Wild Bill Donovan by Douglas Waller
The Spymaster Who Created the OSS and Modern American Espionage

77%

11 Critic Reviews

Although I admire Mr. Waller’s book, especially his enormous archival work, a couple of factors bothered me. The work is disorganized, wandering from subject to subject in the same chapter, with no coherent narrative.
-Washington Times

Synopsis

He was one of America’s most exciting and secretive generals—the man Franklin Roosevelt made his top spy in World War II. A mythic figure whose legacy is still intensely debated, “Wild Bill” Donovan was director of the Office of Strategic Services (the country’s first national intelligence agency) and the father of today’s CIA. Donovan introduced the nation to the dark arts of covert warfare on a scale it had never seen before. Now, veteran journalist Douglas Waller has mined government and private archives throughout the United States and England, drawn on thousands of pages of recently declassified documents, and interviewed scores of Donovan’s relatives, friends, and associates to produce a riveting biography of one of the most powerful men in modern espionage.

William Joseph Donovan’s life was packed with personal drama. The son of poor Irish Catholic parents, he married into Protestant wealth and fought heroically in World War I, where he earned the nickname “Wild Bill” for his intense leadership and the Medal of Honor for his heroism. After the war he made millions as a Republican lawyer on Wall Street until FDR, a Democrat, tapped him to be his strategic intelligence chief. A charismatic leader, Donovan was revered by his secret agents. Yet at times he was reckless—risking his life unnecessarily in war zones, engaging in extramarital affairs that became fodder for his political enemies—and he endured heartbreaking tragedy when family members died at young ages.

Wild Bill Donovan reads like an action-packed spy thriller, with stories of daring young men and women in his OSS sneaking behind enemy lines for sabotage, breaking into Washington embassies to steal secrets, plotting to topple Adolf Hitler, and suffering brutal torture or death when they were captured by the Gestapo. It is also a tale of political intrigue, of infighting at the highest levels of government, of powerful men pitted against one another. Donovan fought enemies at home as often as the Axis abroad. Generals in the Pentagon plotted against him.

J. Edgar Hoover had FBI agents dig up dirt on him. Donovan stole secrets from the Soviets before the dawn of the Cold War and had intense battles with Winston Churchill and British spy chiefs over foreign turf. Separating fact from fiction, Waller investigates the successes and the occasional spectacular failures of Donovan’s intelligence career.

It makes for a gripping and revealing portrait of this most controversial spymaster.
 

About Douglas Waller

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Douglas Waller is a former correspondent for Newsweek and Time. He has authored five previous books on the military or foreign policy, including the bestsellers The Commandos and BIG RED and the critically acclaimed biography of General Billy Mitchell, A Question of Loyalty. He lives in Annandale, Virginia.
 
Published February 8, 2011 by Free Press. 482 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Political & Social Sciences, War. Non-fiction
Bestseller Status:
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Peak Rank on Mar 06 2011
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Critic reviews for Wild Bill Donovan
All: 11 | Positive: 10 | Negative: 1

Kirkus

Good

A wholly satisfying biography of the man whose vision continues to guide American intelligence operations—both the daring and unconventional thinking and the delusions.

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NY Times

Above average
on Feb 11 2011

This book is not the place to seek a comprehensive appraisal of the O.S.S.’s far-flung intelligence operations...Waller is more concerned with the politics of personality, and the legacy of Donovan’s complex, larger-than-life character.

Read Full Review of Wild Bill Donovan: The Spymas... | See more reviews from NY Times

WSJ online

Good
on Feb 12 2011

As Douglas Waller makes clear in his fast-moving and well-written biography, "Wild Bill Donovan," Roosevelt's approval was the foundation of Donovan's place at the center of American intelligence operations from July 1941 to September 1945.

Read Full Review of Wild Bill Donovan: The Spymas... | See more reviews from WSJ online

Washington Times

Above average
on Feb 11 2011

Although I admire Mr. Waller’s book, especially his enormous archival work, a couple of factors bothered me. The work is disorganized, wandering from subject to subject in the same chapter, with no coherent narrative.

Read Full Review of Wild Bill Donovan: The Spymas... | See more reviews from Washington Times

LA Times

Good
on Feb 23 2011

..."Wild Bill Donovan: The Spymaster Who Created the OSS and Modern American Espionage," which is — by turns — fascinatingly instructive and thoroughly entertaining.

Read Full Review of Wild Bill Donovan: The Spymas... | See more reviews from LA Times

The Washington Post

Good
on Feb 27 2011

The episode, recounted by Douglas Waller in this superb, dramatic yet scholarly biography...Courageous but reckless, always itching to be in the center of the action, Donovan was smart, tough and seemingly endowed with boundless energy.

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Huffington Post

Good
on Feb 07 2011

Waller, whose previous books include a biography of Gen. Billy Mitchell and an account of life aboard a Trident nuclear submarine, comes through with a well-calibrated assessment of Donovan and the impact of the OSS on the war.

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Washington Independent Review of Books

Good
on Feb 22 2011

Waller’s writing is always sterling. His long experience as a journalist is evident in his deft handling of prose so well crafted that the reader sails through the book without stumbles. Waller adds almost three dozen photographs...

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Oregon Live

Good
on Mar 05 2011

Douglas Waller, a former correspondent for Time and Newsweek...draws on recently declassified material to provide a richly detailed account, by turns juicy and judicious, of the "father of American espionage."

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The Columbus Dispatch

Good
on Feb 27 2011

In the fast-paced, entertaining and engrossing biography, the author delivers a portrait of a hard-driving Type A extrovert willing to take on political enemies...and directing a spy network that targeted Nazi Germany and its occupied territories.

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HistoryNet

Good
on Mar 30 2011

Douglas Waller's new biography is highly engaging, sprinkled with fresh revelations, and based on diligent and extensive research. One comes away from this superb portrait wondering what Wild Bill would think of our present intelligence apparatus...

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Reader Rating for Wild Bill Donovan
69%

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