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Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  10,624 ratings  ·  1,071 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 July 1st 2007 by Doubleday Books
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AJ Jonathan Haslam, "Near and Distant Neighbours: A New History of Soviet Intelligence"

Christopher Andrew & Oleg Gordievsky, "KGB: The Inside Story of It…more
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]

All of these recommendations come from this guy's Reddit comments
Ryan Scherer In short, yes they were involved in shady shit all around the globe. If you liked Legacy of Ashes, then check out A Great Place to Have a Wear. It's a…moreIn short, yes they were involved in shady shit all around the globe. If you liked Legacy of Ashes, then check out A Great Place to Have a Wear. It's about the CIA's 'secret war' in Laos during the Vietnam War, and essentially created the blueprint for how they were able to push US interests in areas we shouldn't/couldn't be on the record pushing.(less)

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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
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
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
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
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
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
Helena of Eretz ✰
When I see, “the History of...” something, I expect the actual history of it.

While this book was extremely well-researched, some claims that were provided had only a basis in conjecture and no actual proof.

In addition, rather than giving the actual history of the CIA, the author only provides an 800-page critique of the agency. I prefer learning history that is based in fact, not having a political agenda. While this book was certainly interesting, it was too politically biased to be enjoyable
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 ferre ...more
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
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:
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
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
Sotiris Makrygiannis
Jan 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: internet, audio-book
the bottom line of this book is the following, no matter how much technology one might have, the human factor is still and would be the number 1 issue in Intelligence, gathering, analysis, and execution of a plan. CIA understood that one needs not only linguists to translate communication but understanding the context of the discussion and probable outcomes. Georgios Tenet, a true American hero, tried to correct this by focusing on local analysis, all previous directors failed on creating a reli ...more
Apr 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
I mean, wow. I knew about most of the big events covered and the CIA's involvement in so much pot stirring and nation-changing and election-stealing abroad, but it was jaw dropping to hear about what they weren't doing during all this time: their core mission of collecting intelligence. I think a lot of conspiracy theorists are terrified of the CIA--especially abroad, but this book makes clear that yes, they should be worried, but also they've given the agency too much credit. They do not have e ...more
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
Aug 14, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: calibre, politics, 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.
Angela H.
Feb 11, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: didnotfinish
I was disappointed in the quality of the book.

I was really looking forward to learn about the legacy of the CIA and earnestly attempted to finish listening to the audiobook. I ended up listening to about 55% of the book for the following reason -

1.) The research is extensive but seems to support one biase- CIA leadership is flawed, and lies were invented to cover up for the failed missions or high fatality.

2.) The flow of the reading was monotonous and choppy. There was consistency of "sing
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
This book is critical of the CIA the way a good government centrist might be. It has reservations at a clandestine agency and its screw-ups on behalf of the "national interest" but it mainly criticizes it for its mistakes and some of its illegal activities. If one wants to see its true effects on the ground which are way direr than mere foreign policy blunders I would recommend "The Jakarta Method". Because when the agency is most effective is when it is most dangerous for ordinary people on th ...more
Mar 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book is a big bold project. Covering the history of this agency in this way might not be feasible for 550 pages.

The author discusses the shifting mission of the agency and the ongoing debate of spies vs. gadgets. He shows how the agency was not (always) rogue, since both Democratic and Republican presidents authorized some of its most controversial actions and lied about them.

Weiner shows how the CIA was founded to provide intelligence and analysis. Intelligence operations grew from droppin
Sep 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: espionage, history
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
Dec 14, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Once upon a time, a little band called Van Halen put out a music video that had a bunch of quotes sprinkled through it. One of them was, "Right now, our government is doing things that we think only other countries do." Now, I was raised in a very patriotic family with many soldiers and veterans that believe in America, which for us meant trusting that the government tries to do the right things to protect its citizens and ensure that democracy flourishes. I know this sounds ultimately naive, bu ...more
Dec 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
While sipping my morning coffee I stumbled upon the following news: Miss USA made condescending remarks about Miss Vietnam and Miss Cambodia at this year’s Miss Universe competition! The fault of Miss Vietnam and Miss Cambodia is that they do not speak proper English but their mother tongue only. As it turns out Miss USA speaks as many as one language - English, which is her mother tongue. Well, what could I say after such shocking revelation? I am sure Miss USA must be a gorgeous beauty who was ...more
Dec 08, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, politics
This was a riveting book about the CIA and the state of intelligence operations that was at once both disturbing and fascinating.
Tom Johnson
LEGACY OF ASHES: The History of the CIA by Tim Weiner. 606 pages of text; 172 pages of notes, many of which were more interesting than the text.

A review of the many failures of the CIA; from the Truman administration on through most of the second of Bush 43's two terms. The book is not so much shocking; as much as depressing. Weiner presents a decent assessment of the struggles of American Intelligence; however, this is way too large a subject to be handled by a one volume work of 778 pages. Whi
David Bjelland
Mar 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: muckraking, history
Legacy of Ashes wages an odd sort of crusade - usually, righteous exposés assert the villainy of their chosen subjects, but LoA is far more interested in the CIA's incompetence. There's a fatal mix of hubris in there as well, and certainly, the agency's legacy wouldn't be nearly as ashy if its leaders had been realistic about its capabilities, but Weiner's commentary is more like a parent despairing of their child's failure to launch than an editorialist trying to spark moral outrage - Weiner ma ...more
Mar 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book has an obvious message; the CIA is and has been entirely useless throughout their history. Is this true, or is it the opinion of the author bleeding through? With that in mind, this book still fascinated me by tearing away the facade of mystery surrounding the agency and giving it a human (and likewise, faulty) image. Like many others, when I thought of the CIA I thought of dashing spies and covert masterminds, running intrigues across the globe and dealing in secrets. In reality, it s ...more
Josh Friedlander
Nov 08, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: modern-history
It's easy to make fun of the CIA's myriad failures, embarassments, and miscalculations, but it's fun too. So much so that George Tenet, who presided over the agency during the Iraqi WMD fiasco, cited this Teddy Roosevelt quote in his retirement speech:
It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and
Mar 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
I knew very little about the CIA before reading this book. I now am in possession of a wide variety of anecdotes about it. Not only has the agency has done a boat-load of immoral things, but it also was generally mismanaged and incompetent. Weiner lays it all out in painful detail.

I will caveat the review with the fact that I don't have a basis of knowledge about the topic, so Weiner may be very biased.

I listened to the audiobook, and think that reading the print copy would probably be a bette
John Maag
Aug 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An entertaining read of a history of incompetence and waste of money mixed with how difficult it is to overhaul our current state of intelligence gathering and evaluation. It seems like most of the time the leaders of the agency did more to protect their own positions and tell presidents what they wanted to believe. One has to wonder what the world and this country would be like without all the meddling and flushing of money that occurred in the CIA's history. An impressive collection of notes f ...more
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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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