In This Review

The Last Hero: Wild Bill Donovan
The Last Hero: Wild Bill Donovan
By Anthony Cave Brown
Times Books, 1983, 891 pp

Based on unique access to General Donovan's files, this is a colorful biography but not much of an addition to serious history. The selective accounts of OSS derring-do seem often built up beyond their true importance, while key questions of organization and overall performance are scanted. In the end, Donovan emerges as a peripatetic chief with great capacity for inspiring men and triggering ideas, but little for judging either. It is hard to avoid the inference that his zest for travel and for participating personally in every major allied military operation contributed to the security doubts that kept the OSS from being given access to Ultra, a critical limitation on its usefulness. Similarly, while the picture of J. Edgar Hoover is deservedly harsh, one cannot help feeling that Donovan left his flanks exposed constantly by avoidable errors. Still, he was a big man, and his emphasis on special operations left a lasting imprint on the later CIA.