Thomas Powers is the author of The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard Helms and the CIA (1979), Heisenberg’s War: The Secret History of the German Bomb (1993), Intelligence Wars: American Secret History from Hitler to al-Qaeda (2002; revised and expanded edition, 2004), and The Confirmation (2000), a novel. He won a Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting in 1971 and has contributed to The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Book Review, Harper’s, The Nation, The Atlantic, and Rolling Stone. His latest book, The Killing of Crazy Horse, won the 2011 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for History. He is currently writing a memoir of his father, who once told him that the last time he met Clare Boothe Luce was in the office of Allen Dulles.


Girls and Indians

A frame from Garrett Price's White Boy, November 5, 1933

Garrett Price, who drew hundreds of cartoons and a hundred covers for The New Yorker, also created a long-forgotten comic strip called White Boy, now republished in its entirety. The hero was just that, a slender, nameless lad who left everything familiar when he was captured by Indians, given to a woman whose own son had been killed by whites, and adopted into the tribe.

The Charms of George Armstrong Custer

George Armstrong Custer, right, with his captured West Point classmate Confederate Lieutenant James B. Washington and an escaped slave after the Battle of Fair Oaks, or Seven Pines, Virginia, May 31–June 1, 1862
The nineteenth-century cavalry officer George Armstrong Custer, who was a general at twenty-three and dead at thirty-six, has probably been the subject of more books than any other American, Lincoln excepted. All until now move swiftly through the brilliant feats of arms of the Civil War career that made Custer …

A Tale of Woe and Glory

Mató Topé: Battle with a Cheyenne Chief, 1833
The horse is the first great fact in the lives of the Plains Indians during their glory years; the next is disease, especially smallpox, pneumonia, cholera, and measles, which decimated the Plains tribes in a wave of epidemics beginning pretty much at the moment Spanish explorers arrived looking for rumored cities of gold.

The American Hero

Former Navy SEAL and expert sniper Chris Kyle, Dallas, Texas, April 2012
If the guys are tired of talking football at a bar near a military post where enlisted men from elite military units do their drinking on a Saturday night, you might get an argument going with a different sort of question, like what, exactly, was the greatest single rifle shot …

Texas: The Southern Baptists in Power

First Baptist Church, Waco, Texas, 1990; photograph by Hiroji Kubota
“Bible Belt” is a phrase coined by the writer H.L. Mencken, who placed it first among the inventions of which he was vainest, followed by “booboisie,” “smuthound,” and “Boobus americanus.” Together they declare what Mencken thought of the Bible-obsessed regions of the United States, and especially that region called the …

The World from the Other Side

A drawing from A Lakota War Book by Artist D, showing the killing of an American army officer and sergeant. Castle McLaughlin tentatively identifies Artist D as Crazy Horse.
In June 1876, Colonel George Armstrong Custer and five companies of the Seventh United States Cavalry were killed to the last man by Lakota and Cheyenne Indians on the hills overlooking the Little Bighorn River in what later became Montana. Americans are still asking how this could have happened, and …

The Book of Little Bighorn

The warring life of the Northern Plains tribes that resisted white invasion in the 1860s is the subject of A Lakota War Book from the Little Bighorn: The Pictographic “Autobiography of Half Moon.” The book is a collection of seventy-seven Lakota and Cheyenne drawings, accompanied by extensive analysis and commentary by the social anthropologist Castle McLaughlin. It will be published next year by Harvard’s Houghton Library, where the drawings were stored but little noticed for eighty years. What sets these drawings apart from others of their kind is the persuasive argument made by McLaughlin that most of the drawings, and the book as a whole, represent an Indian account of episodes during the conflict known as “Red Cloud’s War” (1866–1868), and that it may be possible to identify three of the artists.

Warrior Petraeus

American generals and their presidents have shared a common fate over the last seventy-five years; they are mainly remembered for their wars—presidents for the wars they pick to fight, generals for how they fight them. The last decade of David Petraeus’s career contained both of his wars—in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

The Weird Truth About Texas

Mitt Romney during a campaign stop at Southwest Office Systems, Fort Worth, Texas, June 5, 2012
Little suspense attaches to the outcome of the 2012 presidential race in Texas, which is all but certain to give its thirty-eight electoral votes—up from thirty-four in the last election—to Mitt Romney. Let’s just say certain. This is surprising because Mitt Romney was not designed by the God that made …

He Got the Big Things Right

Dwight D. Eisenhower and Nikita Khrushchev at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, September 1959
When the youngest man to be elected president of the United States was inaugurated in 1961, the contrast with his predecessor could hardly have been greater, and John F. Kennedy made the most of it. “Let the word go forth,” he said grandly at his inaugural, “…that the torch has …

In Watery America

Jonathan Raban, Elliot Bay, Seattle, Washington, 2007
Twenty years after following a woman to Seattle, the English writer Jonathan Raban is still unsure if the rainy city with its occasional glimpse of Mount Rainier is the place he was meant to call home. He likes the big trees, the “raw and bloody” sunsets, and the erratic tides—the “wateriness” of the place. But some things about the city irritate him—the way dinner parties are organized, for one thing.

‘In Such a Place, A Person Might Die in a Day’

Scenes from Kelly Reichardt's Meek's Cutoff

“Hell is full of bears,” says the dramatically hirsute trapper and explorer Stephen Meek in Kelly Reichardt’s recent film about emigrant travelers lost in the arid wastes of eastern Oregon in the summer of 1845. About a thousand waterless miles farther along—miles punctuated by Meek’s muttered complaint—the trapper remarks, “Hell is full of Indians.” But he’s not done yet. “Hell is full of mountains,” Meek notes, in a final report of what he has found in the hell called life that, we are invited to conclude, has included a lot of all three.

How They Got Their Bloody Way

Residents of Basra fleeing the city during the invasion of Iraq, March 30, 2003
Garry Wills does not tell us which came first in the conception of his new book—baffled wonder that American presidents got away with going to war in Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, and Iraq on their own say-so? Or the moment in late 2008 when then Vice President Dick Cheney …

Iran: The Threat

At a moment of serious challenge, battered by two wars, ballooning debt, and a faltering economy, the United States appears to have lost its capacity to think clearly. Consider what passes for national discussion on the matter of Iran. The open question is whether the United States should or will …

Iraq: Will We Ever Get Out?

There is a working assumption among the American people that a new president enters the White House free of responsibility for the errors of the past, free to set a new course in any program or policy, and therefore free—at the very least in constitutional theory, and perhaps even really …

What Tenet Knew

How we got into Iraq is the great open question of the decade but George Tenet in his memoir of his seven years running the Central Intelligence Agency takes his sweet time working his way around to it. He hesitates because he has much to explain: the claims made by …

‘The Biggest Secret’

###1. The challenges posed to American democracy by secrecy and by unchecked presidential power are the two great themes running through the history of the Iraq war. How long the war will last, who will “win,” and what it will do to the political landscape of the Middle East will …

An American Tragedy

One of the many complexities of the character of J. Robert Oppenheimer is apparent in his response to the discovery of nuclear fission in January 1939. “The U business is unbelievable,” he wrote to a colleague once he had satisfied himself that uranium atoms really did split when bombarded with …

Black Arts

“Chatter” seems too casual a word for what is arguably the most important single product of the mammoth American cyber-industrial establishment which gathers “communications intelligence,” commonly abbreviated as Comint. Intelligence professionals use “chatter” to describe the miscellany they acquire of the personal and operational communications of “persons of interest,” another …

The Indians’ Own Story

Among the nine hundred Indians, mainly Oglala Sioux, who surrendered to the US Army at Camp Robinson in Nebraska in early May 1877 was an eighty-four-year-old man who served as a tribal historian. His name is lost but his existence is preserved in a letter written by the post commander, …

The Election and America’s Future

For what has been called “the most consequential election in decades,” we have asked some of our contributors for their views.—The Editors   K. ANTHONY APPIAH Princeton, New Jersey If there’s one thing that supporters of the current administration insist upon, it’s that George W. Bush “is a …

How Bush Got It Wrong

No tyrannical father presiding over an intimidated household was ever tiptoed around with greater caution than is the figure of President George W. Bush in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s fat report of its investigation into the scary stories about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction cited by the President as …

The Failure

This is a moment of crisis for the Central Intelligence Agency—the second in the half-century since it was established in 1948 primarily to serve the president. Directors of central intelligence are now confirmed by the Senate before they can take office, and they are required to report on their activities …