With it appearing ever more likely that 2016 will feature a presidential battle of the political dynasties, with Republican Jeb Bush facing off against Democrat Hillary Clinton, readers might be intrigued to learn more about another political dynasty: The Dulles brothers. During the mid-20th century two brothers controlled much of America’s foreign policy. John Foster Dulles was the U.S. Secretary of State while his brother Allen headed the Central Intelligence Agency. Author Stephen Kinzer pens their fast-paced, eminently readable biography with The Brothers, highlighting a controversial era of nepotism, ambition, growth, and missteps.
Kinzer does a good job of detailing the contrasting lives and personalities of the two brothers and gets to the action quickly, revealing the important role of World War I on the lives of both men. By reading about the lives of the Dulles brothers one can get a good sense of the general flow of U.S. and European history in the early twentieth century, including the post-war 1920s and the effects of the Great Depression. When World War II breaks out, the exciting life of Allen Dulles helps reveals what made the man opt to be a permanent spymaster.
In portraying the brothers, Kinzer gives no quarter and shines a harsh spotlight. His critical lens reveals the personal struggles of each man, as well as those of the nation and its other leading political figures. I learned more about presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy than I previously knew and was interested to learn about the emergence of the non-aligned movement of developing nations in the 1950s and early 1960s. Kinzer goes above and beyond in pointing out where America lost political ground internationally by refusing to seize important opportunities and retaining a Euro-centric view of diplomacy and power.
The hardest-hitting part of the book is its detailed portrait of the Dulles’ brothers targeting of alleged enemies, beginning with Iran, and their fondness for planning coups. These were men of action, revealing an interesting past era when cloak-and-dagger appeared to go further than it does today. For the interested student of history, diplomacy, and espionage, the workings of the Dulles brothers are an important comparison and contrast to recent administrations. Links can be made to today’s War on Terror with the United States’ war on international communism in the 1950s, complete with questionable allies and unknown objectives.