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Wild Bill Donovan

3.51 of 5 stars 3.51  ·  rating details  ·  422 ratings  ·  88 reviews
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 art...more
Kindle Edition, 466 pages
Published 2011 by Free Press
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While this is a biography of William Donovan, it is also a look at the creation of the OSS and its record in World War II. At just shy of four hundred pages, more than 250 of them tell the story of the OSS.

The portrait Mr. Waller paints of “Wild Bill” is not entirely favorable. He brings out his flaws as a father and husband. Mr. Waller portrays Gen Donovan as a week administrator/manager, but a charismatic and dynamic leader. While he had problems with the senior leadership of the OSS, the rank...more
Steven Peterson
A good functional biography of the man who came to head the OSS during World War II (the precursor to the CIA). His early years in Buffalo formed his background. He rose from childhood in an Irish Family in the First Ward in Buffalo to becoming a leading attorney, a part of the elite of Buffalo, with a lovely wife. Life seemed assured for him. He had been heroic in World War I, being injured badly--and later receiving a Medal of Honor some time after the fact.

He attempted (not too successfully)...more
While ostensibly a biography of William B. ("Wild Bill") Donovan (1883-1959), this is also a history of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS; 1941-1945), the comprehensive American intelligence service reporting directly to the President that Donovan created de novo at FDR's request.
In the first 82 pages, Waller summarizes Donovan's first 58 years, including his childhood, education, marriage to Ruth Rumsey, service in WW I, in which he was wounded and earned the Medal of Honor, and his lega...more
Douglas Waller’s biography of Bill Donovan provides a look at one of the most influential people in the 20th century. “Wild Bill” was a decorated World War I veteran who turned lawyer/politician in the post war era. When World War II began Donovan turned spy at the outset convincing FDR to back an intelligence service that was distinct of J Edgar Hoover’s FBI and the various military intelligence operations at the time. Focused on spying, propaganda, research and sabotage the Office of Strategic...more
Quick! Name the current head of the CIA. Even if you could do it, you probably had to think about it. Today's spy chiefs keep a low profile.

Not so "Wild Bill" Donovan, chosen by FDR to head the CIA's predecessor, the Office for Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II. Donovan was a pretty flamboyant character, regularly appeared in Washington's gossip columns even during the war. A winner of the Medal of Honor (though he had to lobby for it) for his heroism in World War I, a successful tria...more
Frank Kelly
The United States proudly cherishes our pantheon of national heroes, men and women who have given everything – even their lives – to defend our Nation as well as the freedoms of others around the world when threatened by tyranny. Among them, there are few who stand out in what they have contributed and what they have suffered as William “Wild Bill” Donovan.

In his gripping new biography, Douglas Waller portrays this extraordinary man in all his glory – and foibles. In essence, Waller makes clear...more
A good bio gives you the whole truth about its subject, warts and all. Waller's book certainly does that with both Donovan and the OSS. Almost as fascinating as the thrilling spy tales are the epic (and all too familiar) bureaucratic battles that Donovan had to fight both to get the OSS up and running and keep it going over the objections of budgetary bean counters and political enemies. His personal war with J. Edgar Hoover makes for entertaining reading (after Donovan's death Hoover spread a r...more
Paul Pessolano
William Joseph Donovan was born of poor Irish Catholic parents, married into a wealthy Protestant family, and became the founder of the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), which became the forerunner for the CIA.

I don't know if Donovan was more nationally motivated, career driven, or obsessed with success, but whichever one you want to choose could very well fit his life. Then again it may have been a combination of all three. He was so driven that he literally gave up his family for his ambitio...more
An Odd1
"Wild Bill Donovan" (1883-1959) by Douglas Waller denies vindictive rumors but mainly criticizes. Builds slowly, parents, family, trawls geographically through regions assigned to OSS Office of Strategic Services. Dull, not thrilling. Judgemental, negative.

If he cried after half his men died in the Great WW1, men were loyal, women swooned, then why are most quotes criticisms? If "October 1917 was the last time they would be truly man and wife" p20, why take "a three-month Mediterranean excursion...more
This is a fascinating, behind the veil look at Bill Donovan, a man whose limitless energy and belief in the value of an intelligence service led to today's CIA. Through voluminous research, the author tells a very three dimensional story of "Wild Bill" and, acknowledging his great shortcomings, paints a singular American hero that is inspirational.

Before wandering into this book, I'd advise readers to read the Acknowledgments. These are often a list of names with little relevance except to those...more
Mal Warwick
It’s said the spying is the second oldest profession, though I suspect that peeping Toms, who are spies after all, predated prostitutes. But no matter.

In later years, this profession of indeterminate age has been dignified with the French term, espionage. That way it sounds more civilized. But in the modern era, espionage has been anything but civilized. And in its American incarnation, we owe a good part of its unsavory reputation to the imagination of Wild Bill Donovan, the larger-than-life su...more
Jim Gallen
When we think of World War II our thoughts often turn toward battles, generals or admirals and occasionally statesmen, but how often do we think of spies? A reading of ”Wild Bill Donovan” makes us realize that spies deserve more attention.

Donovan was a unique character. A Medal of Honor winner in World War I, he was a Republican corporate attorney in Buffalo who dabbled in politics before reaching his pinnacle during World War II. With American entry he became Director of the “Office of Strategi...more
The book was ok. After reading "Devil in the White City" and "Destiny of the Republic" I had an expectation for a modern historical based book; this book, while interesting, did not live up to those expectations. I felt that the author was disjointed in his writing, starting a paragraph about one subject and ending with another for example, "Some of his gadgets were comical. Lovell had gland experts produce female sex hormones an agent could inject into vegetables..." only to switch mid paragrap...more
Wild Bill Donovan's was a name that I had heard, but didn't really register much with me. The OSS, however, was mythical in its power and scope and was the "precursor to the CIA". Turns out the OSS was somewhat less powerful than I imagined, and Wild Bill turns out to be a somewhat middling bureaucrat of the war era, despite winning a lot of medals for his efforts in two World Wars.

That I was left less than awed by Donovan is probably due to [Author: Douglas Waller]'s straight-up coverage of the...more
This book is written by a newspaperman, and it shows in the way he presents Donovan's life. A bookmark in the index, or a chart is needed to keep all the characters straight, which is one glaring flaw of the book. Waller throws a massive amount of information and names at the reader over 300+ pages, which is understandable from a factual and historically-accurate perspective, but serves as a reminder that this book is, in my opinion, for students and serious appreciators of American espionage hi...more
Larry Hostetler
Long but good read. A long 389 pages, this biography reveals much that about Wild Bill Donovan that can't usually be covered in non-biographies. Seemingly even-handed, neither a panegyric nor a hatchet job, the book recounts numerous stories as it covers the life of this amazing and controversial man. The only person to receive our nation's top four medals, he is presented as deeply flawed yet just as highly accomplished. While best known for creating the OSS, the wartime ancestor of the CIA, he...more
He earned medals in WWI and was in and around most of the hot spots of WWII. He met and dined with many of the leaders of his time. He was a ladies man who flew almost anywhere at the drop of a hat and littlerally ran into and through enemy fire. As a lawyer he represented Mae West and negotiated with Benito Mussilini. He founded and headed an agency that broke into embassies, ran brothels, printed counterfeit money, had an agent in Burma who beheaded those who crossed him and spied on Churchill...more
Sharon Buchbinder
This book provide an unflinching, warts and all look at an American hero. A larger than life man, Donovan was a visionary and powerful advocate for modern spy craft and intelligence at a time when our Secretary of State said, "Gentlemen don't read each other's mail." I appreciated the depth of research it took to bring this detailed story to life. I highly recommend to any student of WWII and the role of intelligence in a modern era.
I was a little disappointed not in the book I guess but n wild bills life. I am a big fan if WEB griffin and he has I think 3 book series based on the OSS and I know there all fiction but they still create a larger than life character in your mind. Wild bill did seem to be larger than life though just not like I pictured I was upset that there was no OSS operations in Argentina which was my favorite series from griffin. Wild bill had an interesting life for sure and I assume this book doesn't ev...more
An interesting yet troubling read about the man President Roosevelt asked to start up the OSS during WWII. The OSS was the father of today's CIA. This book shows that often truth is stranger/better than fiction. Bill Donovan, to me, was not a person to be liked but he was committed to making the OSS a success during the time it was in operation.
Really well researched biography of William Donovan. Not only did the book discuss his role in WWII but his military background from Cavalry to winning the MOH during The Great War. While he still today has many controversies surrounding his legacy, in can't be an disputed that he created America's first global intelligence agency. While he had many detractors during his life, from J E Hoover to President Truman he did accomplish alot. Not only did the book document his pre-OSS career but is pos...more
I listened to the book. I'll probably buy a copy to read. I'm not a WWII history buff, but thoroughly enjoyed some of the stories about spies and politicians. I sat up and took notice when they talked about the Soviets taking grain from the Balkans and technology from Romania following the war.

I recommend this book.
Harvey Smith
I really enjoyed this book. It give one a perspective of one man's idea that he pursued to establish a government agency to give the government information on which to base decisions. It shows all the people involved, from the bottom to the top, as normal, yet flawed people, who were trying their best to get a job done....winning WWII. It also explains where the CIA came from.

Bookmarks Magazine
Readers were generally satisfied by Waller’s take on “Wild Bill,” especially since (according to most critics) no adequate biography of the man was previously available. But the positive reviews often came with caveats. For example, several reviewers noted that the book should be read not as a complete history of the Office of Strategic Services but as a biography of a fascinating, even great, man. Other reviewers asked what Donovan’s life means in the context of contemporary struggles over espi...more
Extremely interesting history

A complex and interesting read that gives an insight into a complicated man and his actions. Not only is it colorful in its telling of events in Donovan's life but gives a good insight into what created a powerful institution.
Darren Sapp
William Donovan operated in that second tier of WWII leadership. He had access to all the major leaders and ran an organization of clandestine and guerilla operations across the globe. Waller’s written a great one about this somewhat flawed but dynamic leader and how the OSS played a major role in WWII victory and birthed the CIA.
This is a biography of OSS founder Wild Bill Donovan, a native of Buffalo NY he was a Republican politician who was tapped by FDR to run the Office of Strategic Services during WWII. This details the trials and tribulations what he had to go through to set up the OSS. The bureaucratic infighting with both the Department of Defense and the FBI. It details the great successes and failures and gives both the positives and negatives of Donovan. A good look at the founder of Central Intelligence in...more
Why did I read this? you may be thinking. Since when did you become fascinated by World War II era espionage? Well, that is the beauty of Wild Bill, here. This is a really interesting book about a character who is truly worth the read. I admit there was some skimming, because I could not keep track of every single historical figure that came along, and I think there could have been some streamlining there (this is one of those books that makes you realize how characters from real life get mooshe...more
From a Buffalo born and bred blue blood to a leader in the war spy vs. spy intrigue business. Built a business out of finding about others business when it mattered most, the ramp up to WW II.
Robert Risher
The info hit me like high caliber bullets at close range with a massive impact yet passing right through. The author avoids any use of drama or personality in favor of a strict presentation of facts, and I suspect much of the writing will be lost on me in the long run due to its dullness, though time will tell. I would still recommend the work for its information alone, as it would serve to be a great reference piece for content related to the OSS. I would likely rate it higher but for its inter...more
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