes, NameBase says that "Winks is a history professor at Yale, a university which has thoroughly earned its reputation as the CIA's alma mater. That this should be a source of pride for Winks is par for the course." More to the point, Pisani, JAH 76.1, describes Winks' book as "brilliant," and finds interesting his suggestion that "the omission of one facet of scholarly endeavor, the final and critical writing stage, may cripple each and every intelligence project." 

Surveillant 1.1 notes a Sunday Times report on 1 April 1990 "that Lord BETHELL, Euro-MP and historian, accepted £20,000 libel damages and an apology from ... WINKS, William Collins his publishers, and Hartnolls the printers, over allegations in ... CLOAK AND GOWN." (See pp. 400 and 544, fn 44).

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