Why spies don’t make good assassins, why American intelligence needs to borrow a page from the Great Game heroes of the...




A slender but rich—and quite entertaining—introduction to the shadowy world of spy vs. spy.

The characters who populate spy fiction, writes retired CIA inspector general Hitz (Project on International Intelligence/Princeton Univ.), have nothing on their real-life counterparts: “They are not nearly as complex in character or bizarre in behavior as the real thing.” Moreover, much of what made the likes of Bond a superspy to be reckoned with was mere gadgetry, meant “to amaze and overwhelm the viewing audience rather than get reports home more quickly and safely.” And who populates the real world of espionage? Some truly weird folk, by Hitz’s account, wedded to exaggerated notions of their importance to world affairs, prey to various perversities, ever ready to sell out their country, in some cases, for a nice sexual dalliance with a Soviet femme fatale or a bottle of whiskey (“the mother’s milk of spy recruitments”). Given this—and given well-publicized betrayals on the parts of Aldrich Ames, Kim Philby, and Robert P. Hanssen, among others—it’s amazing that any spying actually gets done. But it does, and Hitz has kind words for the many operatives who do their work without becoming turncoats, alcoholics, incompetents, or raving narcissists. Yet he also turns up some astonishing tales of woe, among them one that alone is worth the price of the book: a bureaucratic betrayal of Kurdish operatives who rose up against Saddam Hussein in 1994, under Clinton’s watch, and who were forgotten for their troubles. “This is not how a reputation is forged in the spy business for looking after your own,” Hitz wryly notes.

Why spies don’t make good assassins, why American intelligence needs to borrow a page from the Great Game heroes of the 19th-century British Empire, why things go wrong: it’s all here. A perfect companion for fans of John le Carré.

Pub Date: April 27, 2004

ISBN: 0-375-41210-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2004

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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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.


An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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