Synopses & Reviews
World War II commando, Cold War spy, and CIA director under presidents Nixon and Ford, William Egan Colby played a critical role in some of the most pivotal events of the twentieth century. A quintessential member of the greatest generation, Colby embodied the moral and strategic ambiguities of the postwar world, and first confronted many of the dilemmas about power and secrecy that America still grapples with today.
In Shadow Warrior, eminent historian Randall B. Woods presents a riveting biography of Colby, revealing that this crusader for global democracy was also drawn to the darker side of American power. Aiming to help reverse the spread of totalitarianism in Europe and Asia, Colby joined the U.S. Army in 1941, just as America entered World War II. He served with distinction in France and Norway, and at the end of the war transitioned into Americas first peacetime intelligence agency: the CIA. Fresh from the fight against fascism, Colby zealously redirected his efforts against international communism. He insisted on the importance of fighting communism on the ground, doggedly applying guerilla tactics for counterinsurgency, sabotage, surveillance, and information-gathering on the new battlefields of the Cold War. Over time, these strategies became increasingly ruthless; as head of the CIAs Far East Division, Colby oversaw an endless succession of assassination attempts, coups, secret wars in Laos and Cambodia, and the Phoenix Program, in which 20,000 civilian supporters of the Vietcong were killed. Colby ultimately came clean about many of the CIAs illegal activities, making public a set of internal reportsknown as the family jewels”that haunt the agency to this day. Ostracized from the intelligence community, he died under suspicious circumstancesa murky ending to a life lived in the shadows.
Drawing on multiple new sources, including interviews with members of Colbys family, Woods has crafted a gripping biography of one of the most fascinating and controversial figures of the twentieth century.
"A lifelong CIA counterinsurgency specialist, William Egan Colby (1920 1996) was a central figure in America's post-WWII clandestine operations. University of Arkansas history professor Woods (LBJ: Architect of American Ambition) delivers an engrossing account of Colby's contentious life and career, from early intelligence recruit during the Second World War to his suspicious demise in the Chesapeake Bay. As CIA station chief in Saigon during the Vietnam War (where 'he had been the only high-ranking official to move about at night without an armed escort'), Colby was skeptical of the efficacy of conventional strategies in fighting communism, and eventually oversaw the controversial and brutal Phoenix Program, which sought to systematically cripple the Viet Cong. Later, he served as director of the CIA under presidents Nixon and Ford at a time when it was roundly criticized as 'an Agency run amok,' though he did his best to usher in 'a new sense of openness.' Those efforts enraged many colleagues, and led some (including Colby's son Carl) to suggest his death was politically motivated. Scathingly critical of both the CIA and the government it served, Wood's thoroughly entertaining portrait reveals plenty of warts, as well as a thoughtful character, surprisingly liberal and sophisticated about the limitations of CIA derring-do. 35 b&w images." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
In Shadow Warrior
, eminent historian Randall B. Woods presents a gripping biography of one of the most fascinating and controversial figures of the postwar period: William Egan Colby. World War II commando, Cold War spy, Saigon CIA station chief, and eventual CIA director under Nixon and Ford, Colby played a critical role in some of the most pivotal events in twentieth-century history. Despite his strong commitments to global democracy and economic and social justice, Colby was also drawn to the darker side of American power. He ultimately came clean about many of the CIAs illegal activities and died under suspicious circumstancesa murky ending to a life spent in shadows.
Drawing on multiple new sources, including numerous interviews with members of Colbys family, Woods has crafted a definitive biography that brilliantly captures the moral and strategic ambiguities of the postwar world.
About the Author
Randall B. Woods
is John A. Cooper Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Arkansas. Author or coauthor of ten books, including LBJ: Architect of American Ambition
and Fulbright: A Biography
, which won the Robert D. Ferrell Prize, Woods lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas.