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Cold Warrior

June 2024
1min read

Gentleman Spy: The Life of Allen Dulles


by Peter Grose, Houghton Mifflin, 641 pages .

Allen Dulles’s life, as this fat biography makes clear, both reflected and shaped the American century we still inhabit. Born in 1893 into a family of diplomats and high government officials, Dulles and his even more famous brother, John Foster, showed up in all the right places from the start. At the end of the First World War both attended the Paris Peace Conference; later they worked for the powerful Wall Street law firm, Sullivan and Cromwell; and eventually they stood at the ramparts of the free world, from their respective positions as director of Central Intelligence and Secretary of State. Peter Grose, a former executive editor of Foreign Affairs magazine and a New York Times bureau chief, never met Alien Dulles, but he tackles his subject’s professional and personal life in cool, graceful prose that serves him well as his defense against the charm of the man.

Grose’s story of the exhilarating World War II days of the founding of the Office of Strategic Services is as good as any novel—or better. The postwar period, when the two Dulleses grow into their careers as the classic cold warriors, is, in Grose’s measured recounting, less than heartening. By the end of Alien Dulles’s life, in 1969, we can see that what the author calls “the CIA’s propensities to dabble in the politics and social frameworks of other lands” may eventually bring it all down. “Since Alien had never shown aptitude or interest in the workings of a large bureaucracy, the centrifugal forces accelerated unchecked,” he writes.

The strength of Grose’s biography lies, however, not so much in its detailing of the good and bad times of a spy network as in its careful delineation of character and context and how these strands wove the world we live in.

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