An insightful and evenhanded portrait.



One of America’s “most hated” spies receives a lively, thoughtful biography.

Stevenson, senior fellow for U.S. defense at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, has searched the archives and interviewed everyone willing to talk about Philip Agee (1935-2008). The son of a wealthy Catholic businessman, he seemed a chip off the old block, attending Catholic school and Notre Dame, where he graduated cum laude in philosophy. In 1956, during his senior year, he declined an offer from a CIA recruiter but joined after three months of law school. Agee served in Ecuador, Uruguay, and Mexico, carrying out America’s policy of fighting the influence of Castro and communism by supporting authoritarian movements and their violent methods. No evidence exists that he objected at the time, and his 1968 resignation letter cites only personal reasons. He remained in Mexico for several years, seemingly at loose ends. In 1971, he traveled to Cuba, ostensibly for research, and then to Paris, where his statements denouncing the CIA caught the agency’s attention. His 1975 bestseller, Inside the Company, was a generally accurate portrayal of CIA operations and bad behavior accompanied by the names of more than 400 CIA agents. Although it remains an article of faith among CIA supporters that agents died as a result, Stevenson expresses doubts—but there is no doubt that it ruined careers and hampered missions. The author devotes two-thirds of the book to the remainder of Agee’s life as a professional CIA critic, constantly fending off enraged officials who proclaimed that his defection was a facade of “venality, lust, drunkenness, or emotional breakdown.” The 1970s were not kind to the CIA, but Congressional anger at its dirty tricks caused more damage than insider revelations. By the 1980s, America’s conservative turn had relieved the pressure, and 9/11 reenergized the agency. “Once 9/11 effectively reempowered the agency, and it went nefarious again with renditions, black sites, and torture,” he writes, “[Agee’s] mission again became relevant to upholding true American principles.”

An insightful and evenhanded portrait.

Pub Date: May 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-226-35668-6

Page Count: 328

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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