The portrait of daily life at the CIA is one of the strengths of the book. Most books about the agency (such as Thomas Powers’s ) focus on the top levels. But in “The Good Spy,” we get to see what it was like to be down in the ranks.
Yet “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.
Kai Bird is a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and journalist. He is now working on a biography of President Jimmy Carter's White House years, under contract to Crown books (Random House). His most recent book, The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames, was a New York Times best-seller. He chronicled his childhood in the Middle East in his memoir, Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis--which was a Finalist for both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. He is the acclaimed author of biographies of John J. McCloy, McGeorge Bundy, and William Bundy. He won the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 2006 for American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer (co-authored with Martin J. Sherwin). His work includes critical writings on the Vietnam War, Hiroshima, Nuclear weapons, the Cold War, the Arab-Israeli conflict and the CIA. Bird and Sherwin also won the National Books Critics Circle Award and the Duff Cooper Prize for History. He is an elected member of the prestigious Society of American Historians. Kai Bird lives in Miami Beach with his wife Susan Goldmark.
“The Good Spy” has all the moral ambiguities a thriller reader could want. Salameh was one of the most trusted advisers to PLO chief Yasser Arafat and a member of the Black September terrorist network. The Israelis tried repeatedly to assassinate him before succeeding in 1979. Yet Salameh was also among the CIA’s most valuable contacts in the region and was credited with saving the lives of many Americans. Ames died tragically in 1983 when a car bomb destroyed the U.S. Embassy in Beirut.