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The Wolf and the Watchman: A Father, a Son, and the CIA

The Wolf and the Watchman: A Father, a Son, and the CIA

4.3 3
by Scott C. Johnson

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A moving father-son account—part family memoir, part spy story—that runs from the Cold War to the War on Terror.


A moving father-son account—part family memoir, part spy story—that runs from the Cold War to the War on Terror.

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post - Jeff Stein
It all adds up to quite a story. Toggling between his childhood, his father's comings and goings, his poisonous love affairs and his increasingly risky assignments as a war reporter…Johnson evokes John le Carre's dark autobiographical thriller The Perfect Spy…To his credit, Johnson has transformed what might have been just one long, narcissistic howl at the darkness into the kind of psychological police procedural that might have been written by Camus.
Publishers Weekly
The bitter truth of his father working for the CIA years ago still haunts Johnson, a former Newsweek foreign correspondent, and that knowledge forms the spine of this revealing book of family discord, disconnection, and reunion. He never sugarcoats the sense of betrayal his father inspired due to the years of falsely claiming to be a diplomat; a betrayal of both Johnson and his adoptive mother, who felt tricked into a marriage of convenience and dark secrets. "e simply stopped trusting each other under the strain of the many lies." The consequences of this double life linger for years; even affecting his father's political ambitions as GOP smears derail a senatorial bid. Johnson despises his father's ongoing misinformation and misrepresentations, refusing to remain complicit in the necessary duplicities of espionage. Determined not to follow his father's deceptive footsteps, Johnson becomes a foreign journalist, mainly in the Middle East and Afghanistan, where he encounters an ex-al Qaeda agent and learns the arts of forgiveness and parental pride. Johnson's engrossing memoir, through the layers of subterfuge, uncovers many basic truths of familial conflict, allowing concessions and reconciliation to eventually win the day despite the years of lies and poor choices. (May)
“An enthralling look at a complicated father-son relationship and a painful investigation of the messiness of truth in journalism, intelligence ops, and life.”
Kirkus Reviews
A former Newsweek foreign correspondent reviews his often perplexing experiences as the son of a CIA operative. Now a freelance journalist, Johnson begins in 1973, his birth year, with a story about a snake charmer in India, where his father was stationed. The snake charmer proves an apt metaphor for the mysterious elder Johnson, a sophisticated persuader whose ability to charm was his deadliest arrow as he sought to flip other agents and foreign nationals. The author does not obey a strict chronology. After 10 chapters that deliver us to 2001, Johnson returns to Mexico City in 1968, wondering if or how his father was involved in the deadly violence that occurred there just before the Olympics. Rendering the question even more wrenching is his realization that Johnson père could have been involved in the arrest of the father of a woman Johnson fils was dating. About halfway through, the narrative arrives near the present with a summary of the author's sometimes-harrowing experiences covering the war in Iraq; he survived an IED explosion while riding in a Marine vehicle and had other brushes with death. We also hear about Sarajevo in 2004 and, in later chapters, about visits with his uneasily retired father in Spokane. They took some road trips, and en route, we learn about some of the missions and adventures of Johnson père, though he says he resents interrogations. Nonetheless, the author kept pushing him to impart as much family and professional history as possible, trying to understand a man with such a deadly past who nonetheless both professes and demonstrates a profound love for his son. Gripping, emotional depictions of the conflicts that rage in the interior and exterior worlds of a spy--and of a journalist.
Robert Baer
“A beautifully written memoir, and a cautionary tale about double lives. . . . I couldn’t put this book down.”
Jon Lee Anderson
“A fine book of unusual honesty; he grapples with the nature of his beloved father’s secret life and the profound consequences it has had in his own. This is an extraordinary story, astonishingly well-told.”
David Finkel
“A mesmerizing book . . . beautifully written, deeply moving, and compulsively readable.”
Megan Stack
“Brave and memorable . . . a rare glimpse into the private life of a spy that digs into the love, lies, and ambiguities between father and son.”
Evan Thomas
“An aching, lyrical father-son story of the spy world that is dark and intriguing.”
Michael Hastings
“This stunning memoir could be ripped from the pages of a John le Carré novel. . . . A fascinating and important book by one of the great American foreign correspondents of his generation.”
Emma Garman - The Daily Beast
“With rare emotional subtlety, and in finely etched prose worthy of Evelyn Waugh or Graham Greene, [Johnson] captures the perspectives of people on various sides of [a] bloody equation.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“[A] searingly honest memoir… [Johnson] deftly explores the eerie parallels between these professional worlds: the CIA case officer who labors to recruit sources to provide secret information to assist the United States in its pursuit of foreign policy objectives worldwide, and the journalist who also recruits inside sources, but ones who will speak for publication.”
Washington Post
“Evokes John le Carré’s dark autobiographical thriller The Perfect Spy.”

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.20(d)


Meet the Author

Scott C. Johnson was a Newsweek foreign correspondent for twelve years, often providing exclusive war reporting from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other fronts in the Middle East. He also served as Newsweek’s bureau chief in Mexico, Baghdad, and Africa; was part of the team that won the 2003 National Magazine Award for reportage of the Iraq War; and received a 2004 Overseas Press Club Honorable Mention for his reporting from Latin America. He is now a freelance journalist and writer living in Santa Monica, California.

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The Wolf and the Watchman: A Father, a Son, and the CIA 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
efm More than 1 year ago
I really liked this book, the story of father and son and secrets.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is well written and a fascinating story.   Hopefully the author will obtain an interview on Book TV. I highly recommend it and bought it for my Son-in Law. who lives in Spokane. .