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Original Issue


It's hardly surprising that Mike Burke was unable to resist writing about his many astonishing roles and careers, which is just what he has done in Outrageous Good Fortune (Little, Brown, $19.95). Imagine looking back on your days as a prep school and college football star, a wartime OSS hero, a CIA deep-cover agent, head of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, a vice-president of CBS, president of the New York Yankees and of Madison Square Garden (and, thereby, boss of the Garden-owned Knicks and Rangers). If that were your résumé, you'd want to write about it, too; because it's not, you should enjoy reading about Burke's exploits, despite the fact that his tone and writing style can be irritating and patronizing.

Burke writes that "it was my wont" to do certain things; wartime associates were his "pals," the men of PT Squadron 15, "the lads"; a school official was "terribly pleased" over Burke's final exam; and he played in "a basketball match." This doesn't sound like the parlance of a man who grew up in Connecticut and carried the ball for Penn against Michigan. I can tell you this: If it had been Burke's wont, as a 24-year-old ensign, to call the men of my infantry outfit lads, none of us would have been terribly pleased and we would not have been his pals.

Before telling of his postwar years with the CIA, Burke writes that he's forbidden to name the countries where he served or to tell exactly what he was asked to do and did. But a few years ago, in a long interview with The New York Times, he volunteered much of this information to a surprised reporter. Suffice it to say, the Albanians didn't rise up to overthrow Marxism, which was the hoped-for outcome of Burke's covert activities. But then, the Yankees didn't win much during Burke's reign; neither did the Knicks or the Rangers. None of this can be blamed exclusively on Burke. And his failures don't diminish the enthusiasm with which he writes of his successes. It probably won't diminish your pleasure in reading of them either, pal.