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The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames | [Kai Bird]

The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames

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.
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Publisher's 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 12 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 20th-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.

©2014 Kai Bird (P)2014 Random House Audio

What the Critics Say

“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.  Robert Ames did not live long enough to get what he most desperately wanted -- a real peace in the Middle East.  And America's intelligence agencies no longer seem as welcoming to agents with the wisdom, vision and integrity that Ames exemplified.”
-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.  For years Robert Ames -- The Good Spy -- tried to nudge both sides toward peace until he picked the wrong day to visit the U.S. Embassy in Beirut and was killed by a car bomb. Bird has written a powerful and revealing story that leaves the reader with a troubling question -- how did America get trapped in this war it can do nothing to end?”
--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.  But because Ames was a Mideast specialist his biography also becomes a knowing history of that region's political failures and relentless descent into violence.  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. I need to add this: while Bob Ames's career and mine crossed paths over the years, it's Kai Bird who has finally put the story together for me. Reading this, I wondered at times if Kai somehow pulled off a black bag operation to get into the Agency archives."
--Robert Baer, former CIA operative and New York Times bestselling author of See No Evil
 
“Kai Bird has unearthed an astonishing amount of detail about Robert Ames, the CIA, and U.S. spy operations in the Middle East. His book could not be more timely in showing us the perils and advantages of clandestine actions in the name of national security. The Good Spy gives new meaning to the adage that truth can be stranger than fiction.”
Robert Dallek, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy 1917-1963
 
"If John le Carre were a nonfiction specialist, he surely would feel the lure of writing the story that is at the heart of The Good Spy.  Kai Bird works the seam between history and espionage.  He has produced an arresting book – one that is knowing, and masterful in its rendition of a time when the United States cast a huge shadow across the Arab world.  Robert Ames, the spy in Kai Bird's title, is a figure of unusual poignancy because his guile and innocence run side by side.”
--Fouad Ajami, Senior Fellow at The Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and author of The Syrian Rebellion


From the Hardcover edition.

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  •  
    Yehuda Gilead 02-02-15 Member Since 2015
    HELPFUL VOTES
    1
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    7
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    "A solid research and a great storytelling ..."

    ... However the Palestinian problem is not explained in depth, but in shallow terms. The same goes for the Israeli side of the story. Israeli side depicted as an immediate villain.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    barbara 04-05-15
    barbara 04-05-15
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    12
    2
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Well-researched, balanced, insightful"

    Bird presented a balanced biography of a dedicated man and complex global reality. Chronology of altruism and quest for authentic peace amid entrenched ideology.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amazon Customer 02-06-15 Member Since 2014
    ratings
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    1
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    "Wonderful !"

    Excellent on every level, especially the level of understanding the Middle East crisis and to understand Ames' involvement, very good!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    EH Fayetteville, AR, United States 07-16-14
    EH Fayetteville, AR, United States 07-16-14 Member Since 2011

    Jeff

    HELPFUL VOTES
    4
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    19
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    "Really well done"
    Any additional comments?

    Very well done. It was not political but historical which is hard to find on these kinds of topics. Very respectful of various sides of issues.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Shelly Dee 08-10-14
    Shelly Dee 08-10-14 Member Since 2013

    Shelly

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Not for me"
    What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

    I know this has rave reviews, but there is so much history that drags it down, not enough about the man himself. I returned it.


    1 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jack 10-27-14
    Jack 10-27-14
    ratings
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    4
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    "Not a biography of Robert Ames"
    Any additional comments?

    Very disappointed. Stuck with it to the end but learned precious little about Ames and CIA. The book is more about the life and times of Ali Hassan Salameh and the Palestinian/Israeli conflict in the 1970's. But that's not as sexy as CIA spies. Buyer beware.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Susan 06-11-14
    Susan 06-11-14
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    85
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    5
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    "Not what I expected."

    I was lured in by the fact the author once lived near Robert Ames and his family. I thought there would be much in the way of first-hand and intimate (no...not THAT kind of intimate) information. Nothing of the sort. DIdn't finish the book.

    1 of 5 people found this review helpful
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