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Finks: How the C.I.A. Tricked the World's Best Writers (Or Books)
When news broke that the CIA had colluded with literary magazines to produce cultural propaganda throughout the Cold War, a debate began that has never been resolved. The story continues to unfold, with the reputations of some of America’s best-loved literary figures—including Peter Matthiessen, George Plimpton, and Richard Wright—tarnished as their work for the intelligence agency has come to light.
Finks is a tale of two CIAs, and how they blurred the line between propaganda and literature. One CIA created literary magazines that promoted American and European writers and cultural freedom, while the other toppled governments, using assassination and censorship as political tools. Defenders of the cultural CIA argue that it should have been lauded for boosting interest in the arts and freedom of thought, but the two CIAs had the same undercover goals, and shared many of the same methods: deception, subterfuge and intimidation.
Finks demonstrates how the good-versus-bad CIA is a false divide, and that the cultural Cold Warriors again and again used anti-Communism as a lever to spy relentlessly on leftists, and indeed writers of all political inclinations, and thereby pushed U.S. democracy a little closer to the Soviet model of the surveillance state.
Praise for Finks
"Listen to this book, because it talks in a very clear way about what has been silenced."--John Berger, author of Ways of Seeing and winner of the Man Booker Prize
"It may be difficult today to believe that the American intellectual elite was once deeply embedded with the CIA. But withFinks, Joel Whitney vividly brings to life the early days of the Cold War, when the CIA's Ivy League ties were strong, and key American literary figures were willing to secretly do the bidding of the nation's spymasters."--James Risen, author of Pay Any Price: Greed, Power and Endless War
"A deep look at that scoundrel time when America's most sophisticated and enlightened literati eagerly collaborated with our growing national security state. Finks is a timely moral reckoningone that compels all those who work in the academic, media and literary boiler rooms to ask some troubling questions of themselvesnamely, what, if anything, have they done to resist the subversion of free thought?"--David Talbot, founder of Salon and author of The Devil's Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA and the Rise of America's Secret Government
"The marriage of politics and literature is always messy and seldom boring. Intrusive governments are invariably unimaginative and plotting writers are hilariously ineffective. The whole thing makes for tortured drama, and Joel Whitney is a savvy dramatist who knows perfectly how to juice intrigue!"--Ilan Stavans, author of Gabriel Garcia Marquez: The Early Years
"The CIA's covert financial support of highbrow art and fiction may seem like a quaint, even endearing, chapter in its otherwise grim history of coups, assassinations, and torture. In Finks, Joel Whitney argues otherwise and shines a discomfiting spotlight on this obscure corner of the cultural Cold War. The result is both an illuminating read and a cautionary tale about the potential costspolitical and artisticof accommodating power."--Ben Wizner, ACLU Director of Speech, Privacy and Technology Project
Joel Whitney is a cofounder and editor at large of Guernica: A Magazine of Art & Politics. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Republic, Boston Review, The San Francisco Chronicle, Dissent, Salon, NPR, New York Magazine and The Sun.
Award-winning investigative journalist Nick Schou is managing editor of OC Weekly. He is the author of Kill the Messenger: How the CIA’s Crack Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb (Nation Books 2006), which provided the basis for the 2014 Focus Features release starring Jeremy Renner and the L.A. Times-bestseller Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love’s Quest to bring Peace, Love and Acid to the World, (Thomas Dunne 2009). He is also the author of The Weed Runners (2013) and Spooked: How the CIA Manipulates the Media and Hoodwinks Hollywood (2016).