New York Times Bestseller A Washington Post Notable Book A Christian Science Monitor Top Ten Book, 2014 New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice Entertainment Weekly's Best Spy Book of 2014 A Daily Beast Best Biography of 2014 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.” —Mark Mazzetti, The New York Times Book Review “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.” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times“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.” —Max Boot, Wall Street Journal “ Full of great morsels and details… Bird has found in Ames a wonderful new subject…. The Good Spy succeeds on the basis of Bird’s considerable research skills, his interviews with intelligence officials, his access to Ames’s letters home and, above all, his ability to spot and put together an engrossing biography.” – Washington Post “Bird captures the acrid taste of regional politics and offers a perceptive portrayal of the internal workings and interplay of personalities within the CIA at the time… An enthralling read.”– Houston Chronicle “[ Bird] spent years researching this terrific biography of one of America’s most important covert operatives. It was worth every minute.” –Seattle Times “Engrossing…This absorbing book suggests that even the best of intentions, and the best of spies, aren’t enough to bridge the chasms in the Middle East.” —Los Angeles Times “ Riveting…[Bird] relates fascinating details (drawn from interviews with some 30 retired CIA and Mossad officers) about the culture and practices of the agency, including the life-and-death implications of designating an individual as either a ‘source,’ a ‘recruit’ or an ‘asset.’” – San Francisco Gate “With its pacy narrative, exotic locales and colourful cast of CIA and Mossad agents, Palestinian and Iranian revolutionaries, Lebanese operators and even a winner of the Miss Universe contest, the book has all the ingredients of a first-class thriller. Kai Bird writes well enough to be a novelist, too, but his sentences have the additional virtue of being true.” – Times Literary Supplement “In his riveting, illuminating account of Ames' life and ultimate death in the 1983 embassy bombing in Beirut, Bird pulls back the thick black curtain on the world of clandestine intelligence affairs — a world that turns out to be more blazer-and-pen than cloak-and-dagger, though no less engrossing — to tell the story of one individual's good work in a not-so-good system. A” – Entertainment Weekly “One of the best nonfiction books ever written about the West’s involvement in the Arab world.” —The Spectator (UK) “All of this is engrossing for those fascinated by the machinations of the people and politics of the Middle East…But this book should appeal to a wider audience. It underlines the need for intelligence-gathering by humans as well as by machines, and illustrates the gap between spying and policy.” – The Economist One of 2014's best books so far. “A lucid, thorough, fascinating biography.” – TIME.com “It is a reflection of the drama of this patch of history as well as Bird’s skill in rendering it that the book is as compelling a read as most spy novels.” – National Interest “ Kai Bird has written a riveting biography… This intriguing book shares many exciting exploits of Ames’ life as a spy, but most captivating was his poignant relationship with Ali Hassan Salameh.” –Jewish Journal (Massachusetts) “Painstakingly researched...In addition to being an admiring biography of a uniquely gifted CIA operative, The Good Spy reminds us of those long-ago days when some sort of resolution was considered even a remote possibility.” – Highbrow Magazine “More exciting than le Carré’s George Smiley or Fleming’s James Bond, Bird recreates the life of CIA superspy Robert Ames… Bird’s meticulous account of Ames’s career amid an ongoing Mideast climate of caution and suspicion is one of the best books on the American intelligence community.” —Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) “A moving biography within a balanced presentation of the complex diplomacy over the Palestinian quest for statehood and Israeli need for security.” —Library Journal (Starred Review) “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.” —Kirkus Reviews “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 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. “The Good Spy gives us the CIA up close and personal—the intricate dance of recruiting ‘assets,’ the bureaucratic maneuverings, the family compromises. 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 Carré 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
…textured and absorbing…the book quickly becomes a rich, nuanced portrait of a man who, in the C.I.A.'s term, had "a high tolerance for ambiguity." It is this trait that led Ames to develop a deep relationshipeven a friendshipwith Ali Hassan Salameh, the P.L.O.'s jet-setting, womanizing intelligence chief, whom the Israelis called "the Red Prince." That relationship forms the narrative spine of much of the book, and Bird's patient, detailed exposition of how the two men came to rely on each other is one of the best accounts we have of how espionage really works.
The New York Times Book Review - Mark Mazzetti
…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, and none are supplied…Mr. Bird tells several stories at once…At the center is Ames's narrative. But the author also looks consistently backward, to the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as forward to Sept. 11 and the current snarled realities of the Middle East…
The Good Spy provides a fresh and grainy view of the rise of organizations like Hezbollah, and of figures like Osama bin Laden. It allows us to meet in Ames a quiet but strong personality, a man whose fundamental decency allowed him to see both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict clearly.
The New York Times - Dwight Garner
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. (May)
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
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.