A Brotherhood of Spies: The U-2 and the CIA’s Secret War by Monte Reel

I’ve seen Bridge of Spies. I’ve even seen Spies Like Us. What else do I need to know about the Cold War? But seriously, books like The Brotherhood of Spies are exactly why I read nonfiction. This work cuts through the history books, connects the dots, and fleshes out the story with entertaining profiles, facts, and dialogue.

A Brotherhood of Spies by Monte Reel is an expertly-paced look at the origins of the CIA and the development of the U2 spy plane. Told through the lives of the men integral to the project, Reel injects great tension and verve in his writing. He sets up and follows many vital conflicts of the time through his narrative: McCarthyism, the ethics of spying, traditional cloak and dagger tactics vs technological advancements, and old school military egos vs the young upstart scientists.

In light of the perceived missile gap and the panic of the space race, America’s spy craft was just not getting enough information through individual agents and sought to move the game into the air. Reel profiles four innovators of the era who were able to advance aircraft technology and get the pictures that would garner the best intelligence. Polaroid cofounder and optics expert Edwin Land was called upon to create and lead the group. Kelly Johnson was brought in as a expert in aircraft design from Lockheed. After his success in administering the Marshall Plan, Richard Bissell acted as an intermediary between the CIA, the White House and the project. And Frank Powers was the man who flew the plane that was knocked out the air and captured by the Soviets.

A Brotherhood of Spies tells the captivating story of the “marrying of espionage with high-tech innovation.” This is an essential read when trying to understand the original mission of the CIA, and the ethical and technological foundations of modern spy craft. Reel’s narrative poses several questions about the modern tactics of war.  An enlightening read.

5 out of 5 stars

Thank you to NetGalley, Doubleday Books, and Monte Reel for a copy for review.

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