The Good Spy

The Good Spy

The Life and Death of Robert Ames

Book - 2014
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The Good Spy is Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Kai Bird's compelling portrait of the remarkable life and death of one of the most important operatives in CIA history - a man who, had he lived, might have helped heal the rift between Arabs and the West.
 
On April 18, 1983, a bomb exploded outside the American Embassy in Beirut, killing 63 people.  The attack was a geopolitical turning point. It marked the beginning of Hezbollah as a political force, but even more important, it eliminated America's most influential and effective intelligence officer in the Middle East - CIA operative Robert Ames.  What set Ames apart from his peers was his extraordinary ability to form deep, meaningful connections with key Arab intelligence figures. Some operatives relied on threats and subterfuge, but Ames worked by building friendships and emphasizing shared values - never more notably than with Yasir Arafat's charismatic intelligence chief and heir apparent Ali Hassan Salameh (aka "The Red Prince"). Ames' deepening relationship with Salameh held the potential for a lasting peace.  Within a few years, though, both men were killed by assassins, and America's relations with the Arab world began heading down a path that culminated in 9/11, the War on Terror, and the current fog of mistrust.
 
Bird, who as a child lived in the Beirut Embassy and knew Ames as a neighbor when he was twelve years old, spent years researching The Good Spy.  Not only does the book draw on hours of interviews with Ames' widow, and quotes from hundreds of Ames' private letters, it's woven from interviews with scores of current and former American, Israeli, and Palestinian intelligence officers as well as other players in the Middle East "Great Game."
 
What emerges is a masterpiece-level narrative of the making of a CIA officer, a uniquely insightful history of twentieth-century conflict in the Middle East, and an absorbing hour-by-hour account of the Beirut Embassy bombing.  Even more impressive, Bird draws on his reporter's skills to deliver a full dossier on the bombers and expose the shocking truth of where the attack's mastermind resides today.
Publisher: New York : Crown Publishers, c2014.
ISBN: 9780307889751
Characteristics: xiv, 430 pages, [16] pages of plates :,illustrations, maps, portraits ;,25 cm.

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MynxCat Sep 04, 2014

An excellent book that should be required reading, especially since the events discussed are so directly linked to current world events. The Good Spy tells the story of the work of Robert Ames, one man, who had he lived, you cannot help but wonder how the world might be different. One can't help but feel though that this book only scratches the surface - which given the fact that much of the information pertaining to the timeframe is still classified, it is easy to understand why that might be. However, The Good Spy is full of history and stories previously untold. It is a condensed version of the troubles in the Middle-East that will bring many of today's issues in the region into at least partial clarity, especially for younger generations who did not live through the events examined in the book.

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BlueHippo
Sep 02, 2014

I am on the final few pages of this book and have learned quite a bit from reading it. I msut say, ti is well-written and the characters are well-defined. Here are a couple of things that could have helped this book:

(1) IN the front of the book is "cast of characters"-it should have been much longer.

(2) There should have also been a list of abbreviations and what they mean - I lost track of some of groups because I could not keep them all straight and there was nothing to refer to in order to quickly get the information.

I also found this book to be very pro-Arab and anti-Israel. I would like to think that this was not really the author's bias but just her telling of the facts about how Ames and others felt at the time. I don't know.

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Diane Suter
Aug 09, 2014

I think the author is a bit too in love with his subject, but this was still an excellent book. Ames may or may not have been the paragon that Bird makes him out to be, but there are a lot of fascinating details in here about just how far governments' secret services will go.

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