Thomas Powers’s books include The Man Who Kept the ­Secrets: Richard Helms and the CIA and Intelligence Wars: American Secret History from Hitler to al-Qaeda. (June 2019)


The Fog of Ambition

Richard Holbrooke and Kofi Annan at the United Nations, New York City, October 2000

Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century

by George Packer
“Almost great” is George Packer’s measured judgment on the life and character of the American diplomat Richard Holbrooke, who was trying to broker an end to the war in Afghanistan when he died suddenly in 2010. Holbrooke left the war pretty much as he found it, and peace is no closer now, nearly a decade later, but that isn’t what explains the cruel precision of Packer’s judgment. It’s the man. Holbrooke had the serious intent, the energy, the friends, the wit, and even the luck needed to accomplish great things, but he fell short. Packer circles the question of why in his new biography, Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century, but the force of the man survives the interrogation.

The War Without End

An Afghan soldier praying near Tora Bora during fighting against the Taliban, December 2001

Directorate S: The CIA and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan

by Steve Coll
What may someday be remembered as the First, or the Great, or the Endless American-Afghan War is now entering its seventeenth year. Three days after the attacks in September 2001 that made the war inevitable, the CIA officer Cofer Black told a roomful of analysts at the agency’s Counterterrorist Center …

The Nuclear Worrier

The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner

by Daniel Ellsberg
Daniel Ellsberg in his youth and Daniel Ellsberg in his age are the same man—a born worrier quick to spot trouble, take alarm, and issue warning. He is best known for worrying about the American war in Vietnam, which time in the war zone convinced him was a crime, and for doing what he could to bring it to an end. In that case he copied and illegally released a huge collection of secret documents about the war, which came to be known as the Pentagon Papers. But Vietnam was not the first or the biggest thing that worried Ellsberg after he went to work in his late twenties as an analyst for the RAND Corporation in 1959. His first and biggest worry was the American effort to defend itself with nuclear weapons.

The Big Thing on His Mind

William Faulkner in front of his house in Oxford, Mississippi, 1947

William Faulkner: A Life Through Novels

by André Bleikasten, translated from the French by Miriam Watchorn with the collaboration of Roger Little
It would be a grave mistake for anyone trying to understand race in American history to overlook the novels of William Faulkner. Beneath their literary complexity can be found the clearest statement by anyone of the core abuse that has driven black–white conflict since slavery times, but first you have …


Down the Path of Obsession

Charlie Hunnam as Percy Fawcett and Tom Holland as Jack Fawcett in James Gray's The Lost City of Z, 2016

James Gray’s film The Lost City of Z is distinguished by three things—a kind of ethnographer’s fascination with the behavior of men in groups; beautiful photography of the forest lushness of the Amazon basin, roughly two-thirds the size of the United States; and the driving force it gives to Percy H. Fawcett’s determination to do something that would dazzle the world.

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 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.