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Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  7,908 Ratings  ·  826 Reviews
For the last sixty years, the CIA has managed to maintain a formidable reputation in spite of its terrible record, burying its blunders in top-secret archives. Its mission was to know the world. When it did not succeed, it set out to change the world. Its failures have handed us, in the words of President Eisenhower, “a legacy of ashes.”

Now Pulitzer Prize–winning author Ti
Hardcover, 1st Edition, 702 pages
Published June 28th 2007 by Doubleday (first published January 1st 2007)
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Nick Jonathan Haslam, "Near and Distant Neighbours: A New History of Soviet Intelligence"

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Jonathan Haslam, "Near and Distant Neighbours: A New History of Soviet Intelligence"

Christopher Andrew & Oleg Gordievsky, "KGB: The Inside Story of Its Foreign Operations from Lenin to Gorbachev"

Christopher Andrew & Vasili Mitrokhin, "The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB" [though I'm told it's more of a textbook and is very dry]

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Community Reviews

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Michael Finocchiaro
I enjoyed Legacy of Ashes a little less than Enemies by the same author. Not that it is not fascinating and horrifying, just that perhaps it painted such an abysmal picture of the agency - probably deserved, I know - but did not really point to things they do right or should do better.

The Central Intelligence Group (the predecessor to the CIA) was created in the wake of the end of WWII by President Harry Truman in order to focus the FBI on internal surveillance and investigation and have an int
Jul 18, 2011 rated it liked it
This is a superbly reseached work and tells the shadowy tale of American foreign policy from the late 40's to the present day. But it is really a 700 page indictment of how bad a government agency can be.

The one thing the CIA did well was give money away, BILLIONS of dollars spent with a slim margin of return at best, and at worse it became clear that the CIA had literally been conned out of hundreds of millions by other states and even individuals.

But any work of journalism, to be regarded as
May 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
Attention crazy people! If you are one of those poor souls who thinks that the Central Intelligence Agency is reading your thoughts and/or manipulating your brain waves I have good news for you. You can take off your aluminum foil hat and stop trying to pull out that tooth with the tracking device. Here it is:

The CIA is too incompetent to do any of the things you are worried about. Seriously.

After reading Legacy of Ashes, I’m amazed that we weren’t taken down by the Soviets during the Cold War
Tim Weiner deserves enormous credit for amassing such a huge and detailed body of information for us to look at and judge the CIA. He writes history the way I prefer to read it: chronologically. When characters appear before or after their moment in the limelight, Weiner tries to keep them in context of events happening contemporaneously. This is a huge aid to both our understanding and to our judgment. That having been said, this was a difficult book to read/listen to because of the poor assess ...more
Oct 19, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
The idea of a Central Intelligence Agency is quite a good one and I do understand why the US might want such an organisation. There are lots of nations in the world and some of them have very good reason to dislike the United States (they hate your freedom, your freedom to bomb them into the dark ages) and so it is a pretty good idea for the US to have some idea what these nations are up to. Are they building weapons of mass destruction, for example, and if they are what for? Not everyone that b ...more
Dec 27, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: american-history
Sometimes I think the CIA is kept around just so all those old movies and Tom Clancy books will make sense. Because really, from start to finish, the Agency has proven a monumental failure.

The title Legacy of Ashes comes from President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who hopelessly battled the Agency throughout his eight years in office. Undoubtedly, his inability to change the CIA was partially responsible for his famous parting shot: the military-industrial complex speech.

Author Tim Weiner agrees with
Nov 04, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Every American citizen
Written by a writer who has won the Pullitzer Prize for his work on National Security for the New York Times, this is the first ever comprehensive, on the record, history of the CIA. Every interview in the book is on the record, including 10 Directors and over 100 agents. With newfound access to thousands of recently declassified documents, and extensive notes, this is the best history of the CIA you're likely to read.

This is a devastating book. The experience of reading it reminded me of the e
Mar 03, 2010 rated it liked it
Oddly enough, it was The Looking Glass War that early on opened my eyes to the fact that intelligence work was not conducted with the hyper-competency and machinelike efficiency with which it was depicted in most fiction. When it comes to the Western intelligence agencies, one would think, with a seemingly bottomless budget and access to vast congeries of technology, weaponry, and personnel - state-of-the-art all - there would be few secrets, allied or enemy, incapable of being swiftly ferrete ...more
Aug 06, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Legacy of Ashes is founded on three premises.

1. The CIA is incompetent. The author gathers plenty of ammo to back this one up, to the point of downplaying the agency’s successes and highlighting its failures. He still makes a compelling argument that the CIA’s track record isn’t good.
2. The CIA’s dual functions – gathering intelligence and covert operations – are fundamentally at odds with each other. This is obvious: covert operations thrive on secrecy, not openness. On a more practical level:
Dec 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics
This book is fantastic and something every American should read. It isn’t just a history of the CIA but a history of America’s epic 20th century failures. It’s a laundry list of every asshole move our government has made in the past 60 years, and almost everything we’ve done has been an asshole move. When will we learn that we can’t kill our way to where we want to be as a nation? Like the man said, all we are saying is give peace a chance.

Now people will hold up the killing of Bin Laden as a gr
فهد الفهد
إرث من الرماد

هذا كتاب طويل، جاف ومفصل، والأسوأ من هذا كله أنه ترجم بطريقة زادته تعقيداً، إن تجاوزت هذا كله وقرأته كاملاً، فستجد بين يديك صورة أخرى لم تتوقعها، صورة لوكالة المخابرات الأمريكية تختلف تماماً عن ما قرأته في الروايات الخيالية، وما شاهدته في الأفلام الهوليودية.

فالمخابرات هنا، جسم غريب ظهر في الحكومة الأمريكية أثناء الحرب العالمية الثانية، وظل لسنوات يعاني من فهم مكانه ودوره، عامله الرؤساء باستخفاف، طالبه بعضهم بالمستحيل، بينما لم يلتفت له البعض الآخر، جهاز فشل في الكثير من العمليات ا
Justin Evans
Mar 28, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: history-etc
A five star topic, with five star research, does not a five star book make. I give Mr. Weiner one star for this 'book,' which is not a book at all. It is a collection of research notes that would be better titled "What the CIA did after the second world war to ruin the world for most people, including its own agents."

Though Weiner has done a great job of bringing them together, there's no 'organization' to the facts. The title of each chapter is a quote from someone taken from that chapter; eac
Dec 23, 2010 rated it really liked it
Damning history of the CIA and its failures in both foreign and domestic involvement. Some areas still obscure and lack context, but overall cohesiveness of the book does not suffer too greatly for it.
Aug 14, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: politics, calibre, usa, ebook
53rd book for 2017.

A damning and illuminating history of the first 60 years for the CIA, from its founding in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, until shortly before President Obama took office.

The book lists a litany of failures by the CIA, but more damning is the moral repugnance of much of what the CIA did over many decades, with the knowledge of successive presidents, to undermine or damage other nations (including multiple democracies) that were not seen as on the US's side.
Aaron Crossen
Apr 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
A sprawling, fierce work of history, scholarship, and journalism. Markedly pessimistic in tone, Tim Weiner chronicles the often tragic history of America's once revered intelligence service. What he finds is that the the CIA has failed in its fundamental mission – to gather, analyze, and disseminate intelligence –  for the better part of a century.

Weiner argues that the agency has suffered from and still suffers from several cancers. First is the propensity of its directors to bend to the polit
Sep 12, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Dwight D. Eisenhower, were he still with us.
The title of Tim Weiner's tome about the CIA, "Legacy of Ashes", is a quote taken from a comment Dwight Eisenhower made about what he was leaving behind for subsequent presidents. Ike felt he had left a broken and ineffectual intelligence agency far removed from the reality of what America needed. In "Legacy of Ashes", Weiner proves Ike right. Starting with the 1947 birth of the Central Intelligence Agency, Weiner takes us through intelligence bungle after intelligence bungle. Today, everyone is ...more
Mar 12, 2008 rated it liked it
despite being both wildly entertaining and wildly informative, this book catches a three-star rating for all that it lacks. the subject matter requires the full-on multi-volume robert caro approach... weiner's 514 pgs just can't suffice. he skims over so much, leaves out so much necessary and vital information, that as much as i enjoyed it i cannot go above three stars. moreover, i had two fundamental complaints:

1) his conclusions are waaaay too linear. okay, you're writing a book on the CIA, an
Sep 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, espionage
Wow. What an amazing insight into one of the most secret government organizations in the US. What a slap in the face to the American public how inept the CIA was. I was sick of the number of times I read 'we were not prepared' or 'we were completely blindsided'. There was no originality nor quality of leadership at the CIA for many years. The abuse that the Kennedy administration sought to use the CIA for in setting up foreign policy is sickening to this day and is a complete outrage. It should ...more
Jan 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
كم مرعب من المستندات ، مرعب من الخداع، مرعب من الوهم بقدرة جهاز السي اي ايه
يكشف الكاتب زيف هذا الوهم منذ نشأة هذا الجهاز وكيف كان الروس يتفوقون عليه ويسبقوه بخطوات ويحصي اخفاقات هذا الجهاز منذ نشأته ودوره في كوبا وكوريا الشمالية والبلقان وإيران ولبنان وأخيرا العراق حيث أكبر وأقرب اخفاقاته لنا ، والتي أدت إلى مقتل الآلاف وانفاق المليارات على وهم الأسلحة الممنوعة عند صدام والتي روج لقرار الحرب بناءأ عليها
ما يلفت النظر اكثر بالنسبة لي في الموضوع هو وصول الكاتب الأمريكي لهذا الكم الهائل من المعلوم
Jan 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Wow! What an amazing book! I think that high school history teachers could give their students a chapter and have them fact check Weiner's writing - what a fantastic technique to engage students in the details of our government, the limits of power, the abuse of power, the importance of an engaged citizenry. Possibly my favorite non-fiction book. As for the gist of the book, again, wow!

So, I've remained engaged in the core topics of the book and have expanded my reading to include the CIA's rev
Jul 11, 2012 is currently reading it
Shelves: nonfiction
If you're a naive, flag-saluting American citizen, you're probably going to react to reading this book by reflexively denying the claims in it and, as you turn the pages, muttering stupid, naive shit to yourself like "Oh, surely not" and "That can't be true" and "This guy has it in for the CIA".

LBJ regarded the people protesting the Vietnam War as enemies of the state and used the CIA to spy on them. The CIA was ordered to spy on American citizens, and did so as part of something
A.J. Howard
Legacy of Ashes greatest successes and greatest faults are both attributable to its author, Tim Weiner. Weiner is an incredible journalist. Legacy of Ashes is extremely well-researched, you can really tell that Weiner has spent the better part of a lifetime covering the events and the people covered in the book. I would argue that this is the kind of book that requires at least 20 years of familiarity with the subject. Weiner provides an adequate survey of the history of the CIA, covering the ma ...more
Aaron Million
The history of the CIA is chock full of incompetence, moral obtuseness, unethical and often illegal behavior, scandals, squandering of large amounts of money, and the needless sacrifice of countless human beings to missions that were realistically not feasible. It is no small feat that Weiner is able to uncover as much as he does considering the secretive nature of the agency and the fact that it is supposed to operate clandestinely. Weiner must have cultivated his sources for many years in orde ...more
Hafsa Yusuf
May 15, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: سياسة
إرث من الرماد – تيم واينر

- كتاب يعرض أعمال وكالة الاستخبارات الأمريكية؛ السي. أي. أيه. من 1945 إلى 2007، تاريخ من الإجرام والفشل. الكتاب خالٍ من التحليل، سردي، غير موجه، لا يصيغ الصورة الكلية ويقدمها للقارئ.
- الكتاب سطح دوافع إنشاء وكالة السي. أي. أيه. إلى السيطرة الخارجية ومقاومة الشيوعية، وفي مرحلة لاحقة: محاربة الإرهاب.
- أيضاً، الكتاب لم يشر أبدأ إلى دور أو علاقة الصهيونية بهذه الوكالة.
- الكاتب يتحدث منذ البداية عن عدم الفهم وعدم المعرفة عن مسؤولي وكالة السي. أي. أيه.
- الكاتب يتحدث من أول الك
Oct 20, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sonyreader
It's a very interesting read, from a historical perspective, at any rate. Some of the conclusions are suspect, at least in my eyes. One has to wonder, if the CIA was such a bungling, inept, rigid, clueless and blind institution, then why weren't we at the mercy of other countries' intelligence departments? Especially when most were, according to the author, so much better than ours was.

On the other hand, I can very well imagine it being a great piece of intelligence misdirection if everyone is c
Aug 05, 2007 rated it really liked it
a blistering and exhaustively-sourced condemnation of the CIA, an agency (as Henry Kissinger put it) has a reputation of ruthless efficiency that does not in any way reflect reality, which is persistent incompetence. Not only has the CIA failed in the vast majority of its covert operations, it also failed in the most rudimentary of its functions - providing the President with accurate intelligence upon the intentions and capabilities of America's enemies.
Dr. Barrett  Dylan Brown, Phd
Mar 06, 2008 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: Plebian Shit-Eaters
Crap. Total Crap. Utter propaganda.
Oct 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
Admit nothing. Deny everything.
Kamil Salamah
Mar 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
The best book I have read on the subject.

Sadly an agency created over 60 years ago to place America in par with the best intelligence services in the world, after WWII, FAILED more times than can be numerated. Weiner has done a great balanced review of the subject with total impartiality.

The American Empire has yet to master the fine art of espionage and continues to rely on foreign hands to build its knowledge to forge foreign policy, national strategic programs etc. PATHETIC. As such, many c
May 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: good-stuff
Truly an eye opener, if the cia was reviewed on performance they would have been shut down in the 50's. The clueless intelligence agency is a template for how not to run an espionage and intelligence agency. The amount of money the funnelled into other governments and countries and the warlords and dictators they have funded over the 60 years covered in this book is atrocious and there self serving pompous attitude to dictating foreign policy is sickening, most of the problems the states have ha ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
  • The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America
  • Spycraft: The Secret History of the CIA's Spytechs, from Communism to al-Qaeda
  • From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776
  • State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration
  • A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon
  • The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive & the Secret History of the KGB
  • Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001
  • The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals
  • Firewall: The Iran-Contra Conspiracy and Cover-up
  • The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War
  • Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq
  • Whiteout: The CIA,Drugs and the Press
  • Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America's War With Militant Islam
  • One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War
  • Intelligence in War: Knowledge of the Enemy from Napoleon to Al-Qaeda
  • Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA 1981-1987
  • See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism
  • Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War
Tim Weiner reported for The New York Times for many years as a foreign correspondent and as a national security correspondent in Washington, DC. He has won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting and the National Book Award for LEGACY OF ASHES: The History of the CIA. His new book, out in July, is ONE MAN AGAINST THE WORLD: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon.
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“Intelligence fails because it is human, no stronger than the power of one mind to understand another. (480)” 4 likes
“Washington was a small town run by people who believed that they lived in the center of the universe.” 3 likes
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