A fascinating though somewhat censored memoir that also serves as an organizational critique of the CIA.



In his debut, a CIA veteran recounts his challenges and frustrations working for the intelligence agency from 1966 to 1991.

Following college and a stint in the Marines, Costanzo, son of an American Foreign Service worker, signed on to work for the CIA in the 1960s. So began his tale of dealing with a rather Kafkaesque bureaucracy for the next 25 years. Costanzo enjoyed his espionage training and has respect for nonnalluring procedures—e.g., ensuring consistent language in surveillance summaries—but the pettiness of senior officers, many of them holdovers from World War II, almost made him quit several times. Instead, he persevered, often by circumventing the system, especially after he realized that the CIA rarely fires anyone since such departures could pose a security risk. He got deployed overseas and held jobs at cover organizations while also conducting clandestine operations, ultimately reaching the position of chief of station in an unnamed country. Costanzo provides some fascinating peeks into the mechanics of cultivating recruits and using disguises and safe houses, but alas, he must remain mum about the actual places where he served, as mandated by his CIA manuscript reviewers for reasons of national security. Still, Costanzo has some fun within this directive, christening countries with such Orwellian monikers as Latrinia, Effluvia and Rattalia. He also manages to sneak in some assessments of CIA leaders, including James Jesus Angleton (“a real operational genius, but later he grew irrational”), Dick Helms (“cronyism abounded”), James R. Schlesinger (“myopia and incomprehension of the service’s problems”), Bill Colby (“some good reforms”) and Bob Gates (“his policies fully embodied the prejudices toward the perceived elitism of the clandestine service”). Costanzo provides some pithy takes on political events as well, usually casting the blame squarely on outside parties—blaming émigrés for the Bay of Pigs fiasco, for example—rather than on bad informants. Elsewhere, he skims over his personal life—his wife and daughter are only briefly mentioned—and comes off a bit cranky with his relentless workplace complaints. Overall, however, Costanzo files a commendable report on agency life.

A fascinating though somewhat censored memoir that also serves as an organizational critique of the CIA.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-1490498430

Page Count: 430

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 17, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2014

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.


“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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