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The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames
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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.
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Street Date:
05/20/2014
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780307889775
ASIN:
B00GVZN320
Citations
APA Citation (style guide)

Kai Bird. (2014). The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames. Crown.

Chicago / Turabian - Author Date Citation (style guide)

Kai Bird. 2014. The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames. Crown.

Chicago / Turabian - Humanities Citation (style guide)

Kai Bird, The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames. Crown, 2014.

MLA Citation (style guide)

Kai Bird. The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames. Crown, 2014.

Note! Citation formats are based on standards as of July 2022. Citations contain only title, author, edition, publisher, and year published. Citations should be used as a guideline and should be double checked for accuracy.
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      • bioText: 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.
      • name: Kai Bird
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title
The Good Spy
fullDescription
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.
reviews
      • premium: False
      • source: Mark Mazzetti, The New York Times Book Review
      • content: An Apple Top 10 Biography of 2014

        "A rich nuanced portrait of a man who, in the CIA's term, had a high tolerance for ambiguity...One of the best accounts we have of how espionage really works."
      • premium: False
      • source: Dwight Garner, The New York Times
      • content: "Cool and authoritative...The book's understated pleasures come from reading a pro writing about a pro. Mr. Bird has a dry style; watching him compose a book is like watching a robin build a nest. Twig is entwined with twig until a sturdy edifice is constructed. No flourishes are required .... Mr. Bird's style is ideal for his subject."
      • premium: False
      • source: Max Boot, Wall Street Journal
      • content: "A well-researched, engagingly presented biography...The Good Spy is a fascinating book that sheds much-needed light on one of the murkier corners of CIA--and Middle Eastern--history."
      • premium: False
      • source: Seymour Hersh, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Price of Power, The Dark Side of Camelot, and Chain of Command
      • content: "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."
      • premium: True
      • source: Publisher's Weekly
      • content:

        Starred review from February 10, 2014
        More exciting than le Carré’s George Smiley or Fleming’s James Bond, Bird (Crossing Mandelbaum Gate) recreates the life of C.I.A. superspy Robert Ames, an operative with a skill for appreciating the turns and twists of Mideast politics. Ames, a detail-oriented, Philadelphia-bred scholar, was offered a job by the Agency as a junior officer in 1960, rising quickly through the ranks. Later, one colleague said Ames “would have stood tall in his All American shoes as a Louis L’Amour hero.” Whatever the assignment—Beirut, Aden, Asmara, Kuwait—Ames cultivated key Arab sources, befriending such unlikely personalities as Mustafa Zein, a strategic advisor to the ruling sheik of Abu Dhabi, and Ali Hassan Salameh, a favorite of Yasir Arafat, through such flashpoints as the Jordanian civil war, the Munich massacre, and the Iran hostage crisis. Although Ames was an essential player in the 1977 Camp David accords, the C.I.A. Mideast expert with so much potential to unify the opposing factions died in a 1983 bomb explosion outside the U.S. embassy in Beirut, setting back the process of reconciliation between the Israelis and Palestinians. Bird’s meticulous account of Ames’s career amid an ongoing Mideast climate of caution and suspicion is one of the best books on American intelligence community.

      • premium: True
      • source: Kirkus
      • content:

        April 1, 2014
        A poignant tribute to a CIA Middle East operative who helped get the Palestinians and Israelis to talk to each other--and died for it. Accomplished, wide-ranging author Bird (Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis, 1956-1978, 2010, etc.) has great sympathy for Philadelphia native Robert Ames (1934-1983), who came of age in the late 1950s, became a CIA agent and worked efficiently in building trust between Palestinians and Americans. In the late '60s, the CIA, headed by Richard Helms, worked with Henry Kissinger's National Security Council and President Richard Nixon in managing the tense situation in the Middle East, where Jordan was on the brink of civil war, squeezed by Yasser Arafat's PLO and Israel. Through his friendship with pro-American Lebanese businessman Mustafa Zein, Ames cultivated a long-running relationship with PLO operative Ali Hassan Salameh,"the Red Prince," which helped bolster the legitimacy of the PLO. Promoted to chief of covert operations in most of Arabia, Ames took huge risks by bringing Salameh in a highly secret visit to the United States and even meeting Arafat. Keeping "back channels" open during the Iran hostage crisis occupied years of Ames' career, all while he maintained contact with Zein after the Mossad's assassination of Salameh in 1979. Moving from CIA operations to intelligence under William Casey, Ames was appalled by Secretary of State Alexander Haig's tacit support for Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and worked "desperately to unchain Washington from its rote support of Israeli behavior." He would be sacrificed in the conflagration, one of numerous victims of the terrorist truck bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut on April 18, 1983. A low-key, respectful life of a decent American officer whose quietly significant work helped lead to the Oslo Accords.

        COPYRIGHT(2014) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

      • premium: True
      • source: Library Journal
      • content:

        Starred review from March 1, 2014

        Pulitzer Prize-winning author Bird (coauthor, American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer) presents CIA intelligence officer Robert Ames (1934-83) as a serious intellectual, a devoted family man, and a hardworking, idealistic professional. After preparing readers for Ames's death in the massive 1983 bombing of the American embassy in Beirut, Bird takes us back through Ames's development as an expert in Arabic languages, history, and politics who increasingly focused on the Arab-Israeli conflict. By 1980, he was a recognized policy advisor within the CIA, state department, and White House. Bird interweaves his subject's commitment to finding a solution to the Palestine dilemma with tracking the mounting unrest in Lebanon and increasing terrorism by Palestinians, Israelis, and militant Shiites. Readers are drawn to Ames and his effort to be a "good spy," building solutions, even as the U.S. government, buffeted by partisan pressures, adhered to no one constructive policy. VERDICT 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. Bird's view of a CIA committed to analysis and policy development contrasts with the agency depicted in Hugh Wilford's recent America's Great Game. A worthy addition to collections. [See Prepub Alert, 11/22/13.]--Elizabeth Hayford, formerly with Associated Coll. of the Midwest, Evanston, IL

        Copyright 2014 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

      • premium: True
      • source: Library Journal
      • content:

        December 1, 2013

        Given continuing tensions in the Middle East, pay attention to Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Bird's account of CIA agent Robert Ames, one of America's most important assets in the region until his life was cut short by the bomb that exploded outside the American Embassy in Beirut in April 1983.

        Copyright 2013 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

      • premium: True
      • source: Library Journal
      • content:

        March 1, 2014

        Pulitzer Prize-winning author Bird (coauthor, American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer) presents CIA intelligence officer Robert Ames (1934-83) as a serious intellectual, a devoted family man, and a hardworking, idealistic professional. After preparing readers for Ames's death in the massive 1983 bombing of the American embassy in Beirut, Bird takes us back through Ames's development as an expert in Arabic languages, history, and politics who increasingly focused on the Arab-Israeli conflict. By 1980, he was a recognized policy advisor within the CIA, state department, and White House. Bird interweaves his subject's commitment to finding a solution to the Palestine dilemma with tracking the mounting unrest in Lebanon and increasing terrorism by Palestinians, Israelis, and militant Shiites. Readers are drawn to Ames and his effort to be a "good spy," building solutions, even as the U.S. government, buffeted by partisan pressures, adhered to no one constructive policy. VERDICT 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. Bird's view of a CIA committed to analysis and policy development contrasts with the agency depicted in Hugh Wilford's recent America's Great Game. A worthy addition to collections. [See Prepub Alert, 11/22/13.]--Elizabeth Hayford, formerly with Associated Coll. of the Midwest, Evanston, IL

        Copyright 2014 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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shortDescription
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...
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