I Lie for A Living - Greatest Spies of All Time

I saw a review for this book over Amazon complaining that it lacks index or bibliography. It's true, there's no bibliography part but if you look closer and try reading within the pages, you can see there's a lot of reference and source materials given by the author. Only if you read the book with enthusiasm and a keen eye.

What the reviewer failed to understand is that the current recorded information on the historical spies were directly sourced from declassified data of the CIA. Meaning, what we are seeing are just the "tip of the iceberg"--cases that were deemed closed or finished--from the CIA's perspective. We must realize that espionage work will never end as long as the threat of conflict and war is always persistent, and revealing additional sources which are connected with ACTIVE cases will surely compromise not just the US, but also any other country currently performing espionage activities. So instead of seeking for the exact source, we better read and enjoy the history of both popular and less known spies of the world as recorded from the CIA archives. The main source of the story here is the CIA and if you don't trust the accuracy of their archive, then this book is not for you.

Written by Antony Shugaar and illustrated by Stephen Guarnaccia, the reader must take note that the book was published by National Geographic Society in 2006 as a tie-up project with International Spy Museum in Washington, DC. The project aims to promote the Museum to fans and scholars of Espionage, both fiction and historical. It's purely for entertainment and informational purposes. And in this criteria the book is most effective. The NGS and the authors presented this one to be objective as possible.

When I was young I love reading through monthly copies of National Geographic Magazine and knowing the magazine and the organization (the National Geographic Society), I have no doubt with the legitimacy and reputation of their scholarly work in world history. The book's intro is written by Peter Earnest--the current director of the International Spy Museum and a retired member of the CIA. Intelligence work may be romanticized in popular media but we all know how the actual players themselves suffered but still loved their work. Others who are not lucky just simply paid their lives for it. Clearly, employing espionage work is like using a weapon similar to a double edged sword. You can never win without losing something.

The book is divided in 10 chapters (or spy categories) namely Spymasters, Selfish Spies, Spies With a Cause, Femme Fatales, Spycatchers, Masters of Tradecraft, Masks of Celebrity, Mirror Writers, Agents of Influence, and Covert Actors & Wetworkers. Now I understand the term "wetwork" as an espionage term for assassination. George Washington as a spy master and Benjamin Franklin as a propagandist are basic historical ideas but it's good to know that Erskine Childers who wrote The Riddle of the Sands is declared  father of the spy novel here, and the contrast between Ian Fleming and John Le Carre (and Graham Greene) styles of spy novels were also noteworthy. Women spies who were equally deadly and controversial as their male counterpart and the involvement of Alan Turing in cryptography and the Nazi's Enigma machines are all quality informations for fans of the professional espionage. If you're a James Bond fan, you will love to know who were the historical archetypes of 007, M, and Q. The details of killing Stalin's rival Trotsky in the hands of an assassin is thrilling while Edward Lansdale's propaganda against the Hukbalahap and the eventual support for Ramon Magsaysay's presidency are ingenious.

As an introductory book for spy fans, there's more here for your delight and subtle shock. I tag this book as one of the underrated reads this year.

image source:
book cover

Genre: Biography, Espionage, History
Rating: 3.5 Enigma Machines out of 5

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