King of Spies
From the New York Times bestselling author of Escape from Camp 14, the shocking, gripping account of the most powerful American spy you’ve never heard of, whose role at the center of the Korean War—which gave rise to the North Korean regime—is essential to understanding the most intractable foreign policy conflict of our time.In 1946, master sergeant Donald Nichols was repairing jeeps on the sleepy island of Guam when he caught the eye of recruiters from the army's Counter Intelligence Corps. After just three months' training, he was sent to Korea, then a backwater beneath the radar of MacArthur's Pacific Command. Though he lacked the pedigree of most U.S. spies—Nichols was a 7th grade dropout—he quickly metamorphosed from army mechanic to black ops phenomenon. He insinuated himself into the affections of America’s chosen puppet in South Korea, President Syngman Rhee, and became a pivotal player in the Korean War, warning months in advance about the North Korean invasion, breaking enemy codes, and identifying most of the targets destroyed by American bombs in North Korea. But Nichols's triumphs had a dark side. Immersed in a world of torture and beheadings, he became a spymaster with his own secret base, his own covert army, and his own rules. He recruited agents from refugee camps and prisons, sending many to their deaths on reckless missions. His closeness to Rhee meant that he witnessed—and did nothing to stop or even report—the slaughter of tens of thousands of South Korean civilians in anticommunist purges. Nichols’s clandestine reign lasted for an astounding eleven years. In this riveting book, Blaine Harden traces Nichols's unlikely rise and tragic ruin, from his birth in an operatically dysfunctional family in New Jersey to his sordid postwar decline, which began when the U.S. military sacked him in Korea, sent him to an air force psych ward in Florida, and subjected him—against his will—to months of electroshock therapy. But King of Spies is not just the story of one American spy: with napalmed villages and severed heads, high-level lies and long-running cover-ups, it reminds us that the darkest sins of the Vietnam War—and many other conflicts that followed—were first committed in Korea.

King of Spies Details

TitleKing of Spies
Author
ReleaseOct 3rd, 2017
PublisherViking
ISBN-139780525429937
Rating
GenreHistory, Nonfiction, War, Biography, Spy Thriller, Espionage, Biography Memoir

King of Spies Review

  • Jeanette
    January 1, 1970
    This takes the award for the entire last year of all my non-fiction reading. That category's award; BOOK THAT SHOCKED ME THE MOST. Yes, it was shocking. And I don't think I am easily shocked.Donald Nichols' life from the age of 19 within the U.S. Army (Air Force designation at times) until his death in his 60's! It's so outlier that it is hard to believe. And not only the Army part. That's the first shock- just him.But the greater shock is the amount of pure horror, death dealing, mood equilibri This takes the award for the entire last year of all my non-fiction reading. That category's award; BOOK THAT SHOCKED ME THE MOST. Yes, it was shocking. And I don't think I am easily shocked.Donald Nichols' life from the age of 19 within the U.S. Army (Air Force designation at times) until his death in his 60's! It's so outlier that it is hard to believe. And not only the Army part. That's the first shock- just him.But the greater shock is the amount of pure horror, death dealing, mood equilibrium for all those years equivocations. Coupled with how he seemed to walk through it all in a "type of charming line" to what he needed NOW (army's needs, information/spying's needs, his own needs).The intermittent sections that relate in detail the process and progress of the governmental ends and associations on the Korean peninsula (overall history in specific and depth detail) from WWII years onward! Excellent! Knowing much about the American /Korean war conflict after 1950- I thought I knew most. NO, I did not. I never understood the underestimation and failures of MacArthur and Truman to their placements knowledge and importance in world "side" parsing either. Both made horrendous mistakes. Or the before period brutalities within the Koreans against each other.This man Nichols was not educated (out of school by 13/14 years of age) and he reached the highest position in South Korea power structures (president's BFF - he was called "son" by this man) with 24/7 access to the highest decision points by Rhee for nearly 13-15 years. But the biggest shock was the amount of genocide type mass murdering he enabled. Not only against the Communist factions but also against the South Korean villagers or contingents who may not be "trusted" for the "correct" onus for the current motives of the South Korean elderly president. If you have aversion to WWII camp descriptions, these are WORSE here. They are. Cutting off heads was the easy exit out. And putting them afterwards in buckets to deliver to the "other side's" bosses. More common is torture and extended periods of brutal beating ending in firing squad death. People put on sticks with a target on their chest while the coffin boxes were stacked in view beside them. Hundreds at a time.And Nichols' personality was particularly in several points of emotive and practical applications both- most certainly recognizable as being clearly insane for vast numbers of years. And yet he prospered. And was at the same time also the most successful American spy for not only that period, but some say for that entire century. Not withstanding that he sent his army subordinates to certain death by parachute drops North within a percentage of not even 40% making it through their first days. Most ended their lives in torture and execution too within North Korean territory. And the money laundering and embezzlement? Or did all that come from "overages"? Or bribery to escapes for South Koreans? Or goods redistribution? And how he stored and transported the cash!And the life "after". Not different in personality reveals all that much, IMHO. Just perceived differently in the "outside of espionage" world because of his violent and frustrated reactions being more visible by civilians. He was always that way to a great extent. And remained too for parts of his life, even after electroshock treatments and incarceration within mental institutions. Always holding the worst assaulting and predatory habits against young men and boys, while also spinning paper and legal tales of an invisible wife and possible biological son. NOT! Lying even down to his gravestone "facts"!You never hear his name. Not even as a mention to the dichotomy of spying betrayal like a Philby. Neither in the positive or negative of spy tales. I haven't in all the spy non-fiction and other related materials to American espionage during various periods of the Cold War that I've read. Yet this man holds the most decorations, medals - declarations of import (photos of these are hard to believe)! All of the photographs in the book were just excellent. References not shabby either. But I can believe it took 60 to 70 years to get some of those views (photos) free to publish. I'm sure everybody involved had to be long dead first.How atrocious! And at the same time of speaking of this horrid reality it also opened a wide window to my understanding of the Kim family who rules North Korea today. And their onus and bestial methods to their own regime's purposes. It's sick as sick can be, but it's not all paranoia.
    more
  • Septimus Brown
    January 1, 1970
    A top nonfiction title for anyone even remotely interested in spies, political/military history, or the Korean War. Blaine Harden is a consummate writer and researcher. This book is expertly structured, with unfailing prose and heady storytelling. Never a dull moment.King of Spies details the life an unlikely spy master who was instrumental in the Korean War. If one person can be credited with turning the tide against the North and China, it is Donald Nichols. His rise to prominence is as intere A top nonfiction title for anyone even remotely interested in spies, political/military history, or the Korean War. Blaine Harden is a consummate writer and researcher. This book is expertly structured, with unfailing prose and heady storytelling. Never a dull moment.King of Spies details the life an unlikely spy master who was instrumental in the Korean War. If one person can be credited with turning the tide against the North and China, it is Donald Nichols. His rise to prominence is as interesting as his fall from grace.
    more
  • Aaron Schmidt
    January 1, 1970
    3.5 stars. I thought this book was interesting mostly for the Korean War history. A subject I am fairly ignorant on. The geopolitical history of the region and its use as a proxy for the major powers is quite sad. I was unaware of the mass scale bombing of the country - something that is apparently still used to this day to drum up anti-American fervor there. From the sounds of it - the destruction was significantly worse than the bombing of Japan, even including the two nuclear bombs. I also en 3.5 stars. I thought this book was interesting mostly for the Korean War history. A subject I am fairly ignorant on. The geopolitical history of the region and its use as a proxy for the major powers is quite sad. I was unaware of the mass scale bombing of the country - something that is apparently still used to this day to drum up anti-American fervor there. From the sounds of it - the destruction was significantly worse than the bombing of Japan, even including the two nuclear bombs. I also enjoyed how the author portrayed the main character as someone who was deeply flawed by his upbringing. Despite this, he was able to flourish amidst the chaos of the Korean War. He is credited with a number of intelligence coos such as the defection of a North Korean pilot with a fully functioning MiG. However, he became enough of a liability after the war and was eventually sacked. Which led to a mental break followed by disgrace and (more) predation after returning to civilian life. The warning signs about his flawed character seemed to have been fairly apparent early on in his military career, but were ignored / not looked at due to the amount of value he was providing to the war effort.
    more
  • Lisa
    January 1, 1970
    This book was the first I've read about the Korean war. With the current geopolitical climate and my other reading about North Korea it was good to get a better understanding of the war. The book wasn't very pleasant to read/listen to because the subject was so unlikable and the nature of his work and likely abuses of power.
    more
  • Ray
    January 1, 1970
    "King of Spies" is a story of a poor Florida boy who served in the Air Force in Korea and became a key spy master during the Korean War. Much of what is known of Donald Nichols is from his own accounts, much of which is b.s. and self-promotion. Nonetheless, it apparently was true that he did have a personal relationship with the South Korean President, and did have valuable connections during the Korean War which enabled him to bring useful intelligence to the U.S. forces fighting against the No "King of Spies" is a story of a poor Florida boy who served in the Air Force in Korea and became a key spy master during the Korean War. Much of what is known of Donald Nichols is from his own accounts, much of which is b.s. and self-promotion. Nonetheless, it apparently was true that he did have a personal relationship with the South Korean President, and did have valuable connections during the Korean War which enabled him to bring useful intelligence to the U.S. forces fighting against the North Koreans and Chinese troops. His actions were effective, but highly questionable. He also was an unlikeable character. During the war, he may well have profited from his position and black market dealings, allowing him to leave the service quite well off financially. However, his retirement was marred by his sexual abuse of several teen-aged boys, and he ended up being treated for mental problems.
    more
  • Bill Conrad
    January 1, 1970
    This was an unexpected read for me. I liked Blaine Harden’s previous works and found this book on sale. I had no idea that Donald Nichol had so much influence on the Korean War and on modern spy craft. To me, this was a completely new topic. This made for a really fascinating read and it gave a lot of detail into the background of what happened before/during/after the Korean War with regards to intelligence. Blaine Harden did a great job capturing Donald Nichol’s strange life and the chaos that This was an unexpected read for me. I liked Blaine Harden’s previous works and found this book on sale. I had no idea that Donald Nichol had so much influence on the Korean War and on modern spy craft. To me, this was a completely new topic. This made for a really fascinating read and it gave a lot of detail into the background of what happened before/during/after the Korean War with regards to intelligence. Blaine Harden did a great job capturing Donald Nichol’s strange life and the chaos that surrounded him. I found it amusing that the people in charge willingly turned such a massive blind eye to all aspects of Donald Nichol. King Of Spies revealed some surprising facts and it tied in a lot of history together that I was already aware of. This was a fascinating read about a really strange man. I have recommended this book to several friends.
    more
  • Pam
    January 1, 1970
    A couple of things. This book was very interesting when it talked about the Korean War and the things that led up to it. It was interesting when it talked about Nichols and how he ran his spy ring. But, it wasn't all that detailed. I felt like it was trying super hard to be sensational without a lot backing it up. The same with the book title and the reviews on the back. When I think about war and all of the terrible things that happen, I'm not trying to say I condone the human rights violations A couple of things. This book was very interesting when it talked about the Korean War and the things that led up to it. It was interesting when it talked about Nichols and how he ran his spy ring. But, it wasn't all that detailed. I felt like it was trying super hard to be sensational without a lot backing it up. The same with the book title and the reviews on the back. When I think about war and all of the terrible things that happen, I'm not trying to say I condone the human rights violations that transpired, but it doesn't seem super shocking in a context of war. Then once the book quickly brings the war to a close, Nichols gets sent back to the states in disgrace. He turns out to be a pedophile with packets of cash in his freezer, gets arrested, and spirals downhill to an ignominious end. Still vey sensationalized but not, to me, interesting, just pathetic.
    more
  • Iris Lee
    January 1, 1970
    This book was an eye-opener for me about the Korean War. It is well researched, and well written. So much of the material covered here was unknown to me before. Highly recommended especially for people who want to better understand the U.S. position in regards to the Korean War.It is also a reminder of the accomplishments of one individual and his contributions to the U.S. and the S.Korean success in that war, while at the same time not making a demigod out of him. I thought that just as the S.K This book was an eye-opener for me about the Korean War. It is well researched, and well written. So much of the material covered here was unknown to me before. Highly recommended especially for people who want to better understand the U.S. position in regards to the Korean War.It is also a reminder of the accomplishments of one individual and his contributions to the U.S. and the S.Korean success in that war, while at the same time not making a demigod out of him. I thought that just as the S.Koreans remembered him as a hero of that war, the U.S. should have too, acknowledged his contributions when he was discharged. In the end - I felt both sad and angry for what they have done to him after he was shipped back home, and what has become out of him in civilian life.
    more
  • Jeffrey Edick
    January 1, 1970
    good book on how the US got involved in South Korea after WW2, with emphasis on the secret spy network installed by the Air Force. I knew little about pre-war Korea so this book was full of general info for me. The King of Spies started a brutal network that terrorized both North and South, and actually saved the South from a total loss, when the final assaults came at the Pusan perimeter. The King truly is a war hero, unfortunately he is also a criminal and murderer, a pedophile and a money lau good book on how the US got involved in South Korea after WW2, with emphasis on the secret spy network installed by the Air Force. I knew little about pre-war Korea so this book was full of general info for me. The King of Spies started a brutal network that terrorized both North and South, and actually saved the South from a total loss, when the final assaults came at the Pusan perimeter. The King truly is a war hero, unfortunately he is also a criminal and murderer, a pedophile and a money launderer. A good primer on the subject, I will be looking for more books with greater detail on actual spy cases in the future.
    more
  • Marisa Young
    January 1, 1970
    The unbelievable story of a Master Sergeant who went from repairing jeeps to a spymaster in Korea. Set before the Korean War, it tells how he was able to become a personal friend of the South Korean president and played an important role in the war. It goes on to detail his fall from grace after the war including a stay in a military psych ward. It also explains the U.S., Chinese and Russian roles in Korea. It also covers the violence and killing of civilians during the war.Fascinating story of The unbelievable story of a Master Sergeant who went from repairing jeeps to a spymaster in Korea. Set before the Korean War, it tells how he was able to become a personal friend of the South Korean president and played an important role in the war. It goes on to detail his fall from grace after the war including a stay in a military psych ward. It also explains the U.S., Chinese and Russian roles in Korea. It also covers the violence and killing of civilians during the war.Fascinating story of an unlikely spy with great detail about the Korean conflict - history that is very relevant today. I recommend this book.
    more
  • Tolani
    January 1, 1970
    Little is ever mentioned in history about Donald Nichols, yet if there’s a name you need to know about the one person for who played a huge role during the Korean war, it is Donald Nichols. This was the third book I read by Blaine Harden, and he does a great job of depicting the life of Donald Nichols – a high-school dropout from Florida who later became a spymaster and built such a strong spy network that toppled the Kim regime in North Korea. Spy network, Agent Orange, Napalm, true crimes, Tru Little is ever mentioned in history about Donald Nichols, yet if there’s a name you need to know about the one person for who played a huge role during the Korean war, it is Donald Nichols. This was the third book I read by Blaine Harden, and he does a great job of depicting the life of Donald Nichols – a high-school dropout from Florida who later became a spymaster and built such a strong spy network that toppled the Kim regime in North Korea. Spy network, Agent Orange, Napalm, true crimes, Truman leadership, Pusan perimeter, Pres. Syngman Rhee, General McArthur - this book has it all!
    more
  • Jeanette Sautner
    January 1, 1970
    Timely that I got this book from the library with all the attention on the Koreas. Provides very useful insight into the situation on the peninsula, and the foundation of North Korea's hatred of the US. Also a snapshot of hubris of senior officers and the potential outcome of lack of supervision in the intelligence world, and how the US almost lost the Korean war.
    more
  • Danielle Crawford
    January 1, 1970
    A great book which details the extent of the Korean War and the immoral ways that intelligence was gathered after WWII. Short and precise, with well-researched first-hand documents and accounts, it reads like a spy novel, but where the spy is an unsympathetic character who is the hero of his own story but no one else's.
    more
  • Rob
    January 1, 1970
    Not really sure what to make of this main character - is he a victim or victimizer? And his "reign" is surprisingly short, as this book is less than 200 pages and it feels as though most of that is spent on his background and post-war activity. But the book does fill in a few blanks in Korean War-era history.
    more
  • Maxine Spradlin
    January 1, 1970
    Good book with a lot of information. However it comes across that the author is just as confused as the rest of us. It isn’t very easy to follow at times and seems to repeat things over and over again that the author believes to be more important than anything else. He also leaves out some information.
    more
  • Dоcтоr
    January 1, 1970
    Hard, tough, but an incredible life story. This book is certainly not for everyone, it doesn't not follow some romantic tale of James Bond, vice versa. it tells the life's lesson, that war is hell, and those that fought it will bear the scars internally forever.
    more
  • Karter Hoag
    January 1, 1970
    Overall the book was good. It talked about how the korean war had many dark secrets. Including massacres and espionage. The story follows Donald Nichols a spy in the Korean war. He was good friends with the Korean president, which allowed him to do things illegaly.
    more
  • Chris Schaffer
    January 1, 1970
    Ok I guess...A book about an obscure figure from history though centered around a major event in American history (The Korean War). Nichols was a real scumbag. Crazy that a hillbilly with a grade school education could've rose so high in the armed forces..
    more
  • Terry Pearson
    January 1, 1970
    I won a copy of this book in a giveaway.I have to admit the book isn't about what I though. However, it was still interesting. Intresting enough that my teenage grandson asked to read it when I was through.I rated it 3.8 stars
  • Tony Smith
    January 1, 1970
    An intriguing read about a notable person within military history. The inclusion of information both flattering and unflattering as well as the integration of newly discovered information makes this book well worth the read.
  • Anne
    January 1, 1970
    Fascinating read on a key US spy in North Korea after WWII. Turns out Vietnam was Korea 2.0. Napalm - Agent Orange - bombing the north into oblivium - puppet leader in the south. Main difference in outcomes would seem to be the leadership in the North.
    more
  • Jessica
    January 1, 1970
    Engrossing story, which shed a lot of light on the current issues we have with North Korea; "fire and fury" is probably what they've expected from us all along.
  • Howard
    January 1, 1970
    A good read with lots of information about the Korean War I never knew. Would have like more details on some of the activities though.
  • Rachel
    January 1, 1970
    King of SpiesExtremely enlightening for those curious about the Korea and US involvement. It sheds light on North Korea’s “ paranoia “ about the US.
  • ErnstG
    January 1, 1970
    Great book that tells the story of the Korean War, including the pre- and postware periods, a master spy, and what happened when he was discarded.
  • Zeke Chase
    January 1, 1970
    3.5 stars
  • Ken Hamner
    January 1, 1970
    Great book. It’s amazing how incompetent the Truman administration and McArthur’s military leadership was during that time.
  • Simona Kulakauskaite
    January 1, 1970
    I picked up this book spontaneously at the book store because the plot intrigued me - I knew very little about the Korean war and I love spy stories, so this seemed like an appealing combination. However, I was disappointed to see that the book was very weak on the spy story part. It only scratched the surface on the biographical story line. I realise that many of the facts that would have been interesting are not available but without them it is sometimes difficult to see what was the point of I picked up this book spontaneously at the book store because the plot intrigued me - I knew very little about the Korean war and I love spy stories, so this seemed like an appealing combination. However, I was disappointed to see that the book was very weak on the spy story part. It only scratched the surface on the biographical story line. I realise that many of the facts that would have been interesting are not available but without them it is sometimes difficult to see what was the point of writing the book at all.
    more
Write a review