|Secret Empire: Eisenhower, the CIA and the Hidden Story of America's Secret Espionage|
|pages||370 (including fun photos!)|
|publisher||Simon & Schuster|
|summary||A great historical thrill ride of the development of the U-2, the Corona satellite and more.|
In the early days of the Cold War, the United States knew almost nothing about the Soviet's military capacity and had to risk the lives of hundreds of airmen in flights over Soviet airspace. Eisenhower, a five-star general, understood both that the human cost was too high and that the cost of not knowing how many missiles and bombs the Soviets had was even higher. He trusted a group of businessmen, engineers and professors -- including Polaroid's Edwin Land, Lockheed's Kelly Johnson and MIT's James Killian -- to help solve the problem.
Taubman, deputy editorial page editor at the New York Times, is a talented storyteller with an eye for good anecdotes. He spoke to dozens of the men who flew the planes and built the satellites, as well as those with an inside line to the thinking of the President himself. Although the story lacks the human drama of a tale like "The Right Stuff," it has more life than expected from a story where the heroes are machines. Even readers with background knowledge about the military or intelligence systems will learn a lot about what went on in the crucial first decades of the Cold War, when technology took spying to new levels and perhaps prevented World War III. The book is largely based on documentation that was declassified in the late 1990s, offering a fly-on-the-wall view of what went on in crucial, highly secret meetings. The writing transports readers through closed doors, allowing them the relive the urgency of the era.
A truly fascinating aspect of the book is how some of America's greatest scientific achievements and achievers were either unknown or had some of their work supressed during their lifetime for national security. These guys are heroes for their work and it's too bad they couldn't be recognized back in the 60s. It's great to do it now.
Secret Empire also is relevant to the current situation, and Taubman touches on spying in the post-Cold War world. Washington eventually became too dependent on satellites and technological spying, at the expense of human agents who are much more effective against bands of terrorists. Still, the book makes obvious that satellites have rightly become an essential piece of the nation's intelligence battery. The story of how they got there in the first place is fascinating, and Secret Empire is the first book with access to classified documents that does justice to the story.
FMI: see the website at www.secretempirethebook.com which has some really cool original documents from the book's research.
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