Gilder Lehrman Military History Prize Finalist * A New Yorker "Best Books of the Year" selection
“Need to Know is the most thorough and detailed history available on the origins of U.S. intelligence.” —Michael Morell, former Deputy Director and Acting Director, CIA
Historian and former CIA officer Nicholas Reynolds, the New York Times bestselling author of Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy, uncovers the definitive history of American intelligence during World War II, illuminating its key role in securing victory and its astonishing growth from practically nothing at the start of the war.
The entire vast, modern American intelligence system—the amalgam of three-letter spy services of many stripes—can be traced back to the dire straits the world faced at the dawn of World War II. Prior to 1940, the United States had no organization to recruit spies and steal secrets or launch covert campaigns against enemies overseas and just a few codebreakers, isolated in windowless vaults. It was only through Winston Churchill’s determination to mobilize the US in the fight against Hitler that the first American spy service was born, built from scratch against the background of the Second World War.
In Need to Know, Nicholas Reynolds explores the birth, infancy, and adolescence of modern American intelligence. In this first-ever look across the entirety of the war effort, Reynolds combines little-known history and gripping spy stories to analyze the origins of American codebreakers and spies as well as their contributions to Allied victory, revealing how they laid the foundation for the Cold War—and beyond.
"Authoritative. ... Reynolds's contribution to our understanding of the rise of American intelligence is unparalleled." — Journal of Intelligence History
“Need to Know is the most thorough and detailed history available on the origins of U.S. intelligence. I expect it to become part of the required reading for university classes on intelligence for some time to come. Kudos to Nick Reynolds for giving us Need to Know.” — Michael Morell, Former Deputy Director and Acting Director, CIA
“An excellent, wide-ranging introduction to the creation of American Intelligence in World War II.” — The Journal of Military History
"Need to Know is a detailed history of the origins of American intelligence capability....Reynolds traces how the intelligence establishment we know today was built from scratch starting during the run-up to the Second World War. The storyline is supported by extensive research." — Foreign Service Journal
"Reynolds examines the genesis of the Central Intelligence Agency in the inter war years and particularly in the Second World War. He has used his academic research and practical expertise in the intelligence services to examine the complex set of personalities, rivalries and political manoeuvring which led to the development of the CIA and its global reach and influence." — British Modern Military History Society
“Of several recent books that coincide with the seventy-fifth anniversary of the [CIA’s] founding. … Reynolds’s book is the best of the recent batch, and the most readable.” — The New Yorker, Best Books of 2022
“A readable, thoughtful book on an important subject….This is an exceptionally well cited book….Need to Know belongs in the required or at least highly recommended readings portions of syllabi in intelligence studies programs.” — William Nolte, The Cipher Brief (rated 4 out of 4 “trench coats”)
“[A] vast, complex, character-rich history. … A comprehensive, authoritative examination of the genesis of America’s national security apparatus.” — Kirkus Reviews
"An exhaustively researched critical history of American military intelligence from 1940 to the beginning of the Cold War. ... Reynolds’s scrupulous and well-rounded approach reveals the good, the bad, and the reckless in the early days of U.S. intelligence. Espionage buffs will be fascinated." — Publishers Weekly
"Reynolds masterfully synthesizes the contributions of a number of consequential figures to the burgeoning intelligence industry that WWII bequeathed to modern America." — Booklist
"Based on extensive primary research, this striking and compelling account should be read by anybody interested in the development of U.S. intelligence agencies and special operations during World War II." — Library Journal
“Need to Know is imaginative, bold in framework, and extremely well-executed.” — Richard B. Frank, author of Tower of Skulls: A History of the Asia-Pacific War, July 1937- May 1942
"A revelatory account of the covert efforts of the Allied forces to turn the tide of World War II. ... A thrilling account." — Seattle Book Review
"Nicholas Reynolds does a great service to the field of intelligence history by producing a narrative on this essential topic that is as accessible to general readers as it is insightful for scholars. The book offers the rare combination of illuminating scholarship and great readability. ... Reynolds’s novel big-picture approach offers a subtle, fresh perspective. ... A notable strength of Need to Know is the book’s ability to capture the humanity and complexity behind the wartime evolution of what the world now knows as the US national security regime." — Sara B. Castro, US Air Force Academy
"Reynolds intended to write an overview for specialists and generalists, and he succeeds. In my own library, I have placed it next to Christopher Andrew’s For the President’s Eyes Only and the books and published primary sources I gather on the emergence of the intelligence community. ... Certainly, the reading public would enjoy and benefit from reading it, too, as it is well informed, perceptive, and a pleasure to read." — James Lockhart, Rabdan Academy/Zayed Military University, Abu Dhabi