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The Devil's Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America's Secret Government

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  1,849 ratings  ·  261 reviews
An explosive, headline-making portrait of Allen Dulles, the man who transformed the CIA into the most powerfuland secretivecolossus in Washington, from the founder of and author of the New York Times bestseller Brothers

Americas greatest untold story: the United States rise to world dominance under the guile of Allen Welsh Dulles, the longest-serving director of
Hardcover, 704 pages
Published October 13th 2015 by Harper
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Will Byrnes
We often forget how fragile a creation democracy isa delicate eggshell in the rough-and-tumble of history. Even in the cradle of democracy, ancient Athens, rule by the people could barely survive for a couple of centuries. And throughout its brief history, Athenian democracy was besieged from within by the forces of oligarchy and tyranny. There were secret clubs of aristocrats who hired squads of assassins to kill popular leaders. Terror reigned during these convulsions and civil society was
This book reminds me of an incident, many years ago, in our town's courthouse. A young man stood accused of refusing to pay alimony to an unwed young mother's baby. The young man alleged that he was not the baby's father. That was long before DNA-testing came into play. To prove his point, he secretly asked all his friends to testify that they also slept with the girl. The honorable magistrate proved his worth by ordering them all to pay alimony until the child reached the age of 21, or finished ...more
Jan 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Whenever it is said that the CIA or the mafia and the CIA killed JFK, no name is ever associated with it. It is as though some leaderless operators managed to carry off this major crime and cover up all on their own. This biography shows how Allen Dulles had the motive and the means, the attitude (a law unto himself) and the experience (he successfully toppled governments and destroyed critics). You see this as a culmination of everything he had engineered to date.

David Talbot begins by showing
Ian Divertie
Oct 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
It was depressing, I need to think about this before I write a full review. Two thoughts that did come through were that: 1. I need to donate more money to Bernie Sanders presidential campaign today! 2. I'm 60 years old, my parents and grandparents generations created this mess, all staunch Republicans, which among them actively participated in making this disaster and which were just dupes?
Finally, this does sort of finish off a lifetime of reading books and magazine articles about the JFK
Dec 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Very much enjoyed this book. Entertaining, albeit incredibly disturbing (that is if everything claimed in this book is proven to be true!).

I have to offer this statement first: when it comes to CIA history, the deep state, and the history of the Kennedy assassination, in many respects I'm a blank slate. I don't know many of the facts, many of the details. I'm inclined to believe the worst though (those who operate in the shadows often have little checks on their power, no accountability to the
Pete daPixie
The book is a colossus. Over six hundred pages of a powerful biography, eminently readable, meticulously researched and thought provoking. David Talbot in his follow up to his N.Y. Times bestseller 'Brothers:The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years' has produced an explosive exposition of the corruptive forces of power within the political deep state.
In this three part investigative probe into the career of Allen Dulles, Talbot documents the malevolent evil of the CIA, U.S. military chiefs, and
Nov 11, 2015 rated it it was ok
The subtitle of The Devils Chessboard says it all. This is a biography of Allen Dulles who served as Eisenhower and Kennedys Director of Central Intelligence (DCI). It is also a scathing attack on the CIA and the supposed secret government, what others have identified as the invisible government or secret state. Talbot hopes to convince his readers that Allen Dulles, a master spy disguised as a genial grandfather figure complete with pipe and tweed, was the sole force behind the rise of the ...more
Jan 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
When I first began to travel to Europe more than thirty years ago, I was initially surprised at how often pejorative comments were directed to me about the United States government and its "empire". Had David Talbot's book been available when I began my travels to some fourteen countries, I would have been better equipped to understand how America is perceived through an international lens. Talbot's comprehensive research and writing about the life of the former, controversial Central ...more
Anthony Ambruso
Nov 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A sobering tale of history

This is one of those books that yields mountains of information and enlightenment but leaves you feeling cold when you reach the end. I doubt none of it is false; I say with sorrow.
Oct 14, 2015 rated it it was ok
I am no fan of Allen Dulles, but the final third of this book is an unhinged screed. The rank speculation presented as fact only serves to undermine those contentions of the author that are supported by some evidence.
This is a long book that contains many purported facts about the life of Allen Dulles and the doings of his colleagues and contemporaries. I looked forward to reading it because it's an interesting and important era.

Unfortunately, this is a terrible book. I say this not because the author is an acerbic critic of his subject, and not even because it flows into theories about a conspiracy to kill first John F. Kennedy and then Robert Kennedy. Rather it's because the book is written as a polemic,
Sam  Hedrick
Mar 06, 2016 rated it liked it
I've been studying the Dulles Brothers since reading Steven Kinzer's excellent, The Brothers: John Foster, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War. I've since read Kinzer's similarly well-written books on the Iranian and Guatemalan coups on '53 and '54, All The Shah's Men and Bitter Fruit, respectively, as well as amassing a library of all the available scholarly work on the Dulles Brothers. Lest I appear as a conspiracy theorist, my research was undertaken in the process of writing my honors ...more
Apr 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an extremely well-researched history of Allen Dulles and how he affected the period of history from the end of WWII until his death. Dulles was an evil, psychopathic man who considered himself and the CIA, his agency, the real power in the United States. Even after JFK fired him for his machinations around the Bay of Pigs, during which he dared JFK to provide air cover and possibly Marine support for a mission that failed, and, had it been successful, might well have touched off WWIII, ...more
Reza Shaeri Shaeri
Oct 14, 2015 rated it did not like it
Even for someone who has a very negative opinion of Allen Dulles, and his role in the CIA, this book was too much. Talbot paints Dulles as a NAZI sympathizer and enabler, and somehow, that's hardly the worst of it. Much of second part of the book is dedicated to JFK assassination conspiracy ramblings, based on little more than hearsay and largely unsupported accusation.
Charlie Collins
Nov 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction

There is a ton of historical info here. Much of it is disturbing, if true, but I have to remind myself when reading books like this that I'm not 100% positive I am reading the facts.
David Drum
Feb 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
David Talbots The Devils Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of Americas Secret Government chillingly documents Allen Dulless role in the rise of what is often called the deep state, the unelected militaristic bureaucracy within the federal government that kills and tortures people, topples legitimate rulers, orders drone strikes, and basically does anything it wants to fortify the American empire without much oversight by elected officials.

The most startling claim in Talbots very
Malcolm Pellettier
Nov 13, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
I am by no means a Kennedy (conspiracy) buff - though my grade 7 teacher was well nigh obsessed with the matter - but this is pretty chilling stuff. As a novice, therefore, I'm in no real position to comment on the recently unearthed government materials; however, as a lawyer I'm appalled by the CIA's repeated ability to ignore subpoenas, destroy documents, and just generally withhold information from either congressional or executive oversight. It's also nice to realize that some unhinged ...more
Dana Clinton
Apr 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
In July 1957, Senator John F. Kennedy gave a speech which included the following predictions: "The most powerful single force in the world today is neither communism nor capitalism, neither the H-bomb nor the guided missile--it is man's eternal desire to free and independent. The great enemy of that tremendous force of freedom is called, for want of a more precise term, imperialism--and today that means Soviet imperialism and, whether we like it or not, Western imperialism. Thus, the single most ...more
David Tingley
Jan 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An essential book if you want to understand post -WWII American history.

The National Security Act of 1947 fundamentally changed America from a historian's perspective. Once the Government began to classify much of what it did as top secret, the official, overt public account of things came to be grossly insufficient. An understanding of the covert workings of the Secret Government became essential as well. David Talbot does an excellent job of supplying a narrative that connects Allen Dulles'
Mack Simpson
Feb 07, 2017 rated it did not like it
I never pick up a book, begin reading, then stop. I should have made an exception for this one.

What sells itself as a "history" is actually a thinly veiled conspiracy screed, dispensing with the "thinly veiled" long before it reaches its dual-Kennedy assassination climax, whose stories obviously drove its writing.

Talbot's pretense is laid bare, his bias shining brightly. "The Devil's Chessboard" is best found for purchase among the street hucksters and wide-eyed wanderers of Dealey Plaza.

Christopher Saunders
Ostensibly, The Devil's Chessboard is a damning biography of Allen Dulles, founder of the Central Intelligence Agency, and a history of that organization's early years. In fact, it's a familiar, thoroughly unoriginal rehashing of discredited conspiracy theories - especially those involving the JFK Assassination. Talbot's book starts on interesting ground, detailing for instance the Dulles Brothers' business and personal connections with Nazis before, after and even during World War II, ...more
James Giammona
Feb 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Totally insane and well researched dive into the behind the scenes political powers of the 1950s. The rise of the CIA, the rise of Nixon and McCarthyism, the era of the Dulles brothers as heads of the State Department and CIA, the prehistory of the CIA and its deep connections with Nazi officers and german conglomerates. Evidence in favor of Kennedy being assassinated by Allen Dulles.

If that sounds intriguing, go get it!
Jennifer Ozawa
Mar 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book is so incredible that I cant quite find a way to write a review. It chronicles the (mis)deeds of the CIA under Allen Dulles, who is one of the most evil f***ers to ever walk the earth. What is chronicled in this book is verifiably true, but so unbelievable that I wish it werent true. At any rate, this book is well-written and researched. ...more
Paul Conroy
Oct 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating look into the creation of the CIA and how its directors, especially the iconic Allen Dulles, fought covert wars abroad, assassinated foreign dignitaries, staged coups and how they eventually engaged in these activities at home in the US.
tl;dr Allen Dulles orchestrated the death of President John F Kennedy.
Bill Gartner
Oct 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is disturbing in the sense that it opens up thinking about the role the US plays in international politics, and in particular the role that our intelligence agencies have played. It is a well-researched story of Allen Dulles, the CIA chief during the Cold War. It details his life during WWII, and describes how he developed close associations with Nazi war criminals and leveraged their capabilities in the fight against communism. For him, communism was the ultimate evil and there were ...more
Govind Nagarajan
Jul 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
To say I was disappointed is an understatement. Not with the book, but with the events that happened over 50 years ago and how things would have been if they had been different. I can draw parallels with the events in the 50s and 60s to the present day, the media disinformation, the braying for blood by the neocons that seem to echo the vehement anti-communist stance of the 50s and the utter disregard for freedom and corporate dominance of the world. A must read about the men that quite ...more
Dec 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
Quite interesting. I found the initial section hard to estimate (audible doesn't provide footnotes), but once Nixon steps onto the stage, my intererst grew. The section on the JFK murder was mostly familiar stuff.
Nov 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Every American should read this book!
C. Michael
Mar 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I came to David Talbot's The Devil's Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America's Secret Government, not out of an interest in Cold War Spy Craft but as an ancillary corner to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. As it turns out, one subject is not separate from the other. In fact, they are co-interstitial, as malignant and normal tissue are, fed by the same circulatory and neural sources.

Talbot's book is also valuable in that it makes a legion of historical fiction written in
Max Nova
Dec 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Full review and highlights at

When Eisenhower became president, two brothers ascended to the commanding heights of the US foreign policy establishment. One brother, John Foster Dulles, was appointed Secretary of State. The other, Allen Dulles, became the head of the CIA. Or as he himself sinisterly called it, "the secretary of state for unfriendly countries." In "The Devil's Chessboard", David Talbot, founder of Slate Magazine, writes a biography of
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David Talbot is an American progressive journalist, author and media executive. He is the founder, former CEO and editor-in-chief, an early web magazine, Salon. Talbot founded Salon in 1995. The magazine gained a large following and broke several major national stories. It was described by Entertainment Weekly as one of the Net's "few genuine must-reads".

Since leaving Salon, Talbot has researched

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“Our country’s cheerleaders are wedded to the notion of American exceptionalism. But when it comes to the machinations of power, we are all too similar to other societies and ones that have come before us. There is an implacable brutality to power that is familiar throughout the world and throughout history.” 5 likes
“If Dulles could use a person, that person was somehow real for him. If not, that person didn’t exist.” 2 likes
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