Book Review: Shadow Warrior: William Egan Colby and the CIA by Randall B. Woods

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own]

Shadow Warrior: William Egan Colby and the CIA by Randall B. Woods is one of the best all around biographies I have read in a good long while. It tells the story of one of the most interesting figures of the past century in a very readable and enjoyable style.

The book is 478 pages of text separated into 21 chapters with extensive notes and a very good index. The chapters are organized chronologically and chronicle Bill Colby’s life from his birth in 1920 to his mysterious death in 1996.

Bill Colby is an interesting figure to say the least. He led an adventurous life from start to finish and was involved with most of the cataclysmic events of the middle years of the 20th century from WWII to Vietnam and the Arab-Israeli Wars. The only major event during his long career in which he was not deeply involved was the Korean War because he was stationed in Italy at the time.

In WWII he was a member of the OSS Jedburgh teams and fought in both France and Norway. After the war he spent a short hiatus on Civvie Street finishing Law School and working for a Washington D.C. law firm. With the creation of the CIA in 1949 he reentered government service and would stay at the CIA for the next 27 years eventually retiring in 1976 after a three year tenure as Director of Central Intelligence. He passed away in 1996 under somewhat opaque circumstances in a freak boating accident.

I personally found the descriptions of the way in which Colby’s personal and professional lives interacted to be extremely interesting. Also illuminating were the descriptions of the rivalries and competition for what the correct strategy in Vietnam should be. The wonder is not that we failed in Vietnam, it is that we managed to hold on so long with so many agencies working at cross-purposes to each other.

Dr. Woods has put together a strong biography of an interesting character. He does an outstanding job of piercing the veil of the intelligence world and the figures that inhabit it. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in understanding not only Bill Colby but the way in which the US intelligence community was formed and has operated in the wake of World War II.