Hot Books in the Cold War
The CIA-Funded Secret Western Book Distribution
Program Behind the Iron Curtain
opening minds, the imaginative book program helped to
break down the walls behind which the communist regimes
Zbigniew Brzezinski, Former U.S. National Security
Alfred A. Reisch (1931-2013) was
a political scientist, specializing in international
relations, diplomatic and Cold War history, foreign,
military, national security, and minority affairs.
He was a Senior Political Analyst with Radio Free
Europe in New York and Head of RFE´s Hungarian
Research and Evaluation Section in Munich, Germany.
This study reveals the hidden story of the secret
book distribution program to Eastern Europe financed
by the CIA during the Cold War. At its height between
1957 and 1970, the book program was one of the least
known but most effective methods of penetrating the
Iron Curtain, reaching thousands of intellectuals and
professionals in the Soviet Bloc. Reisch conducted thorough
research on the key personalities involved in the book
program, especially the two key figures: S. S. Walker,
who initiated the idea of a “mailing project,”
and G. C. Minden, who developed it into one of the most
effective political and psychological tools of the Cold
The book includes excellent chapters on the vagaries
of censorship and interception of books by communist
authorities based on personal letters and accounts from
recipients of Western material. It will stand as a testimony
in honor of the handful of imaginative, determined,
and hard-working individuals who helped to free half
of Europe from mental bondage and planted many of the
seeds that germinated when communism collapsed and the
Soviet bloc disintegrated.
Introduction by Mark Kramer Foreword Ch.1.
Origins, Objectives, and Launching of the Book Project
Under Sam Walker Ch.2. Titles, Contents,
Numbers, Targets, and Aims of the Mailings Ch.3.
The Man in the Grey Suit. George C. Minden and his Concept
of Cultural and Ideological Competition Ch.4.
The New York Book Center. Books, Books, and More Books…
Ch.5. The Book Project Reaches New
Heights. The Golden Age of the 1960s Ch.6.
Western and Émigré Books and Periodicals
Published with Covert Support Ch.7.
New Opportunities Through East-West Contacts Ch.8.
The Early 1970s. The International Advisory Council
Ch.9. A Lasting Enemy. The Censors 1956 to
1968; 1969 to 1973 Ch.10. The Communist
Regimes on the Defensive: Criticisms, Warnings, and
Attacks Ch.11. The Person-to-Person
Distribution Program: A Direct Way to Reach East Europeans.
The Early Polish Program 1958–1959 Ch.12.
Another Vehicle for Reaching the People of Eastern Europe:
the Person-to-Person Distribution Program and Personalized
Mailings Ch.13. The Most Important
Book Distribution Point: Vienna Ch.14.
Letters from Poland, the Crucial Country Ch.15.
Letters from Czechoslovakia Before and After 1968 Ch.16.
Letters from Hungary Under Goulash Communism Ch.17.
Letters from Romania Under the Ceausescu Regime Ch.18.
Letters from Bulgaria Despite Very Strict Censorship
Ch.19. The Last Seventeen Years: International
Literary Centre, Ltd., East Europe, and the USSR Conclusion:
The Impact of the Book Distribution Project and its
Contribution to the Ideological Victory of the West
Selected statistical tables, illustrations, reproductions
of key documents and reports, photos of key persons.
"That over ten million books and periodicals
were successfully mailed to East European countries
as an important part of the West’s psychological
warfare against Communist ideology is a Cold War operation
very little known. Thousands upon thousands of educated
East Europeans, among them members of my family and
friends, had their views fundamentally changed by the
arrival of forward-looking literary, cultural, and scientific
products. The Secret Book Distribution Program powerfully
contributed to the peaceful transformation of Eastern
Europe in and after 1989."—István
Deák, Emeritus Professor of History, Columbia
"A well-documented pioneering analysis of the “book
program” that complemented Western broadcasts
and provided Western literature to East Europeans and
Russians during the Cold War. Highly recommended for
anyone interested in U.S. Cold War foreign policy."—A.
Ross Johnson, Woodrow Wilson Center
"The secret book distribution program to Eastern
Europe funded by the CIA during the Cold War gave hope
and courage to thousands of intellectuals and other
dissidents. It helped to cultivate the seeds of opposition
and contributed to the eventual triumph of reason over
dogmatism. Alfred Reisch’s book fills in an important
gap in our understanding of how the United States effectively
used the “soft power” of information not
only to promote democracy but to contribute to the collapse
of European communism. The word indeed proved mightier
than the sword."—Janusz Bugajski,
policy analyst, writer, and lecturer based in the United
"Scholars of the Cold War and Public Diplomacy,
as well as the general public, should welcome publication
of this book which is the first detailed account of
a previously little- known cultural program of the United
States that helped to win the Cold War. Written by an
insider who worked on the program at the time, it relates
how Western books breached the Iron Curtain."—Yale
Richmond, Foreign Service, Retired
"The CIA-funded book program strengthened the positive
forces of nationalism and helped maintain the spirit
of independence which ultimately overcame the foreign-imposed
regimes. Alfred Reisch’s groundbreaking work sheds
light on this little known effort. History shows that
those who print and distribute books work for progress
and enlightenment, while those who burn books will also
burn people."—Thomas Polgar, retired
570 pages including photographs, tables, photocopies
of documents, cloth
ISBN 978-615-5225-23-9 cloth $70.00 / €55.00 /
"Reisch’s pioneering study demonstrates that the 'book program' was an
important part of the American Cold War effort to counter Soviet influence,
help East Europeans remain in touch with the West, and keep alive hope of
freedom. Although the program was funded covertly from the U.S. intelligence
budget through the FEC until 1971, strategic direction came not from Washington
but from FEC officials Walker and Minden. They organized and managed
a decentralized international consortium of publishers, individuals, and
Western governments who saw the value of a 'Marshall Plan for the mind,'
were eager to participate on the condition that the program be conducted in the
shadows, and never publicized their activities. Nor was the program penetrated
by Soviet bloc intelligence services. Now, over 20 years after its end, Alfred
Reisch has superbly analyzed and documented the 'book program' that was
one of the most successful and cost-effective instruments of American foreign
policy during the Cold War." - Political Science Quarterly
"The late Dr. Reisch, himself a CIA employee and devoted participant in this effort,
has summarized in exhaustive detail the numbers of publications, their typical
titles and authors (from J. D. Salinger to Friedrich Hayek), the regions to which they
were sent, the means by which they were delivered, and the diffi culties encountered
along the way.
book tells one compelling tale in the history of a generation that valued intellectual
sophistication or “culturedness” in both east and west to the point that this quality
was viewed as a viable tool in the defense of American national security. That generation
is quickly disappearing from our midst even as the CIA has branched off from its
original Cold War role in gathering and disseminating information to a more militarized
identity with its expansion of drone warfare." - Slavic Review
"Hot Books in the Cold War should be required reading for all students of the history of Cold War because it documents the war of words, in which printed culture was chosen to combat the brutality of cultural deprivation enforced by totalitarian political censorship." - Slavic and East European Journal
"Somehow Reisch has managed to cobble together a compendium of historical substance while at the same time making it highly readable. Whenever this reviewer dipped in, he found himself fascinated and intrigued by what he found there. And as a history-of-the-book person, he was very much impressed by the physical product from the Central European University Press and its Hungarian printer. The book is solidly bound in an arresting black cloth with author and title starkly displayed on the spine in contrasting white; features a congenial typeface; and boasts a satisfying page format." - Slavic & East European Information Resources
"Hot Books in the Cold War is an
absorbing tale of cloak and dagger derring-do by people
who loved books and wanted other people to have access
to them. The late Alfred A. Reisch (he died in 2013)
tells this story both as a historian and as a one-time
participant in the CIA-financed book distribution program
in Eastern Europe and the USSR.
It really should be made into a moviethere are
heroes galore and seldom has a book communicated the
risks average people will take on behalf of the right
to read and to maintain a life of the mind in the face
of a totalitarian state. Reisch makes you feel you are
in the room with a nervous dissident receiving a package
containing that most dangerous of objects in his societya
book from abroad.
One of the most valuable features of Hot Books in the
Cold War is the overview of the program provided by
Mark Kramer in his introduction to the book. Kramers
account of the mechanics of the program fascinates.
The level of detail in this book about this era is impressive
and eye-opening for those of us with little knowledge
of the cultural front of the Cold War. Books given to
teachers were used in classroom instruction and reading
circles facilitated person-to-person transfers. In the
age of the e-book it is easy to forget that the book
as tangible object symbolized to recipients in the book
distribution program such sentiments as, 'I trust youread
this' or simply 'It is not like this everywhere.' Historians
of the book should add this book to their reading lists
and all academic libraries should contain a copy."
- Critical Margins (http://criticalmargins.com)
"The study reveals a treasure trove of letters from garetful book recepients in Eastern Europe. The Hungarian poet József Tornai called the books 'heavenly manna for our starved thought'. Smuggled books quickly became hot commodities, as one Pole explained: 'Books we receive from our friends are never considered our exclusive property' ... The study encourages further research into the intellectual contacts during the Cold War and should be read by librarians and scholars everywhere to remind us of the value of the written word." - The Russian Review
"Alfred Reisch's meticulously researched book about the CIA's secretly
funded book distribution program provides the first detailed account of
the extraordinary “political warfare” effort conducted by the CIA to counter the Soviet global political and cultural offensive, as Mark Kramer points out in his superb introduction in the book... The reader will also be impressed with the intricacies of the secretive
network operating out of New York (the names of the New York-based and
the overseas front cover “sponsoring” organizations were often changed as the situation required) and with centers in London, Paris, Rome, Munich and Vienna. These major western cities had dozens of emigre groups who were willing to cooperate with the CIA front organizations. Because of its geographic proximity to Communist-ruled Eastern Europe, Vienna was the most important book distribution hub, while Rome became a “hot” center after the arrival on the scene of the Polish Pope John Paul II. The Polish regime started allowing many thousands of Polish religious pilgrims to flock to Rome... 'Hot Books in the Cold War' is a must read for all those diplomats who served in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, since I am certain, that they too were affected and assisted in carrying out their political, press and cultural work without ever hearing about the existence of the extraordinary CIA-run book program." - American Diplomacy
"Drawing on records from the United States, Hungary and Poland, as well as interviews with former book distributors and other CIA veterans, Reisch has produced the most comprehensive assessment now available of the CIA's book distribution programme." - Slavonica
"Alfred A. Reisch si touto knihou
doslova postavil pomník. Pÿestoÿe ji
vÿnoval také 'Samu Walkerovi, George
Mindenovi a vem oddaným mužom
a ženám, kteří zboÿili
želenou oponu kultury'. Prókopnická
práce A. Reische vyla v dubnu 2013 v Budapeti. Alfred A. Reisch podlehl 17. května 2013 dlouhodobé
váÿné nemoci." - Historie
"Alfred A. Reischi teos avardab vaieldamatult arusaama külmast sõjast. Eriti tuleb esile tõsta, et avarat ja huvitavat, aga varem peaaegu tähelepanuta jäänud teemat on autor käsitlenud rohkem kui kaks aastakümmet pärast selle lõppu." - Akadeemia
"Nakon Reischove knjige prepune detalja, primarnih izvora (u mjeri do koje je s nekih skinuta oznaka tajnosti), osobnih svjedočanstava (sam je bio aktivni suradnik programa) i analiza uspjeha, europsku intelektualnu povijest proteklih desetljeća gledat ćete nekim drugim očima." - GKR Magazin
"W sporze o to, jakie czynniki przyczynily sie do zwyczenstwa Zachodu nad europeiskim komunizmem - materialne (glównie ekonomiczna) czy niematerialne (duchowe, tj. intelektualne) - recenzowana kiazka dostarcza argumentów zwolennikom drugiego stanowiska, widzacym zimna wojne przede wszystkim jako wojne idei. W latach 1956-1991 rzad USA poprzez róznego rodzaju organizacje przykrywkowe (w istocie realizujace plany Central Intelligence Agnecy, CIA) prekazal mierszkancom Europy Srodkowo-Wschodniej i ZSRR 10 mln ksiazek. Alfred A. Reisch bral udzial w tym tajnym transferze druków przez kilkanascie lat, ale w swym dziele przyjal raczej perspektywe historyka i politologa niz swiadka. Podstawe zródlowa monografii stanowia bowiem dokumenty przechowywane w Hoover Instititution w Stanfordzie. Raporty dla lat 1975-1991 zostaly zniszczone lub CIA ich jeszcze nie odtajnila. Te braki Autor zrekompensowal zebranymi relacjami." - Kwartalnik Historiczny