I’ve been asked which is my favorite among the books I’ve written. I really find that question impossible to answer. The truth is that all my works are different and I have assorted reasons to like each one. Rather than just give you a list of books to order from I’m going to try and say briefly what the books are about and why I esteem them.
The Ghosts of Langley: Into the CIA’s Heart of Darkness
I had had it in mind to do a fresh overview history of the Central Intelligence Agency–none had been done in a decade plus lots of older stuff was now better known too. But I began writing as the CIA and the Congress began warring over the agency’s black prison and torture programs, and that fight showed Langley acting as if it were the overlord, and the congressional oversight committees peasants to be shoved aside at will. This became the genesis of The Ghosts of Langley In my earlier book Safe for Democracy I had written of congressional oversight versus executive management over the CIA and other agencies as a pendulum, where the balance swung back and forth over time. I suddenly realized that the hysteria of the war on terror had stuck the pendulum in a position of Congress having zero traction, while the George W. Bush White House, not wanting to be blamed for the torture, kept its hands off the project. In another, The Family Jewels, I had put a bit of this story, but at that point the Senate intelligence committee’s investigation of the agency remained ongoing and it appeared that President Obama would choose to protect the White House in preference to the CIA. Instead he backed Langley. As a result the CIA had a totally free hand. Its excesses have only been exceeded by its efforts to evade responsibility for what it did. This was the really important story and I reoriented the narrative to follow it. At that point I adopted the metaphor of “ghosts” to reflect the way that certain behaviors, procedures, and even arguments when faced with criticism, evolved at different stages of CIA history and have been revived again. I decided to trace this history by means of looking through the eyes of an array of CIA officers–some chiefs, some Indians–dreamers and schemers and meteors, whose exploits, emulated by others, inculcated the routine disdain for accountability that became evident in the torture controversy. The publisher has nominated this book for the Pulitzer Prize.
–“A riveting highlight reel of CIA’s greatest hits–and misses–over seven decades. Prados proves again that he is among America’s greatest chroniclers of secret intelligence.” –Tim Weiner, author of Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA and Enemies: A History of the FBI. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize.
–“John Prados is a one-man truth commission who wants to know three things–what the United States really wanted, really feared, and really did in the world since the birth of the CIA in 1947. The Ghosts of Langley offers a deep look into that history. His purpose is not to attack or defend but to confront what we know–and what we know, in Prados’ telling, in plenty.” –Thomas Powers, author of The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard Helms and the CIA, and The Killing of Crazy Horse.
–“John Prados, who knows more than anyone else about the CIA, has written a book that summarizes four decades of his research and relates a tale that is always gripping, often dismaying, frequently infuriating, and suddenly more timely than ever.” –H.W. Brands, Professor of History at University of Texas, Austin.
— “‘Know thy enemy’ is a mantra in the world of intelligence–which is why every CIA officer should read John Prados. The Ghosts of Langley is a relentless portrait of the Agency, crafted with vivid stories about its zealots, its ignored heroes and celebrated schemers. Prados has been writing about intelligence for three decades and now synthesizes his knowledge into a history not to be ignored.” –Kai Bird, a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer and executive director of the Leon Levy Center for Biography at the CUNY Graduate Center.
— “Writing with characteristic verve and passion and exploiting his unsurpassed expertise, John Prados has produced an account of the CIA’s origin, evolution, and behavior certain to engage and inform scholars, practitioners, and general readers. By focusing on individuals–the ‘great, the good, and the misguided,’ he brings the agency’s checkered history to life and ties it inextricably to the present.” –Richard Immerman, professor and Marvin Wachman Director Emeritus, Center for the Study of Force and Diplomacy, Temple University.
— “The American intelligence establishment’s yearning to outdo its rivals, both foreign and domestic, has produced a mixture of both genuine and comic-opera horrors that make for entertaining, if dismaying accounts such as this one.” —Publishers’ Weekly.
—The Ghosts of Langley offers a detail-rich, often relentless litany . . . It is an account that relies notably on documents . . . released by the CIA itself . . . . In the end The Ghosts of Langley can be read as a tartly worded, at times garrulous prayer that the CIA learn from and publicly admit its mistakes rather than perpetuate them in an atmosphere of denial and impunity.” —The Washington Post “Outlook”
Storm Over Leyte: The Philippine Invasion and the Destruction of the Japanese Navy
I wrote this book as the sequel to my Islands of Destiny. The earlier work, on the war in the South Pacific in 1942 and 1943, showed how Japan frittered away its advantages in World War II, and how Allied intelligence contributed, first, to achieving a kind of balance against superior Japanese military power; and then enabling an evolving Allied superiority to become decisive. In Storm Over Leyte the Allied advantage has become decisive, and Japanese naval officers rack their brains to find some device to hurt the Allied forces even a little bit. They come to the idea of suicide tactics, and design a plan in which every element is geared toward putting a strong Japanese surface fleet up against the Allied enemy. Storm Over Leyte also follows President Franklin Roosevelt’s decision to mount the invasion, General Douglas MacArthur’s effort to manipulate FDR, Allied intelligence realizing what the Japanese were up to, and the incredible battle action of what became the largest naval battle in history.
— “Aircraft on suicide missions? Ignoring intelligence? Unreliable sources? –9/11? No, the battle of Leyte . . . John Prados provides a box-seat view of both sides.” –James Bamford, author of The Puzzle Palace
— “An unprecedented look at the war within the war in the Pacific campaign. This is a must read.”–Mark Perry, author of The most Dangerous Man in America: The Making of Douglas MacArthur
–“The author is a first-class researcher who has mined intelligence records, as well as operational records, diaries and prisoner interrogations, and brought forth new new information and perspectives into the leaders and decisions that ended the Japanese fleet’s future as a formidable fighting force.” —Seapower
–“A gem” —Journal of Military History
— “Prados constructs battle narratives that are fluid, dramatic, and engaging–among the best this reviewer has ever read.”–David Sears in Naval History
— “Once again, John Prados has given us an essential study of events we thought we knew well”–Theodore F. Cook, co-author of Japan at War: An Oral History
— “The work is exceedingly balanced and provides detailed portraits of the personalities of the Japanese commanders, their understanding of events, and their decision-making processes.” — Publisher’s Weekly
— “A book every serious student of World War II will want.”– Kirkus Reviews
The US Special Forces: What Everyone Needs to Know
Oxford University Press has an unusual series of books with the collective title “What Everyone Needs to Know.” There are many, many subjects (fill in the blank, everything from China or Turkey to Cyberwarfare). The series is distinctive for its format, with texts that are short, college-bound paperbacks, and framed as a series of questions and answers. Oxford editor David McBride approached me about doing this book and it sounded like a timely idea. I’ve taken the basic history of Special Operations Forces and followed them from World War II days into the present. This covers everything from Darby’s Rangers to SOG in Vietnam, SOF in the Gulf War, and the many facets of the War on Terror. One element I’ve added to the publishers’ old formula is to insert a 32-page addition which is a “Who’s Who” of Special Forces. There’s also a discussion of training and the future of SOF. The US Special Forces has a very easily accessible text with something for anyone interested in the subject.
A Streetcar Named Pleiku: Vietnam 1965, A Turning Point
This “longform” (pamphlet-size, ebook) publication resulted from a request by one of my editors for something to mark the 50th Anniversary of the major American escalation of the Vietnam war. Thinking about it I realized that a Vietnam story which has remained untold all these years is that of the immediate antecedents of the U.S. bombing of North Vietnam. An Army helicopter unit at Pleiku, a base in South Vietnam’s Central Highlands, was attacked by Liberation Front forces in February 1965. President Lyndon Johnson ordered bombing of North Vietnam in retaliation. Some wondered whether the National Liberation Front was carrying out an early version of the Tet Offensive (of 1968), because there were other attacks associated with these events. A Streetcar Named Pleiku tells the story of the 1965 Tet, the Pleiku attack, and places these events in the context of what was happening in Vietnam at that time. It was a story that deserved to be told and has waited too long.
The Family Jewels: The CIA, Secrecy, and Presidential Power
This book evolved from one of the most notorious CIA “hot documents,” a mid-70s compilation of the details of intelligence abuses which insiders dubbed “The Family Jewels.” Upon finally getting it declassified in 2007 I realized that the intelligence agencies had actually replicated all the main abuses therein, and that what would be much more useful would be a study that linked past activities to present ones, looked for patterns, and framed a way to think about “intelligence abuse” in a democracy. The Family Jewels showed the old abuses not just repeated but extended to a global scale.
–A book “that feels like it has been ripped from the headlines.” –Kirkus Reviews, starred as an important book
–“Prados offers up a comprehensive and expertly crafted . . . synthesis . . . . Prados meticulously catalogues and forensically interrogates evidence that suggests the CIA has long played fast and loose with its own charter and the U.S. Constitution . . . . deftly weaving a litany of historic intelligence abuses into the narrative of contemporary debates.” Paul McGarr, University of Nottingham, H-Diplo
Vietnam: The History of an Unwinnable War, 1945-1975 (Bestseller! New in paperback!)
Hugely ambitious, Unwinnable War took the longest time to write. I was concerned that some recent histories were presenting the Vietnam war story without the nuances. These works argued that the United States had “won” the war but somehow contrived to throw the victory away. They accomplished that analytical feat by telling pieces of the story in isolation, not “revisionist” at all but actually neo-orthodox in accepting wartime U.S. government claims as true fact. I wrote Unwinnable War to show that gathering all the skeins of yarn together demonstrates time ran out on the U.S. war effort, and that a close evaluation reveals that the factors necessary to achieve victory simply were not present for the United States in Vietnam. Its publisher nominated this book for the Pulitzer Prize. Unwinnable War won the Henry Adams Prize in American History.
–“Prados directly engages, and, in many cases, demolishes a host of shibboleths about the war . . . . It may be the single most important book yet written on the Vietnam conflict.” –American Historical Review
–“This is the book we’ve been waiting for . . . this is the new standard. It really is as simple as that.” –Vietnam Magazine
–“An awe-inspiring achievement in epic form.” –Lloyd Gardner
Islands of Destiny: The Solomons Campaign and the Eclipse of the Rising Sun (Bestseller! New in paperback!)
Histories of World War II in the Pacific quite frequently repeat the trope, established very early, that the decisive campaign of that war was the one which led to the Battle of Midway. While I have no difficulty with Midway as a turning point, I feel its effect was to turn a situation of Japanese edge into one of equal advantage. The steady attrition of the Solomons, in my view, proved the truly “decisive” factor. In this climate, in which Japan still possessed superior military strength, Allied intelligence made the crucial difference, enabling forces to counter the Japanese time after time. I crafted Islands of Destiny to make that point, while filling in the Japanese side of the action, which is passed over lightly in most works on the subject. Of my books to date this was the easiest to write because the pieces fit together so nicely.
–“Authoritative . . . a powerful reminder . . . this book won’t disappoint.” –Wall Street Journal
–“With his storytelling’s rich depths and surprising perspectives, Islands of Destiny is essential reading for anyone interested in the Pacific war.” –World War II Magazine
–“John Prados is a clever and prodigious digger of historical fact . . . he offers a fresh and compelling account.” –Evan Thomas
Operation Vulture: America’s Dien Bien Phu (NEW! In e-book)
For the 60th anniversary of the climactic encounter of the French war in Vietnam, I undertook a complete re-write of Operation Vulture to go straight to an e-book format. Dien Bien Phu is most often treated as an episode in military history. Books that cover the American side of the crisis overwhelmingly focus on the diplomacy. Operation Vulture, which originally appeared under the title The Sky Would Fall, was the first work to meld the diplomatic and military action, and it remains the only one to deal directly with U.S. military operations in these events. The book treats the battle in sufficient detail to show the context for American activities, and it presents the thesis that President Eisenhower wanted to intervene in Indochina, not, as is often argued, that he worked to avoid doing so. Operation Vulture has fresh material on every aspect of the crisis, including American and French actions, the CIA and French intelligence, the opium trade, Viet Minh operations, Viet Minh-Chinese relations, French attempts to save Dien Bien Phu with an overland relief expedition, plus analysis of the importance of these events for American involvement in Vietnam. The new edition, for the first time, also has maps. It will be of interest even to readers of previous versions of this book.
–“The Sky Would Fall will surely be the definitive account of that earlier almost-but-not-quite intervention.” –Washington Post Book World
–“A detailed and readable study.” –Foreign Affairs
William Colby and the CIA: The Secret Wars of a Controversial Spymaster
The protagonist here, who rose to become the director of U.S. intelligence, in many ways became a tragic figure in espionage history. Colby’s watch marked a change of era, when the kinds of intelligence abuses documented in The Family Jewels surfaced, and the public and political reaction was to create a whole new framework for intelligence accountability. Colby, who had made his career in the Cold War CIA, would be caught between the forces of tradition and the wave of change. This book gave me the opportunity to write about the evolution of the CIA through the eyes of one of its most controversial characters.
–“An important contribution to intelligence literature.” –David Wise
–“This highly detailed look at one of the major spymasters of the post-WWII era is another intriguing work by the prolific Prados.” –Publishers Weekly
Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA
This is a book about CIA covert operations. Two decades had passed since I had first dealt with that subject in President’s Secret Wars. Not only were there new covert operations to cover, more had become known about the earlier ones. The new popularity of an argument in favor of conducting these operations—that they were about implanting democracy across the globe—struck me as wrongheaded and susceptible to a detailed refutation. I also wanted to focus attention on the American system for intelligence oversight, because that was being seen as purely a function of congressional committees, where it needs to be more precisely understood as a competition between the Congress and the presidential control mechanisms.
–“Prados is an extraordinarily tenacious researcher . . . This account of the ‘secret wars’ undertaken by the Central Intelligence Agency since its founding in 1947 is an impressive achievement.”—Lawrence Freedman, Foreign Affairs
–“This encyclopedic account of covert action from the first days of the Cold War to the last days of the old millenium should be must reading for all Americans pondering how best to cope with the Islamic threat in the twenty-first century.” –Douglas Little, Clark University.
–“Anyone who writes on the history of the CIA without taking into account Prados will be missing his cue.” –Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.
Les guerres secretes de la CIA
An able translation of Safe for Democracy, I loved the flow of the narrative in French, and appreciated the care which the translator took to explain American idiosyncrasies and oddities by means of inserting footnotes in the text.
America Confronts Terrorism (written and edited)
In the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks I felt there was a tendency for Americans to view them in isolation and out of context. I assembled a set of official documents and presented them in whole or in part with detailed introductions designed to provide background and context.
–“A superb volume of essays and documents that improves understanding of terrorism and its consequences.” —Choice
Presidents’ Secret Wars: CIA and Pentagon Covert Operations from World War II Through the Persian Gulf
The revelation of “The Family Jewels” ignited a host of investigations of U.S. intelligence activities. One of the more dangerous myths that threatened to implant itself was that the CIA had been a “rogue elephant,” careening wildly beyond all control. To probe this misperception I took one of the agency’s most important functions—covert operations—and examined the record since the agency’s creation. The story of CIA covert operations clearly showed that it served at the pleasure of the president all along the way.
–“A worthy and informative book.” –Washington Post Book World
–“This volume moves the study of covert operations to a higher and more sophisticated plane . . . . A substantial achievement.” –Intelligence and National Security
Lost Crusader: The Secret Wars of CIA Director William Colby
This was the original hardcover publication of the book currently titled William Colby and the CIA: The Secret Wars of a Controversial Spymaster.
The Soviet Estimate: U.S. Intelligence and Soviet Strategic Forces
During the high Cold War the strategic nuclear competition between the United States and the Soviet Union held center stage. At various times advocates on both sides of the political spectrum argued that U.S. intelligence had systematically failed, either in appreciated how strong or how weak were Soviet nuclear forces. In addition, the public perceived “intelligence” as a unitary entity, and did not understand either the difficulties of procuring the data necessary for intelligence estimates, or the problems associated with interpreting that information. The Soviet Estimate zeroed in on all those aspects of the intelligence problem. It was my first book.
–“The Soviet Estimate is certain to become a standard work in the field. It’s hard to think of an important intelligence issue in the past twenty-five years that Prados does not cover.” –Thomas Powers, The Atlantic Magazine
–“John Prados’s superb study may dishearten those who contributed to the nonexistent ‘bomber and missile gaps’ . . . and the drawn-out antiballistic missile debate . . . .But Prados deals fairly with those who erred . . . . [a] remarkable book.” –Military Review
Normandy Crucible: The Decisive Battle that Shaped World War II in Europe
In an essay surveying the intelligence literature on the Second World War, where I was asked to propose what should be the next great task for authors and historians, I argued that enough of the secret record of intelligence has now been revealed to permit us to put the intelligence factor into our campaign histories. The panoply of intelligence activities reveals much about certain military decisions and why they were made. The challenge is to integrate these two threads in their full richness. I wrote Normandy Crucible (and, later, Islands of Destiny) to illustrate what can be gained from this endeavor. Normandy Crucible covers the Allied breakout after the D-Day invasion and seeks to explain how the German army could recover so quickly from what had been a huge military disaster.
–“A fresh point of view . . . Prados has done his homework, writes fine battle descriptions and makes a convincing case that events during the summer of 1944 predicted the subsequent course of the war.” –Kirkus Reviews
–“Prados reframes the Normandy Campaign and, in so doing, tells us the story we do not know.” –Mark Perry, author of Partners in Command: George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower
The Hidden History of the Vietnam War
In my work on the Vietnam war I have published a large number of articles in various magazines and journals. Hidden History collects many of those articles in one place, starting with an unknown episode at the time of Dien Bien Phu, when American airmen became Viet Minh prisoners of war, then through the full length of the American war, to include the crucial battles of Tet, Khe Sanh, and Hue; the invasion of Laos, the mining of Haiphong harbor, and more. Individually the chapters demonstrate how a succession of military techniques proved insufficient to defeat the Vietnamese adversary. The conclusion argues that, in Vietnam, victory was an illusion.
–“Prados analyses some of the so-called lessons of Vietnam to determine whether they might have made a difference in the war’s outcome. . . . What he finds is high expectation thwarted by Third World reality.” –The Washington Post Book World
–“Deceptively readable.” –The Jerusalem Post
–“A rare fresh look at the war in Southeast Asia. Instead of trying to cover it chronologically from start to finish, Prados has illuminated the ‘high’ points and dilated on issues moving into eclipse.” –Publishers Weekly
In Country: Remembering the Vietnam War (written and edited)
Missing from many overview histories of the Vietnam war is the perspective of individuals. In Country sets out to make up for that by means of collecting the reminiscences of American GIs, naval officers and airmen, nurses, civilian entertainers, intelligence officers, and Vietnamese from both sides. This selection shows a wide range of opinions as well as demonstrating the hard realities of life in the field. I introduced the excerpts with commentaries that situate the action in its time and place, and I provided a capsule overview of the war, but I leave the participants to tell their own stories.
–“John Prados performs a valuable service . . . He puts faces on those who bore the burden of the bloody fighting on both sides.” –James H. Willbanks, author of Abandoning Vietnam
La Guerre de Vietnam
This is the excellent French translation of Vietnam: The History of an Unwinnable War, 1945-1975, which is distinguished by its contextualization for French readers as well as its effort to explain American idiom and U.S. government structures.
Inside the Pentagon Papers (written and edited with Margaret Pratt Porter)
One of the key events in the American politics surrounding the Vietnam war—as well as a landmark evolution for observers and historians of the conflict—would be Daniel Ellsberg’s 1971 leak of the “Pentagon Papers,” a massively documented internal study of U.S. government decisions on Vietnam that had been compiled for the Secretary of Defense. The leak would be accompanied by government efforts to suppress the story by prohibiting the media from reporting it. To mark the 30th anniversary of the Pentagon Papers, the Vietnam Veterans of America organized a conference. Margaret Pratt Porter and I invited participants who had worked on the study itself, including Daniel Ellsberg; Senator Mike Gravel, who had had a key role in the leak; lawyers who had labored on the “prior restraint” legal case, journalists who had reported on the Pentagon Papers, and commentators to analyze the events. Inside the Pentagon Papers not only includes the text of their recollections, it contains transcripts of the White House telephone calls in which Nixon administration officials reacted to the leak, an evidentiary analysis of the claims of secrecy advanced by the government, and a review of the laws governing secrecy in America.
–“Exciting as history and compelling as law, Inside the Pentagon Papers gives us the secret documents from this famous case—and shows how thin the government’s legal and factual arguments actually were.” –Anthony Lewis
–“This is an important story that needs to be told to new generations. Prados and Porter serve scholars by updating the account, including newly released information on the role of participants.” –Parameters: Journal of the Army War College
Valley of Decision: The Siege of Khe Sanh (with Ray W. Stubbe)
This is a detailed campaign history of one of the most crucial engagements of the U.S. war in Vietnam. Valley of Decision takes the story of Americans at Khe Sanh from the earliest days of their presence, right up through the siege of 1968 and events thereafter. It treats Khe Sanh from the tactical, operational, and strategic points of view and tells the stories of many participants. Ray Stubbe, my co-author, was chaplain to one of the battalions at the siege and kept a detailed diary. In addition to this we compiled numerous interviews, contemporary correspondence, and a huge pile of formerly secret documents revealing the strategic decisions surrounding the battle. In my view Valley of Decision remains the foremost account of this key action.
–“Perhaps the final link between Dien Bien Phu and Khe Sanh is that Prados and Stubbe have replicated in quality Fall’s study on that earlier battle, in a book which is surely destined to become the classic account of the siege of Khe Sanh.” –Douglas Porch, Journal of Military History
–“Here is the definitive history of Khe Sanh, built on interviews, documentary research, and the personal experience of one of the authors.” –Publishers Weekly
Combined Fleet Decoded: The Secret History of U.S. Intelligence and the Japanese Navy in World War II
Among the mysteries of the Second World War is how the Japanese Navy—at the outset technically advanced, with war experience in China, and more powerful than the U.S. Pacific Fleet—could be defeated so absolutely. In Combined Fleet Decoded I set out to answer that question by focusing on intelligence. During the 1980s many of the key records of Allied codebreaking against Japan were being declassified for the first time. These documents opened up the possibility of showing in detail the role of intelligence in a host of individual battles—far beyond Midway, where the role of intelligence had been acknowledged very early on. Combined Fleet Decoded went beyond radio spies to show the contributions of photographic intelligence, prisoner and document exploitation, technical intelligence, coastwatchers, and more. It reinterpreted the history of the Pacific war, and prefigured my work in Islands of Destiny and Normandy Crucible. The publisher nominated this book for the Pulitzer Prize. It also won the annual book award of the New York Military Affairs Symposium.
–“Prados’s aim is nothing less than a comprehensive history of intelligence in the Pacific War.” –The New York Times Book Review
–“A masterful account.” –United States Naval Institute Proceedings
–“This book is a gem.” –Naval War College Review
The Blood Road: The Ho Chi Minh Trail and the Vietnam War
Much of the strategy of the American war in Vietnam, on both sides, involved support to the insurgency in South Vietnam. For the Americans the idea of “isolating the battlefield” based itself on the notion that the insurgency would putter out without outside aid. For the North the creation and expansion of the Ho Chi Minh Trail meant getting help to the South. The Ho Chi Minh Trail seemed a perfect lens through which to view the entire history of the war. The subject also appealed to me as a natural sequel to Valley of Decision. The book turned out to be a pleasure to write and remains unmatched on its subject.
–“The most comprehensive treatment yet of the Ho Chi Minh Trail and its place in the war.” –The Washington Post
–“From now on it will be irresponsible for any Vietnam war scholar to deal with the strategy of this still controversial conflict without referring to Blood Road, a thoughtful, painstakingly researched book.” –MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History
–A sophisticated, eye-opening text that anyone interested in the disputes surrounding the war should read.” –Peter Faber, War in History
The Sky Would Fall: The Secret U.S. Bombing Mission to Vietnam, 1954
This book from 1983 marked the original publication of my diplomatic-military study of the Dien Bien Phu crisis which now exists in Operation Vulture.
NATIONAL SECURITY, INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, AND PRESIDENTIAL HISTORY
Rethinking National Security
This was my first venture into “longform” writing, an essay-style examination of an important subject. “National security” seems to me to have acquired unwarranted importance. The concept had been invented as a means to think comprehensively about the different elements required to defend the national interest. But it has morphed from a tool into a be-all-and-end-all. In Rethinking National Security I argue the primacy of national interest over national security and the need to return this concept to its original domain, before an overbearing national security state becomes unassailable.
How the Cold War Ended: Debating and Doing History
This book had two purposes. One was to take an important mystery and show how the historian, by using different tools, can illuminate events. The other purpose was the methodological one of helping aspiring historians learn their trade, not only by applying these tools but also commenting on aspects of crafting a research study, constructing a narrative, and so forth. For the historical subject I chose the end of the Cold War. Different schools of thought contest the reasons the Cold War came out the way it did. I used a “levels of analysis” approach, applying a succession of tools: the Great Man theory of history; institutional politics; Great Ideas; cultural history; imponderable historical forces (international economics and globalization); and military and intelligence factors. In the conclusion of How the Cold War Ended I use the results of each of these approaches to reassemble a narrative of the events of the time.
–“For those who have read one of John Prados’s past books, the quality of How the Cold War Ended will come as no surprise. It is expertly organized, exhaustively researched, and highly readable.” –On Point (Boston NPR) Reviews
–“For a quarter-century no student of the Cold War has brought broader knowledge or keener insight to the subject of superpower relations than John Prados. His gifts are on display again in this volume.” –H.W. Brands, author of American Colossus
Hoodwinked: The Documents That Reveal How Bush Sold Us a War
During the months before the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 I became increasingly suspicious of the Bush administration’s claims that the Saddam Hussein regime had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction and posed an imminent threat to the United States. This was long before the series of investigations and inquiries which established that the claims were, in fact, false. So much so that I prefaced this book by explaining that I am not a conspiracy theorist, rather that I was relating what the evidence showed. For this exposition I crafted a narrative of the Bush move to war and coupled it with a selection of the central speeches officials had made, plus reports and intelligence estimates. I annotated each of those representations from the Bush administration and showed—from previously declassified documents, technical knowledge, and open sources—how information had been manipulated to manufacture an Iraqi “threat.”
–“Prados provides a meticulous examination of documents with examples of how the administration manipulated language and evidence.” –Financial Times
–“Prados does a superb job of detailing not only the false statements but also the many subtle, yet critical, misdirections . . . . It is hard to read without becoming infuriated but it is worth it.” –Joseph Cirincione, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists
The White House Tapes: Eavesdropping on the President (written and edited)
Readers have long been fascinated by the fact that presidents installed audiotape systems at the White House and recorded their conversations. It seemed a wonderful idea to bring the public a selection of actual presidential conversations. I produced a book-audio recording set for which I chose foreign affairs and domestic politics conversations from each president who had taped himself, starting with Harry S Truman right through to Gerald Ford. For the book I wrote a detailed summary of the taping systems, how they were installed, who used them, and so forth. I commissioned full transcriptions of each of the recorded conversations and wrote introductory notes putting each of the selections in context. For the tapes, The New Press and I enlisted an audio expert to clean up the various conversations and produce the clearest recordings possible. The tapes appeared in a CD format accompanying the book. If you are interested in presidents captured in their own words, this is the collection for you.
–“History buffs will relish the unusual opportunity . . . to eavesdrop on behind-the-scenes . . . presidential conversations.” –Library Journal
–“Those interested in political history will find this book irresistible.” —Booklist
–“Prados’s admirable introductory essay traces the whole audio recording effort through seven successive presidencies . . . The real value of this evidence is the light it throws on the characters of the various participants.” –The Sunday Times (London)
Keepers of the Keys: A History of the National Security Council from Truman to Bush
The Bush in this title is the first President Bush, who held office after Ronald Reagan. Coming off the excesses of the Iran-Contra Affair, in which an actual covert operation was run from inside the White House, it seemed amazing that the National Security Council staff had never been the subject of an actual history, only of policy-oriented treatments of its role in government machinery. I wrote Keepers of the Keys to show how the national security adviser and his small staff, who actually have no charter in law, acquired such a grip on the reins of power in the United States that something like Iran-Contra became possible. This book deals in detail with storied figures like Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Walt Rostow and McGeorge Bundy, and it follows the NSC staff role on such issues as the Cold War, Vietnam, the arms race, and Central America. Its publisher nominated this book for the Pulitzer Prize.
–Prados’s review of the Kennedy and Johnson NSCs and the Vietnam debacle is itself worth the price of the book.” –The Christian Science Monitor
–“This book should be required reading for any informed debate.” –The New York Times Book Review
This was a crossover project incorporating my interest in both national security and in wargaming. The Pentagon makes quite broad use of wargame techniques, not only in military maneuvers but in computerized models of combat, “political-military” exercises—which are essentially role-playing games—and in straight-out simulations of potential military contingencies. At the height of the Cold War, U.S. projections for forces that might survive a Soviet attack, as well as military estimates of Soviet force vulnerability, were based directly on these kinds of models. Pentagon Games traced the origins and evolution of wargames, discussed their use in history, and examined the U.S. military’s use of these techniques in the 1970s and 80s. The book included several games designed specifically for inclusion in it, including a standard-type boardgame on the fall of Saigon, a decision-tree game on weapons system development, and a military budget-building game along the lines of Monopoly.
–“Prados gets right to the point with clear, hypeless prose and soon reveals his great . . . familiarity with wargaming.” –Strategy & Tactics