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 nation’s first national intelligence agency) and the father of today’s CIA. He is the subject of Douglas Waller’s “Wild Bill Donovan: The Spymaster Who Created the OSS and Modern American Espionage” (Free Press, 2011). Waller will discuss and sign his work during a Books & Beyond program on Thursday, Feb. 24, at noon
in Dining Room A, located on the sixth floor of the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C. The event is sponsored by the Center for the Book and co-sponsored with the Library’s Manuscript Division. It is free and open to the public; no tickets are required.
Donovan introduced the nation to the dark arts of covert warfare on a scale it had never seen before. Journalist Douglas Waller has mined government and private archives throughout the United States and England, has drawn on thousands of pages of recently declassified documents and has interviewed scores of Donovan’s relatives, friends and associates to produce a biography of one of the most powerful men in modern espionage.
William Joseph Donovan’s life was packed with personal drama. The son of poor Irish Catholic parents, he married into Protestant wealth and fought heroically in World War I, where he earned the nickname “Wild Bill” for his intense leadership and the Medal of Honor for his heroism. After the war, he made millions as a Republican lawyer on Wall Street until FDR, a Democrat, tapped him to be his strategic intelligence chief. A charismatic leader, Donovan was revered by his secret agents. Yet at times he was reckless -- risking his life unnecessarily in war zones and engaging in extramarital affairs that became fodder for his political enemies -- and he endured heartbreak when family members died young.
Waller, a former veteran correspondent for Newsweek and Time, has reported on the CIA for six years. Waller also covered the Pentagon, the State Department, the White House and Congress. Before reporting for Newsweek and Time, he served eight years as a legislative assistant on the staffs of Rep. Edward Markey and Sen. William Proxmire. He is the author of the best-sellers “The Commandos: The Inside Story of America’s Secret Soldiers,” which chronicled U.S. Special Operations Forces, with a lineage tracing back to the OSS, and “Big Red: The Three-Month Voyage of a Trident Nuclear Submarine.” He is also the author of “A Question of Loyalty: Gen. Billy Mitchell and the Court-Martial that Gripped the Nation,” the critically acclaimed biography of the World War I general.
“Wild Bill Donovan” is also the subject of a discussion on Facebook. The new Books & Beyond Book Club is available at www.facebook.com/booksandbeyond/
. Here readers can discuss books, the authors of which have appeared or will appear in this series. The site also offers links to webcasts of these events and asks readers to talk about what they have seen and heard.
Since its creation by Congress in 1977 to “stimulate public interest in books and reading,” the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress (www.Read.gov/cfb/
) has become a major national force for reading and literacy promotion. A public-private partnership, it sponsors educational programs that reach readers of all ages, nationally and internationally. The center provides leadership for 52 affiliated state centers for the book (including the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands) and nonprofit reading-promotion partners and plays a key role in the Library’s annual National Book Festival. It also oversees the Library’s Read.gov
website and administers the Library’s Young Readers Center.