Hot Books in the Cold War

The CIA-Funded Secret Western Book Distribution Program Behind the Iron Curtain
$121.00 / €111.00 / £95.00
Publication date: 
570 pages including photographs, tables, photocopies of documents

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

Chapter 1. Origins, Objectives, and Launching of the Book Project Under Sam Walker
Chapter 2. Titles, Contents, Numbers, Targets, and Aims of the Mailings
Chapter 3. The Man in the Grey Suit. George C. Minden and his Concept of Cultural and Ideological Competition
Chapter 4. The New York Book Center. Books, Books, and More Books…
Chapter 5. The Book Project Reaches New Heights. The Golden Age of the 1960s
Chapter 6. Western and Émigré Books and Periodicals Published with Covert Support
Chapter 7. New Opportunities Through East-West Contacts
Chapter 8. The Early 1970s. The International Advisory Council
Chapter 9. A Lasting Enemy
Part I: The Censors 1956 to 1968
Part II: The Censors 1969 to 1973
Chapter 10. The Communist Regimes on the Defensive: Criticisms, Warnings, and Attacks
Chapter 11. The Person-to-Person Distribution Program: A Direct Way to Reach East Europeans. The Early Polish Program 1958–1959
Chapter 12. Another Vehicle for Reaching the People of Eastern Europe: the Person-to-Person Distribution Program and Personalized Mailings
Chapter 13. The Most Important Book Distribution Point: Vienna
Chapter 14. Letters from Poland, the Crucial Country
Chapter 15. Letters from Czechoslovakia Before and After 1968
Chapter 16. Letters from Hungary Under Goulash Communism
Chapter 17. Letters from Romania Under the Ceauşescu Regime
Chapter 18. Letters from Bulgaria Despite Very Strict Censorship
Chapter 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


"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... more
"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."
"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."
"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.... more
"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... more
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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."