Book Nook: Legacy of Ashes, The History of the CIA

I’ve been plugging along with my reading, but it has been a while since I wrote up a quick review of anything I have read. I wanted to do that for this book, because it has been one of the more interesting reads of the year for me, even if it is about 13 years after it came out.

Legacy of Ashes was written by Tim Weiner, a veteran reporter for the New York Times. It was published in 2008 and covers the history of the agency, from formation in post WWII through the second Bush administration. This is one of five books written by Weiner, with most spurred by his international law and order beat. He won a Pulitzer back in 1988 as an investigative reporter in Philadelphia, for his reporting on the CIA. Go figure.

I was careful not to do much research or follow up research on the book or the author as I read it. And that was for a specific reason.

This book was not a love letter to the agency. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Legacy of Ashes is largely a 60-year recording of failure and screw-ups, costly in lives and money. Many, many lives. It is critical enough that the CIA officially commented on the book, claiming it was an unbalanced perspective. Even if slanted, Weiner has receipts for a lot of the mistakes we have made, from the Cold War to Cuba to South America to the Middle East. Blunder after blunder.

Throughout reading it, the tone was so negative, I decided to add trying to find some opposite research to the book to my reading list, a reading list that is expansive, so don’t hold your breath.

Still, the book is about as interesting as you will find in historical nonfiction. Of special note: Weiner seems to hint at my favorite theory on what happened to JFK. In so that the CIA was involved, not in the conspiracy way, but in the “retaliation for botched assassination attempts on Castro” way.

It closes largely with the WMD debacle of the Bush administration on the blow to the agency’s clout during that span. It actually makes you sympathetic to the presidency and the WMD claims, due to the believability that it was not a sinister plan to draw us into war, but just the latest in a series of bad intelligence leading to worse decisions.

This one gets the Weezel Seal of Approval, with the caveat that I would like to circle back around to some follow up down the road.


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