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 Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.


Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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