The Good Spy: Book summary and reviews of The Good Spy by Kai Bird

The Good Spy

The Life and Death of Robert Ames

by Kai Bird

The Good Spy by Kai Bird X
The Good Spy by Kai Bird
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  • Published in USA  May 2014
    448 pages
    Genre: Biography/Memoir

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Book Summary

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.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Bird's meticulous account of Ames's career amid an ongoing Mideast climate of caution and suspicion is one of the best books on the American intelligence community." - Publishers Weekly

"Starred Review. This is a moving biography within a balanced presentation of the complex diplomacy over the Palestinian quest for statehood and the Israeli need for security, complicated by a disintegrating Lebanon and a revolutionary Iran." - Library Journal

"A low-key, respectful life of a decent American officer whose quietly significant work helped lead to the Oslo Accords." - Kirkus

"Kai Bird has produced a compelling and complex narrative that must be read on many levels – including as a detailed account of the immense influence that a truly good man can have on an agency as cynical as the CIA, and as a reminder of a myriad of losses." - Seymour Hersh, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Price of Power, The Dark Side of Camelot, and Chain of Command

"Kai Bird has delivered two miracles - the best day-by-day account of a secret intelligence career in the CIA, and the best book about the murderous intelligence war between Israel and her enemies with America smack in the middle." - Thomas Powers, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Intelligence Wars and The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard Helms and the CIA

"The Good Spy gives us the CIA up close and personal - the intricate dance of recruiting 'assets,' the bureaucratic maneuverings, the family compromises... Well reported, even-handed, compelling reading - one of the best books ever written about the CIA." - Joseph Kanon, New York Times bestselling author of Los Alamos and The Good German

"Beautifully written and researched, The Good Spy is the best book I've ever read on espionage. It perfectly captures the CIA at its best. What's more, it's a book you can't put down, right to its tragic end." - Robert Baer, former CIA operative and New York Times bestselling author of See No Evil

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Author Information

Kai Bird

Kai Bird is the coauthor or author of four previous books: American Prometheus, Crossing Mandelbaum Gate, The Chairman, and The Color of Truth. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a MacArthur Writing Fellowship.

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