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Need to Know: World War II and the Rise of American Intelligence

World War II buffs and spy buffs came together to welcome Need to Know into the world of books on September 6, 2022.


The first comprehensive history of the rise of American Intelligence in World War II is timely and relevant—because modern American intelligence took shape during the war that changed the country forever and because the 75th anniversary of the CIA is fast approaching. Before Pearl Harbor, America did not have anything like a central intelligence agency. Today some 18 intelligence agencies affect many aspects of life at home and abroad.


The book discusses the inner workings of American Intelligence before and during World War II: how it was little more than a fragmented cottage industry in 1940, with a few skilled craftsmen working here and there; how Japan was able to surprise and destroy the US Fleet at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941; how with British help the country surged forward, creating the various intelligence industries it needed to defeat the Axis and prevent an atomic Pearl Harbor in the future. The war foreshadowed the growth — and the growing pains — of the postwar years; Need to Know explores how many persistent controversies first took shape. From the White House to the beaches of Normandy, it is a riveting tale of codebreakers, spies and spymasters, counter-spies and commandos.

Initial reviews have been uniformly positive, even enthusiastic. Cipher Brief awarded the book a coveted four trench coats, its highest rating. (https://www.thecipherbrief.com/column/book-review/world-war-ii-and-the-rise-of-american-intelligence) In June Kirkus Review labeled Need to Know "an intriguing account about the seeds that would sprout into America's intelligence agencies" while Library Journal rendered its "verdict" on August 1: "Based on extensive primary research, this striking and compelling account should be read by anyone interested in … US intelligence … and special operations during World War II." Publishers Weekly predicted that "espionage buffs will be fascinated" by "Reynolds's scrupulous and well-rounded approach [that] reveals the good, the bad, and the reckless in the early days of U.S. intelligence."

Prominent readers have also weighed in. Barry Broman, the acclaimed author of Risk Taker, Spy Maker: Tales of a CIA Case Officer agreed that this "is an important book, extensively researched and written with wit, full of anecdotes from Washington insiders. The painful morphing of OSS into CIA, warts and all, is especially entertaining with FDR setting the stage for 'Wild Bill' Donovan to clash with the FBI and the military establishment." Michael Morell, former Deputy Director and Acting Director of CIA, concluded that Need to Know is "the most thorough and detailed history available on the origins of [modern] US intelligence," likely to be "required reading" for students of intelligence for years to come.