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Publisher's Summary

From the New York Times best-selling author of The Gatekeepers, an “engaging…richly textured” (The New York Times), behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to run the world’s most powerful intelligence agency. “The best book about the CIA I’ve ever read…one hell of a story” (Christopher Buckley).

With unprecedented access to more than a dozen individuals who have made the life-and-death decisions that come with running the world’s most powerful and influential intelligence service, Chris Whipple tells the story of an agency that answers to the United States president alone, but whose activities — spying, espionage, and covert action — take place on every continent. At pivotal moments, the CIA acts as a counterforce against rogue presidents, starting in the mid-70s with DCI Richard Helms’s refusal to conceal Richard Nixon’s criminality and through the Trump presidency when a CIA whistleblower ignited impeachment proceedings and armed insurrectionists assaulted the US Capitol.

Since its inception in 1947, the Central Intelligence Agency has been a powerful player on the world stage, operating largely in the shadows to protect American interests. For The Spymasters, Whipple conducted extensive, exclusive interviews with nearly every living CIA director, pulling back the curtain on the world’s elite spy agencies and showing how the CIA partners — or clashes — with counterparts in Britain, France, Germany, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Russia. Topics covered in the book include attempts by presidents to use the agency for their own ends; simmering problems in the Middle East and Asia; rogue nuclear threats; and cyberwarfare.

A revelatory, well-researched history, The Spymasters recounts seven decades of CIA activity and elicits predictions about the issues — and threats — that will engage the attention of future operatives and analysts. Including eye-opening interviews with George Tenet, John Brennan, Leon Panetta, and David Petraeus, as well as those who’ve recently departed the agency, this is a timely, essential, and important contribution to current events.

©2020 Chris Whipple (P)2020 Simon & Schuster Audio

What listeners say about The Spymasters

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Just HORRIBLE

I bought his last book, the Gatekeepers and enjoyed it, this book was just awful! I get it, he doesn't like Republicans, ok. But in his book every Republican president and every director they appointed were ignorant hacks.

This is a love letter to John Brennan. Whipple let's his personal bias distort every single chapter.

Even if you agree with his politics, the book was poorly written and difficult to listen to.

I would have given it zero stars if I could.

7 people found this helpful

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Our Potential Damnation

The Spymasters, How the CIA's Directors Shape History and Guard the Future, written by Chris Whipple, and narrated by Mark Bramhall. (And a very expertly read audio at that.) This book is not a historical study of the agency. So says the author at the beginnings of his stories. It is an examination of the personalities that managed the agency and that examination takes place through the scrutiny of the man (and now one woman’s) personality as they reacted to dramatic issues facing the nation. I hate to disagree with such a brilliant researcher and storyteller. It is history in the retelling. Done brilliantly, I might add. Even better than his famous prior work, The Gatekeepers.


As a history book of the major enmeshments that confronted our past Directors of the Central Intelligence Agency, and their interaction with their one client, the president, is a magnificent retelling. It is an examination and perhaps even a psychological analysis of each person under pressure. The rather large chapters examine a Director and his interchange with his related and authorizing president(s). The book tingles with excitement as we learn and discern. Much insight into our presidents and international and historical threat periods over the last 60 years.


The last chapter deals with Trump. Are we in danger because our present executive ignores facts and is authoritative and narcissistic? I have read a dozen books on the subject of the Trump presidency. No one of those books explains the danger of having a man who applies lies to a world in which those lies do not match and thus will always have American policy existing against the forces of nature, economics, and ergonomics. No one of those books explains the danger of having a man who applies his need to be admired (and who is not very smart) and thus can be taken in by others who have little care for America’s health, and maybe be antagonistic against the American Way. With Trump in the White House, a little flattery can get you a lot of corruption. Read this book and learn of our potential damnation.

6 people found this helpful

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Disappointing

Prior books have been good but this brings into question them as well. Obviously a propaganda book by the last two chapters. Not sure why an author would destroy his reputation by writing such a book. Sad

4 people found this helpful

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Ruined by off topic trashing of Trump

The sections retelling the past CIA directors stories is fantastic. It’s so interesting. But i got the book to learn about them. Not spend every chapter having it be interrupted to take a shot at Trump. Leave that for the review of him and his directors. I was expecting it but the constant stop in story to take a shot at Trump is exhausting. Really too bad. Could have been an epic book.

4 people found this helpful

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  • FJ
  • 08-29-21

Don’t bother

A string of tired partisan tropes interspersed with some interesting but recycled stories. Don’t bother.

1 person found this helpful

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Interesting but biased...

Chris Whipple clearly has a significant bias and I suspect it may be related to his underlying political biases. It interesting to hear the history of the CIA Directors and hear something of how they make their decisions, but the book is punctuated by references to Trump and his belief that Trump “...lied continuously...”. His presentation of the Gina Haspell’s tenure is so slanted that I felt that I had to listen to the last section just to be able to write this. I suspect that his lambasting of Gina Haspell was related to less access to her and his unvarnished hatred of Trump; his use of an impression that Gina Haspell would be “...best suited to being a prison camp commandant...” is unwarranted and inappropriate. Maybe a better title of the book would be “My Favorite CIA Directors and Why”. It’s so sad that nothing can occur without the specter of political bias...

1 person found this helpful

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Always Good

Consistently good work from Whipple, and in this one too. Thorough and objective reporting, told in compelling style.

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Must Listen To

if you enjoy hearing what is going on behind the scenes, this is a great book. Also if you haven't read Gatekeepers, read that one as well. This would be great as a book club , read both and meet up type gathering.

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Subjective, not objective

Lack of a cohesive story / narrative. For a book preaching the gospel of independent thinking, this book is way too politically charged toward the mainstream media narrative.

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A rose colored history of the CIA

The author is an apologist for the Central Intelligence Agency blaming presidents and the FBI for the Agency's less admirable deeds. Anything that portrays the CIA in a poor light is skimmed over.
While a good book, this is clearly a narrative and should be read as such. The writer clearly believes that the CIA does no wrong.