Cristopher Andrew: The Secret World: A History of Intelligence
A full historical volume of intelligence operations, beginning with the Bible and stretching to present day. “Epic” would be an apt word to describe the endeavor of this book — it was incredibly long, meticulously researched, and quite rewarding to finally finish. Although the book was mostly encyclopedic rather than editorial in nature, Andrew does also have a very important central argument that pervades each chapter: that without a true understanding of the full history of intelligence to draw upon, one will certainly make critical serious oversights and errors in future practice. In his final pages, Andrew quotes Churchill’s maxim: “the further backwards you look, the further forward you can see.”
Given some of the stunning details the book details, that quote proves quite apt. Acting with a strong sense of historical context, Andrew shows how some of contemporary history’s largest intelligence blunders could have been prevented. Among the many great examples, two stood out to me most: the stark similarities in themes between western Intelligence agencies’ failure to predict the Pearl Harbor attack and its’ failure to foresee the 9/11 attacks, as well as Britain’s early (18th and 19th century) relationship with Russia and its modern relationship.
I am biased towards this type of book, and it is certainly a massive investment of time, but I would still highly recommend it for a rounded view of recurring historical trends in geopolitics and intelligence. Deeper than that, it reveals a through-line in human behavior, motivation, and group incentive alignment that perseveres throughout thousands of years of history which has featured so many opposing religious, governmental, and societal differences.