In November 1980, William J. Casey found himself in the most enviable position of any campaign management professional in history. He had engineered Ronald Reagan's successful campaign for President, taking the reigns of a broken operation and turning into a efficient and disciplined juggernaut. Now, Casey would vet major cabinet and White House senior staff appointments and had such sway over the President-elect that virtually any judgment Casey made was rubber-stamped.
The story of how Casey got to this pinnacle, and the story of his service as Director of Central Intelligence is indeed one for the history books. While Alexander Haig and George Shultz were stewards of Reagan's public foreign policy actions, Casey represented what came to be known as the Reagan Doctrine: arming and funding armed insurrections against global Communist expansionism (most notably in Nicaragua and Afghanistan). In essence Casey represented the real Reagan, the street fighter whose approach to the Soviet Union and its clients -- so eloquently described by Casey protege Herbert Meyer -- was when you see your enemy on his knees it's time to start kicking him in the head.
Persico's judicious, warts and all treatment of Casey describes how a brilliant kid from a working-class family in Queens became Wild Bill Donovan's deputy for secret intelligence operations in World War II; a brilliant corporate attorney, venture capitalist, and technocrat; chairman of the SEC; and the last great buccaneer director of U.S. intelligence.
Through all of this, Casey's good qualities shine: his big heart and willingness to help friends in need at any time, his devout Catholicism and commitment to conservative principles, his abiding love for his wife Sophia, and his absolute patriotism.
Juicy details from inside the Reagan White House will keep the reader riveted. Did you know about the running feud with James Baker, or close bond between Casey and Donald Regan? That William Safire's nickname for Casey was "Big Bill"? Or that Casey saw his next big duty as running Jeanne Kirkpatrick for president?
In a time when intelligence and its practitioners are anemic, Casey's qualities of audacity, skepticism, realpolitik, and American exceptionalism are sorely missed. As a person and a professional, we will not see the like of William J. Casey in this generation.