Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Review: The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames by Kai Bird

Review: The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames
Kai Bird
Broadway Books

The Good SpyThis book weaves a biography of Robert Ames and the complex world of Middle Eastern policy making into an intricate tapestry that nearly defies description.  This is no lightweight read, but well worth the effort it takes to finish it.  

Ames life story tells of a man dedicated to his work and to the hope of peace in the Middle East.  The Middle East the reader meets in this book include the Israelis, Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrian, Jordanian, Iraqi, Iranians, Saudi, Yemeni, Americans, and United Nations members.  There could be several other groups added to the list, but what is there already is sufficient to make the point.  Ames more than many others knew the street level workings present among all those players and also had access to the policy makers, a very unique position.  His desire was to provide information to those in power that would be used toward a peaceful coexistence.   He also desired to be the best husband and father possible to his family.  Ames, the man, left a legacy to be admired.  The book is a tribute to him by the author.

Beyond a tribute to Ames, this book tracks the history of the region and the efforts to navigate through the webs of distrust that grew out of the relationships between groups.  That’s when the going gets tough with this book.  The reality described within its pages is so complicated that it probably is not decipherable by those that live there and try to govern there.  The long backstory of each group drives today’s decisions.  The strategic interests of all must be met, but that is an impossible task since they are in conflict.  The dance that ensues I found to be amazing.   Ames’ work was instrumental in helping find the correct steps and cadence for the dance.  

The reader also meets several other key players in the world of information gathering who were what I’ll call indigenous to the region.  Their lives intersect Ames’ and they too were dedicated to their causes.  People are more complex than the bad guy images painted by some of the reporting from the West’s perspective, or the Middle East’s for that matter.  What the reader will find, and suspected all along, is that there is another side of the coin, and that none of those involved are totally innocent. 

Yes, I recommend this book.  Yes, there are sections that are slow.  And yes, stick with it will challenge your thinking about the Middle East.  It has mine.

I received this book from the publisher in return for a review.

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