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Hot Books in the Cold War
The CIA-Funded Secret Western Book Distribution Program Behind the Iron Curtain


"By opening minds, the imaginative book program helped to break down the walls behind which the communist regimes were entrenched."
Zbigniew Brzezinski, Former U.S. National Security Advisor

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 War.

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 Bibliography Appendix: 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 University

"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 States

"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 CIA official

570 pages including photographs, tables, photocopies of documents, cloth
ISBN 978-615-5225-23-9 cloth $70.00 / €55.00 / £45.00

"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.
This 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 movie—there 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 society—a 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. Kramer’s 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 you—read 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 (

"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 všem oddaným mužom a ženám, kteří zboÿili želenou oponu kultury'. Prókopnická práce A. Reische vyšla v dubnu 2013 v Budapešti. Alfred A. Reisch podlehl 17. května 2013 dlouhodobé váÿné nemoci." - Historie a vojenství

"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