Joseph E. Persico

Joseph E. Persico died on 30 August 2014. See Matt Schudel, "Joseph E. Persico, Historian Who Wrote of Spies and FDR's Love Life, Dies at 84," Washington Post, 4 Sep. 2014.

Persico, Joseph E. Casey: From the OSS to the CIA. New York: Viking, 1990. New York: Penguin, 1991. [pb]

Clark comment: A more apt title for this massive work might have been "Casey and the CIA, with a Little Background Thrown In for Good Measure." In a tome with over 600 pages (including an Appendix and Index), the last six years of Casey's long life consumes 370 pages. It is strange that Persico, who earlier chronicled what Casey himself called "the greatest experience of my life" (p. 86), gives only cursory attention (33 pages) to Casey's OSS service. See Piercing the Reich (1979).

To Bates, NIPQ 8.4, this biography does "not hide any of the warts," and leaves the reader with a "much better appreciation for the man and what drove him." Surveillant 2.1 notes that Persico had "complete access to ... Casey's papers and cooperation of his widow." This is an "even-handed, balanced biography ... [which] debunks many of the Woodward [Veil] claims."

Strong, I&NS 8.2, calls the book a "detailed and balanced portrait," and Powers, NYRB (13 May 1993) and Intelligence Wars (2004), 295-320, sees it as a "fine but unfootnoted biography." For the Economist, 5 Jan. 1991, reviewer, this work is "a telling biography based on a full understanding both of the man and the processes through which he was trying to work."

For Pforzheimer, from, this book was "[p]robably written too soon after the events to evaluate Casey's role fully, particularly in Iran-Contra." Nevertheless, its "well-written, chatty style, and considerable access to Casey family papers and support, render an important initial contribution, favorable to Casey as DCI." Wark, I&NS 7.2, also finds that the book came too close in time to its events for indepth analysis. Persico too often shows "authorial indecision and disengagement, and ultimately ... narrative and analytical superficiality."

Wildstrom, Business Week, 22 Oct. 1990, concludes that "though well written," Casey "is sloppily researched.... Persico's appraisal of Casey the spymaster would be more compelling had the author been more careful with his facts. Some of his errors are trivial.... But Persico also slips into more serious mistakes that badly undermine his credibility."

[CIA/Biogs & DCIs/Casey]

Persico, Joseph E.

1. "Casey's German Gamble." MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History 3, no. 1 (Autumn 1990): 70-77.

For anyone who does not want to read Persico's Piercing the Reich, this is an excellent short version of the penetration of Germany by American spies. While the effect of these activities on the broader war effort may be debated, their overall success -- at least, on the tactical level -- cannot.

2. Piercing the Reich: The Penetration of Nazi Germany by American Secret Agents during World War II. New York: Viking, 1979. London: Michael Joseph, 1979. New York: Ballantine, 1979. [pb] New York: Barnes & Noble, 1997.

Commenting on the 1997 reprint, Kruh, Cryptologia 23.1, finds that the author "recounts in thrilling fashion the perilous missions to penetrate Germany's formidable security.... [T]he main story is about one of the greatest counterintelligence coups of all time."

Pforzheimer notes that most OSS penetration operations "were tactical in nature, supplying important order of battle and targeting information from behind the German lines." This book "is the first real effort at considering these operations ... in their entirety. As such it deserves good marks." The officer directing these operations was Bill Casey whose first-hand account was published as The Secret War Against Hitler (1988).

For Constantinides, the book is "an interesting and well-researched study." However, he thinks that Persico "may have exaggerated the success" of these operations. "The lack of identification of sources ... is a weakness ... that could easily have been avoided."

[CIA/DCIs/Casey; WWII/OSS/Ger/Ops][c]

Persico, Joseph E. Roosevelt's Secret War: FDR and World War II Espionage. New York, Random House, 2001.

The Publishers Weekly reviewer, 16 Jul. 2001, says that Persico blends "anecdotes, speculations and documented facts into an exciting story of collecting and transmitting information in wartime.... [E]xamples are rife throughout the book, showing how Roosevelt's use of intelligence decisively shaped the war and helped define the peace that followed."

For Waller, IJI&C 15.4, the author "presents a most interesting new dimension to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's wartime administration." Persico "chronicles fascinating, little-known World War II intelligence operations in which Roosevelt took special interest." This is a "fascinating and well-researched" work. Kruh, Cryptologia 26.2, finds that "Persico provides a candid examination of Roosevelt's approach to intelligence.... This is an important book that provides much information on the key personalities who met with FDR and the issues they had to face."

Goulden, Intelligencer 13.1, sees Persico's work as "sprightly written and well sourced"; the author "provides an entertaining read." To Paseman, Intelligencer 13.1, this is "a book of substantial merit and importance.... Particularly useful and interesting are the accounts of the unusual spy networks that Roosevelt employed both to gather intelligence and influence events." The reviewer's only complaint is that "the footnotes are handled ... [in] a very unworkable way."

According to Ehrman, Studies 46.2 (2002), the author "provides a straightforward narrative of how FDR viewed and used intelligence.... None of what Persico relates is new or controversial.... The book also is padded and overly long -- Persico at times wanders off onto extended tangents, although his fluid prose makes for an easy read. The main value of Roosevelt's Secret War is that it provides a good introduction and overview of the subject."


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