Summary and book reviews of The Company by Robert Littell

The Company

A Novel of The CIA

by Robert Littell

The Company
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2002, 800 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2003, 894 pages

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Book Summary

An engrossing, multigenerational, wickedly nostalgic yet utterly candid saga, bringing to life through a host of characters--historical and imagined-- over 40 years of the CIA--"the Company" to insiders.

With a sharp eye for the pathos and absurdity of the Cold War, Robert Littell crafted his first novel, the now legendary spy thriller The Defection of A.J. Lewinter. Christopher Lehmann-Haupt of The New York Times called it "a perfect little gem, the best Cold War thriller I've read in years," and the praise kept coming with critics hailing Littell as "the American Le Carré" (New York Times) and raving that his books were "as good as thriller writing gets" (The Washington Post).

For his fourteenth novel, Robert Littell creates a stunningly conceived mole hunt involving such rivals and allies as the MI6, KGB, and Mossad.

Racing across a canvas that spans the legendary Berlin Base in the 1950s--the front line of the simmering Cold War--to the Soviet invasion of Hungary, the Bay of Pigs, the Afghan war, the Gorbachev putsch, and other major theatres of operation for the CIA, The Company tells a thrilling story of agents imprisoned in an engrossing, multigenerational, wickedly nostalgic yet utterly candid saga, bringing to life through a host of characters--historical and imagined-- over 40 years of the CIA--"the Company" to insiders. double lives, fighting an enemy that was amoral, elusive, formidable.

Littell tells it like it was: CIA agents, fighting not only the good fight, but sometimes the bad one as well. Littell also brilliantly lays bare the warring within the Company to add another dimension to the spy vs. spy game: the battles between the counterintelligence agents in Washington, like the utterly obsessive real-life mole hunter James Angleton, and the covert action boys in the field, like The Company's Harvey Torriti--the Sorcerer--a brilliant and brash rule breaker and dirty tricks expert who fights fire with fire, and his Apprentice, Jack McAuliffe, recruited fresh out of Yale, who learns tradecraft and the hard truths of life in the field.

As this dazzling anatomy of the CIA unfolds, nothing less than the world's future in the second half of the twentieth century is at stake. At once a celebration of a long Cold War well fought, an elegy for the end of an era, and a reckoning for a profession in which moral ambiguity created a wilderness of mirrors, The Company is the Cold War's devastating truth, its entertaining tale, its last word.

Somewhere in Afghanistan,
Sunday, October 23, 1983

Ibrahim's band, some sixty in all, traveled by night, sometimes on foot, sometimes on donkeys, occasionally in canvas-covered trucks driving without headlights not only as a matter of security, but because Afghans believed vehicles used less gasoline when they ran without headlights. Everywhere they went, peasants offered them shelter and shared the meager rations of food left to them after the passage of Russian commando units. Everyone recognized Ibrahim and he seemed to know dozens by name. The group would turn off the trail as soon as the first silver-gray streaks of light transformed the tops of the mountains high above them into murky silhouettes. Closely guarded by the mujaheddin, Anthony and Maria were led along narrow tracks marked by whitewashed stones. Scrambling up footpaths, they would reach one of the half-deserted, half-destroyed hamlets clinging to the sides of steep hills. Each hamlet had its mosque, surrounded ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews

New York Daily News

This fairy tale carries the reader through 45 years and three generations, and, true to the genre, ends with brave, noble heroes saving the day. The Brothers Grimm couldn't have done it better.

The Washington Post - Joseph Finder

Since his Cold War classic, The Defection of A.J. Lewinter, Littell has been steadily creating his own subgenre, the counter-thriller, witty and highly original tales that play off the clich├ęs of the Cold War thriller and subvert them.

Publishers Weekly

This impressive doorstopper of a book is like a family historical saga, except the family is the American intelligence communities.

Booklist

Starred Review. If Le Carre is the Joyce of spy novelists Littell is the Dickens. Le Carre's focus has always been internal--spying as a metaphorical search for identity. Littell, on the other hand, wants to represent the entire espionage, a landscape on his canvas the social and political aspects, as well as the psychological. He's done that superbly....

Library Journal - Barbara Conaty

This is a work of fiction, yet its scholarship and analysis are outstanding. Littell avoids the didactic in favor of wit, irony, and ambiguity. A sure winner for libraries of all types.

Kirkus Reviews

Virtually a history of the US for the past fifty years as seen through the dark lens of the CIA.....A few clunky love scenes aside, the moments when personal cares tragically intersect with professional expediencies are genuinely wrenching....Fascinating? Surprising? Suspenseful? Yes, yes, yes.

Author Blurb Charles McCarry
In his gripping new novel, Robert Littell brings a lost culture with little or no written history vibrantly back to life. Mingling real-life heroes and villains with compelling fictitious characters and mixing little-known facts with imaginary events that sometimes ring truer than reality, this master novelist has given us that rarity in the genre, a page turner that lives on in the reader's memory.

Author Blurb Clive Cussler
The ultimate tale on the inside workings of the world's foremost intelligence agency. Charged with excitement, intrigue, and high-voltage action, The Company by Robert Littell is one whale of a story.

Author Blurb Steve Thayer
The Company is an exceptional novel. The writing is first rate, and the research is brilliant. It's just great storytelling. The search for SASHA kept me turning pages well into the night. The relationships that evolve over the years are fascinating, as are the different takes on the little people who are sacrificed for the big picture. It's an important book.

Author Blurb Nelson DeMille
Every war needs a historian/novelist, and the Cold War is no exception . . . Littell is both prescient and savvy regarding the Soviet power structure, and we are left feeling that it is not over yet, and it could happen again . . . The Company is an epic tale peopled by heroes and villains who seem almost mythological in retrospect. The telling of the story keeps you riveted to the pages.

Author Blurb Tom Clancy
If Robert Littell didn't invent the spy novel, he should have.

Reader Reviews

Andy

This book is beyond belief I have never read such a mastered piece of litterature

Gayle Juraschek

I have read espionage, spy thrillers and historical novels for years, and yet had never read or even heard of Robert Littell. I am about two -thirds finished with The Company, and I am thoroughly enjoying it. This is a thick book, and the story ...   Read More

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