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Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA

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Amaryllis Fox's riveting memoir tells the story of her ten years in the most elite clandestine ops unit of the CIA, hunting the world's most dangerous terrorists in sixteen countries while marrying and giving birth to a daughter Amaryllis Fox was in her last year as an undergraduate at Oxford studying theology and international law when her writing mentor Daniel Pearl was Amaryllis Fox's riveting memoir tells the story of her ten years in the most elite clandestine ops unit of the CIA, hunting the world's most dangerous terrorists in sixteen countries while marrying and giving birth to a daughter Amaryllis Fox was in her last year as an undergraduate at Oxford studying theology and international law when her writing mentor Daniel Pearl was captured and beheaded. Galvanized by this brutality, Fox applied to a master's program in conflict and terrorism at Georgetown's School of Foreign Service, where she created an algorithm that predicted, with uncanny certainty, the likelihood of a terrorist cell arising in any village around the world. At twenty-one, she was recruited by the CIA. Her first assignment was reading and analyzing hundreds of classified cables a day from foreign governments and synthesizing them into daily briefs for the president. Her next assignment was at the Iraq desk in the Counterterrorism center. At twenty-two, she was fast-tracked into advanced operations training, sent from Langley to "the Farm," where she lived for six months in a simulated world learning how to use a Glock, how to get out of flexicuffs while locked in the trunk of a car, how to withstand torture, and the best ways to commit suicide in case of captivity. At the end of this training she was deployed as a spy under non-official cover--the most difficult and coveted job in the field as an art dealer specializing in tribal and indigenous art and sent to infiltrate terrorist networks in remote areas of the Middle East and Asia. Life Undercover is exhilarating, intimate, fiercely intelligent--an impossible to put down record of an extraordinary life, and of Amaryllis Fox's astonishing courage and passion.


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Amaryllis Fox's riveting memoir tells the story of her ten years in the most elite clandestine ops unit of the CIA, hunting the world's most dangerous terrorists in sixteen countries while marrying and giving birth to a daughter Amaryllis Fox was in her last year as an undergraduate at Oxford studying theology and international law when her writing mentor Daniel Pearl was Amaryllis Fox's riveting memoir tells the story of her ten years in the most elite clandestine ops unit of the CIA, hunting the world's most dangerous terrorists in sixteen countries while marrying and giving birth to a daughter Amaryllis Fox was in her last year as an undergraduate at Oxford studying theology and international law when her writing mentor Daniel Pearl was captured and beheaded. Galvanized by this brutality, Fox applied to a master's program in conflict and terrorism at Georgetown's School of Foreign Service, where she created an algorithm that predicted, with uncanny certainty, the likelihood of a terrorist cell arising in any village around the world. At twenty-one, she was recruited by the CIA. Her first assignment was reading and analyzing hundreds of classified cables a day from foreign governments and synthesizing them into daily briefs for the president. Her next assignment was at the Iraq desk in the Counterterrorism center. At twenty-two, she was fast-tracked into advanced operations training, sent from Langley to "the Farm," where she lived for six months in a simulated world learning how to use a Glock, how to get out of flexicuffs while locked in the trunk of a car, how to withstand torture, and the best ways to commit suicide in case of captivity. At the end of this training she was deployed as a spy under non-official cover--the most difficult and coveted job in the field as an art dealer specializing in tribal and indigenous art and sent to infiltrate terrorist networks in remote areas of the Middle East and Asia. Life Undercover is exhilarating, intimate, fiercely intelligent--an impossible to put down record of an extraordinary life, and of Amaryllis Fox's astonishing courage and passion.

30 review for Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA

  1. 4 out of 5

    Tammy

    More than likely this memoir will be a nonfiction bestseller in 2020. As a former CIA super spy, Fox has stellar media connections and it certainly won’t hurt that she is married to a member of the Kennedy family. The pace is a bit too brisk and the writing is rather pedestrian but she does succeed in providing a glimpse into her world during the time she was working within the most dangerous countries in the world. I will sleep a bit better knowing these spooks are on duty trying to make the wo More than likely this memoir will be a nonfiction bestseller in 2020. As a former CIA super spy, Fox has stellar media connections and it certainly won’t hurt that she is married to a member of the Kennedy family. The pace is a bit too brisk and the writing is rather pedestrian but she does succeed in providing a glimpse into her world during the time she was working within the most dangerous countries in the world. I will sleep a bit better knowing these spooks are on duty trying to make the world a safer place for all.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jasmine

    4.5/5 I was so pleasantly surprised by this book. Usually, with 'memoirs' surrounding war and violence, I find that I lose interest quickly either out of repetitiveness or because the events are tough to swallow. Life Undercover was nothing like that at all. It was very much about the strain that being an undercover agent had on Fox's relationships with colleagues, with men, and with her family. It was moving in every way, particularly from the halfway point where she talks 4.5/5 I was so pleasantly surprised by this book. Usually, with 'memoirs' surrounding war and violence, I find that I lose interest quickly either out of repetitiveness or because the events are tough to swallow. Life Undercover was nothing like that at all. It was very much about the strain that being an undercover agent had on Fox's relationships with colleagues, with men, and with her family. It was moving in every way, particularly from the halfway point where she talks about her decision to start a family even in the conditions she worked in. Throughout the book, we hear stories about her journeys to wartorn countries, to places overrun with fear like Pakistan, and her life in America where she remained in fear of her life. The whole experience was emotional.  Looking back on my reading experience, I know that I could never face those conditions. I know I could never leave my family without telling them the truth about where I was and what I was doing. I know I could never willingly put myself in a situation where I could die at any moment. I know I could never hold steady conversations with people who held my future in their hands. Every moment of this book, I thought of how much bravery it requires to work undercover, and how much bravery it requires to expose your identity to tell the world about your work. I was so impressed by this book. I wouldn't be surprised if it made it on the non-fiction bestsellers list in 2020. I'm excited for this book to go out into the world, for people to see the things Amaryllis Fox had to go through and how she endured it. Life Undercover was amazing in every way. I'm particularly excited for this to be turned into an Apple TV series with Brie Larson!  Thank you to Amaryllis Fox and to Ebury Press (Penguin) for sending me a copy for review. Life Undercover is due for release on 17th October 2019.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Robyn

    The spy who prevented a nuclear attack with a bottle of clove oil... This is the absolutely riveting story of a modern day spy, a real life James Bond, although, as she notes, Bond is ridiculous; in the real world of espionage, "one street chase and my cover is blown for life." This is the story of how Ms. Fox became a spy, what that life cost her and what it gained, and why she left. This memoir exposes so many secret lives, all at once. Ms Fox talks about being recruited The spy who prevented a nuclear attack with a bottle of clove oil... This is the absolutely riveting story of a modern day spy, a real life James Bond, although, as she notes, Bond is ridiculous; in the real world of espionage, "one street chase and my cover is blown for life." This is the story of how Ms. Fox became a spy, what that life cost her and what it gained, and why she left. This memoir exposes so many secret lives, all at once. Ms Fox talks about being recruited by the CIA while still in graduate school, getting up at 2 am, analyzing and preparing nuclear threat assessments for the President's morning briefings before biking back across DC for a full day of classes. She writes about being chosen for clandestine service, and how she recruited her first pretend asset, with a nod to Frank Sinatra and asking for a favor. She writes about how, in the most high stakes meeting imaginable, with a terrorist cell ready to unleash a nuclear bomb, the presence of clove oil in her backpack ended up being the prop that turned the tide. Ms. Fox first encounter terrorism at the age of 8, when her best friend was killed in the Pan Am bombing. Her father showed Amaryllis newspaper stories about the attack, hoping that understanding the threat would make it less scary. Another time, he took apart a scary toy in the middle of the night to show her the batteries and blinking lights that made it work. Amaryllis came to believe that understanding something is the secret to being less afraid of it -- an approach that would both make her a unique kind of spy, a spy who believes that the secret to saving the world is not by destroying the enemy, but by understanding them. I kept thinking, when reading this book, that I wanted more of it. It is 240 pages, and I wanted it to be three times the length, because I loved every single world that she created: her post-high school stint in Burma, where she ended up going undercover to smuggle out an interview with a political prisoner (she was EIGHTEEN years old!). Her double life as a CIA analyst and Georgetown student. Her training at the Farm, involving clandestine training missions all around the streets of DC, which should be its own series all by itself. And of course, her life in the field, where she created a double identity as an art dealer and arms broker, which covered her triple identity as a CIA spy. If this is not turned into a prestige TV series, I will REVOLT. This has more cinematic power than the entire Marvel universe. But beyond all the spy craft and storytelling, there is something else, something more powerful, and more transformational. This is a book to make you afraid of how real the threats are, yes; how close we come to devastation, and the people who spend their entire lives working to prevent the next attack. (It will also make you furious at anyone who attacks our intelligence agents.) But more than that, this is a book to make you hopeful, to follow you on Amaryllis' journey towards the belief that understanding (and clove oil) is the path towards a more lasting peace.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Carmen Liffengren

    3.5 Stars I wasn't exactly expecting Sydney Bristow and Alias or anything like that, but that's kind of what I got (minus the Rambaldi Device). Fox led a most impressive and unique life. At 21, she was recruited by the CIA and fast-tracked into ops training. I could almost see the film montage of that particularly grueling training. I was keenly fascinated by the chess-like maneuvering that Fox employs juggling intelligence, contacts, classified info, and targets. What I really wanted more of was her adjustment(minus 3.5 Stars I wasn't exactly expecting Sydney Bristow and Alias or anything like that, but that's kind of what I got (minus the Rambaldi Device). Fox led a most impressive and unique life. At 21, she was recruited by the CIA and fast-tracked into ops training. I could almost see the film montage of that particularly grueling training. I was keenly fascinated by the chess-like maneuvering that Fox employs juggling intelligence, contacts, classified info, and targets. What I really wanted more of was her adjustment back to civilian life after the birth of her daughter. After years in deep cover, living under constant surveillance, within a "swirl of fiction," I wanted to understand the psyche of human endurance and how she uncoiled from her cover to let her true identity emerge. Did she know who she truly was after so many years in the field? Fox was just touching on this as her memoir was winding down. The CIA is endlessly fascinating to me and Fox's work was truly engrossing, but her memoir covers a lot of territory quickly and I wanted more of her more emotional story.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Margo Tanenbaum

    This new memoir is a well written account of what it's like as a young woman to be recruited by the CIA and then to serve as a top secret undercover officer. While I found the book engrossing, I found the author's attitude in the book to be very irritating--I wish I could have her confidence in the US strategies abroad. In reading her book, you might think that the US always takes the moral high road--we are good, the other guys are bad, etc. The world is not that simplistic. Ms. Fox is clearly This new memoir is a well written account of what it's like as a young woman to be recruited by the CIA and then to serve as a top secret undercover officer. While I found the book engrossing, I found the author's attitude in the book to be very irritating--I wish I could have her confidence in the US strategies abroad. In reading her book, you might think that the US always takes the moral high road--we are good, the other guys are bad, etc. The world is not that simplistic. Ms. Fox is clearly a very smart individual so this single-mindedness bothered me, and frankly, frightened me. Also, she thinks very highly of herself and her CIA colleagues, who seem to almost form part of a cult of people who think they are smarter and know more than anyone else. I do wonder, also, how it is that the CIA grants people like Ms. Fox permission to divulge so many of their training methods--donj't you have to sign some kind of non-disclosure agreement? I much preferred as a CIA female agent memoir the book Blowing My Cover: My life as a CIA Spy by Lindsey Moran. She is not nearly as high and mighty as Ms. Fox.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    This book is fricking fabulous. What were you doing at 21? by the time Amaryllis was 21/22, she was working as an analyst for the CIA, and also finishing off her degree at Georgetown too. But not only is this an insight into being an operative, but it also unveils her, as she shares her childhood and life outside of CIA. I was captivated by this book, and how the experiences in her life have shaped who she was.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Brandon Forsyth

    A real-life ALIAS, with plenty to say on geopolitics and motherhood and the nature of secrets. I’m in awe of Amaryllis Fox.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Shannon

    A super interesting insight into the life of an undercover CIA agent. It reads like a tense thriller in parts. I sort of badly want to be her but know I wouldn’t have lasted five minutes.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ben

    It's a bit thin for a memoir. Already a short book, it is heavily padded with stories from her childhood. There's not enough from her time at the CIA. What we do get feels a bit simplistic, not introspective, especially her final epiphany. I'm a bit skeptical of some of the situations, too; are we really supposed to believe that nuclear arms dealers were dealing with an American woman in her mid-twenties, without guessing that she's a government agent? Maybe it was all a scam. > Many of the d It's a bit thin for a memoir. Already a short book, it is heavily padded with stories from her childhood. There's not enough from her time at the CIA. What we do get feels a bit simplistic, not introspective, especially her final epiphany. I'm a bit skeptical of some of the situations, too; are we really supposed to believe that nuclear arms dealers were dealing with an American woman in her mid-twenties, without guessing that she's a government agent? Maybe it was all a scam. > Many of the deals we track are scams. Organized crime syndicates get rich selling harmless "red mercury" the way high school drug dealers make their pocket money peddling oregano. Even the technology that’s real is usually incomplete or broken by the time it passes hands. Or too complex to operate without a team of experts and a government cleanroom. But all it takes is one > As operatives, he and I are on different sides of this struggle, fighting each other. As parents, we're on the same side, fighting for our kids' right to breathe. … I know he's thinking I've gone soft since I had my girl. And he's right. But what he doesn't understand yet is that soft works. Soft is how we end this war. The Agency taught me to fight terrorism by convincing my enemy that I'm scary. Zoe taught me to fight by taking off my mask and showing my enemy that I'm human.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lara Oliver

    Picked this arc up at ALA Annual Conference. Page-turner of a memoir by a brave and brilliant woman.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Janet

    When it is hot as heck outside and there is nothing cool to do but reading as everything else makes you end up a sweaty mess, it is the perfect day for a speed reader. I received a temporary digital Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. From the publisher, as I do not repeat the contents or story of books in reviews, I let them do it as they do it better than I do 😸. Amaryllis Fox's riveting memoir tells the story of her ten years in the most elite When it is hot as heck outside and there is nothing cool to do but reading as everything else makes you end up a sweaty mess, it is the perfect day for a speed reader. I received a temporary digital Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. From the publisher, as I do not repeat the contents or story of books in reviews, I let them do it as they do it better than I do 😸. Amaryllis Fox's riveting memoir tells the story of her ten years in the most elite clandestine ops unit of the CIA, hunting the world's most dangerous terrorists in sixteen countries while marrying and giving birth to a daughter Amaryllis Fox was in her last year as an undergraduate at Oxford studying theology and international law when her writing mentor Daniel Pearl was captured and beheaded. Galvanized by this brutality, Fox applied to a master's program in conflict and terrorism at Georgetown's School of Foreign Service, where she created an algorithm that predicted, with uncanny certainty, the likelihood of a terrorist cell arising in any village around the world. At twenty-one, she was recruited by the CIA. Her first assignment was reading and analyzing hundreds of classified cables a day from foreign governments and synthesizing them into daily briefs for the president. Her next assignment was at the Iraq desk in the Counterterrorism centre. At twenty-two, she was fast-tracked into advanced operations training, sent from Langley to "the Farm," where she lived for six months in a simulated world learning how to use a Glock, how to get out of flexicuffs while locked in the trunk of a car, how to withstand torture, and the best ways to commit suicide in case of captivity. At the end of this training, she was deployed as a spy under non-official cover--the most difficult and coveted job in the field as an art dealer specializing in tribal and indigenous art and sent to infiltrate terrorist networks in remote areas of the Middle East and Asia. Life Undercover is exhilarating, intimate, fiercely intelligent--an impossible to put down a record of an extraordinary life, and of Amaryllis Fox's astonishing courage and passion. Miss Fox has a life that one cannot dream up - smart as a whip (a Master's program at age 21?) and able to write an algorithm that was that successful? (I am not good at math so I am in awe of that fact alone). Her story is unique and was wonderfully written and a great autobiography about the dangerous world we live in now and how she fit into saving it. Her second husband is Bobby Kennedy III, her mother-in-law is actress Cheryl Hines and her brother-in-law dated Taylor Swift so she is now officially "legit famous" and this book cements her future career as a political advisor and commentator on TV, online and in print. (Was that the point of the book? Or was this altruistic to the world's current political problems? Judge for yourself --- or dissect it in book club!) I am on the fence about this ... truly.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lindsey

    I could not put this book down! Life Undercover is exhilarating, intimate, and fiercely intelligent. It is a riveting narrative of compassion, revealing that the path to peace is through understanding the common humanity in us all. Amaryllis Fox records her extraordinary life of astonishing courage and passion. Long story short- she spent a decade with the spy agency (recruited at the young age of 21), traveling the world, posing as an art dealer while she recruited arms dealers as assets and tr I could not put this book down! Life Undercover is exhilarating, intimate, and fiercely intelligent. It is a riveting narrative of compassion, revealing that the path to peace is through understanding the common humanity in us all. Amaryllis Fox records her extraordinary life of astonishing courage and passion. Long story short- she spent a decade with the spy agency (recruited at the young age of 21), traveling the world, posing as an art dealer while she recruited arms dealers as assets and tried to talk extremists out of detonating dirty bombs. Her memoir recounts her years living undercover, chasing terrorists and infiltrating their networks. She came to the CIA as an idealist, and she found idealism and basic humanity within those who were apparently pitted against her. She also found that she had to keep the reality of her career a secret from everyone, even from family and friends. Throughout much of her remarkable life, secrecy was the norm, but by the time she left the agency, she’d had enough. Fox’s life was extraordinary even during her childhood, as if she were being raised for a life in espionage. She often went “wild world-wandering” with her father, who consulted with foreign governments on matters she never quite understood. Fox was raised to invent elaborate fantasies to play with her brother, and her world of make-believe intrigue became real to her after high school when she volunteered in a Mai Laa refugee camp on the border of Thailand and Burma (NOTE: at age 17!), where she decided to remain for another two years working in health clinics and helping raise funds for them. She also entered the journalism arena, recording a rare interview with Aung San Suu Kyi for the BBC. She then went on to become even more immersed in global affairs during college... She began her college education studying theology and international law at Oxford University and then, spurred by the 2002 kidnapping and beheading by extremists of her writing mentor, journalist Daniel Pearl, Fox pursued a master’s degree in conflict and terrorism at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. While at Georgetown she developed a remarkable algorithm for predicting, with uncanny certainty, the likelihood of a terrorist cell arising in any village around the world. This caught the attention of the university's CIA Officer in Residence Dallas Jones, who asked to share it with Langley. She was recruited by the CIA at age 21. She began work as a political and terrorism analyst for SE Asia, commuting between Langley and Georgetown to finish her degree with HONORS. Her first CIA assignment was reading and analyzing hundreds of classified cables a day from foreign governments and synthesizing them into daily briefs for the president. Her next assignment was at the Iraq desk in the Counterterrorism center. At 22, she was fast-tracked into advanced operations training, sent from Langley to "the Farm," where she lived for six months in a simulated world learning how to use a Glock, how to get out of flexicuffs while locked in the trunk of a car, how to withstand torture, and the best ways to commit suicide in case of captivity. At the end of this training she was deployed as a spy under non-official cover--the most difficult and coveted job in the field as an art dealer specializing in tribal and indigenous art and sent to infiltrate terrorist networks in remote areas of the Middle East and Asia. She served in 16 countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, before leaving government service in 2010.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Shary

    This one is hard for me to review. As far as a page turner that explores the internal conflict as well as external activities of a CIA officer, 5 stars, especially with regard to Fox's desire for connection versus conflict. But I've listened to an interview and read articles about the book, and I have concerns. Articles say she didn't wait for the CIA to clear the book, in violation of the non-disclosure agreement that every agency officer must sign. (That process moves along like a glacier, app This one is hard for me to review. As far as a page turner that explores the internal conflict as well as external activities of a CIA officer, 5 stars, especially with regard to Fox's desire for connection versus conflict. But I've listened to an interview and read articles about the book, and I have concerns. Articles say she didn't wait for the CIA to clear the book, in violation of the non-disclosure agreement that every agency officer must sign. (That process moves along like a glacier, apparently. But is it really up to her to decide what's not giving away the store?) And she's changed some details, which she says don't matter, but critics say she should have written it as fiction if she's changing facts. Still, very interesting.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jenni

    The other side of the CIA. We see spy movies with glamours trappings and/or grueling realities. But this memoir looks at the story behind it all. Why does someone choose that life of service? What is the motivation? And in this case, what is the heart telling them? This is more than her story. This is an examination of how we should all be thinking about how we can make this a better world. Added bonus, author reads for the audio version. Well done.

  15. 5 out of 5

    David

    Inside the life of a real CIA agent Fascinating look at how a CIA agent is built. She was certainly meant for this job, starting with her family upbringing, travels to Europe and inquisitive mind. I can only imagine the stories she didn’t (or couldn’t) tell. Glad she got out alive, with her wits, and is using her experience to try to make the world a better place.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Doyle

    Interesting, exciting, and full of mind blowing descriptions of CIA training practices and real life missions. Pick up Life Undercover and go on this journey with Amaryllis - you won't regret it!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Richard Meehan

    Wish I could give it 4 1/2 stars. A fast read. Personal account of working in the CIA by a woman and mother.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Marley Hoggatt

    She’s like the Marianne Williamson of the CIA. I liked this book. I was enthralled. But I don’t think she should have revealed some of this information to the general public.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Creager

    Taught to be aware of the world and all its shakers, Amaryllis Fox seems to have been in training for the CIA her whole life. From her expat childhood to guns, bombs, and Al-Qaeda amidst marriage and parenting one can only feel a bit laissez faire in comparison, and vicariously exhilarated. Life Undercover is the very meaning of a life well-lived.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mal Warwick

    Most of us know what little we know about the work of the CIA from novels. Of course, much of that, perhaps most of it, is fanciful. Former CIA officers do write memoirs from time to time, but often, as the Washington Post noted (June 4, 2012), they write to "settle scores about spies." And, as the New York Times revealed (March 15, 2005) in "Ex-Spies Tell It All," their portrait of the Central Intelligence Agency is sometimes "none too flattering." It's refreshing, then, to encounter a memoir w Most of us know what little we know about the work of the CIA from novels. Of course, much of that, perhaps most of it, is fanciful. Former CIA officers do write memoirs from time to time, but often, as the Washington Post noted (June 4, 2012), they write to "settle scores about spies." And, as the New York Times revealed (March 15, 2005) in "Ex-Spies Tell It All," their portrait of the Central Intelligence Agency is sometimes "none too flattering." It's refreshing, then, to encounter a memoir without a particular axe to grind about the agency. The book, which is both engrossing and beautifully written, is Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA by Amaryllis Fox. Awareness of the world at an early age Amaryllis Fox awoke to awareness of the world at an early age. She was eight when her best friend died with her entire family on Pan Am Flight 103, bombed by Libyan terrorists over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. The next year, she writes, "I'm transfixed by images of a solitary student, standing his ground in front of a line of Chinese tanks in a place called Tiananmen Square." She was the privileged child of an aristocratic British mother, an actress, and an economist father who traveled the world to advise governments. Showing brilliance at an early age, she declined admission to the U.S. Naval Academy to study aerospace engineering and instead attended the University of Oxford, where she took up theology and law. Following a gap year working with Burmese refugees in Thailand, Fox enrolled in "a master's program in conflict and terrorism at Georgetown's School of Foreign Service." The CIA soon came calling. Life undercover in CIA's Clandestine Service At the Agency, Fox began as an analyst, scrutinizing a flood of cables on a daily basis from officers overseas about emerging terrorist threats. As soon as she finished at Georgetown, however, Fox learned that "Clandestine Service wants you." After a year in training, she was sent overseas under Non-official Cover to begin recruiting new agents with connections who would turn up advance information about terrorist plots. But the terrorists in question are not teenagers in suicide vests. They're senior operatives in Al Qaeda, Jemaah Islamiyah, and others pursuing the "Islamic bomb." Chasing suitcase nukes: "the holy grail of terrorism" Over what seems to have been seven or eight years, Fox lived life undercover in sixteen countries pursuing timely information about terrorists seeking to acquire nuclear materials. "There have been dozens of credible nuclear threats since 2001," she writes. The greatest threat seems to come from "the holy grail of nuclear terrorism: the much sought-after, man-portable, airline-checkable suitcase nuke. Only one fifteenth as strong as either of the atomic bombs dropped [in World War II], this tactical weapon would still claim a few hundred thousand lives over a few decades and render an entire city center uninhabitable. These bombs require no codes to operate, and at the very least, we believe that 150 to 200 of them are missing from the former Soviet arsenal." And that is one of the most terrifying facts I've come across in many years. In Pakistan, she talked the terrorists out of setting off a dirty bomb It was threats of that magnitude that propelled Amaryllis Fox into the Clandestine Service, and it's clear that her work helped the CIA and its allies to forestall tragedy on several occasions. She writes in detail about one such threat, a plan by terrorists in Pakistan to set off a dirty bomb in a crowded Karachi neighborhood. In that case, she simply talked the terrorists out of carrying through their plan. "Assets want to be part of something important" "Cheesy as it sounds," Fox writes, "I've found that deep down, most targets yearn to be part of saving lives or bringing liberty to their lands. Like anyone else, assets want to be part of something important, want their lives to have meant something, want to build some legacy, secret or not, to keep the terrors of mortality and insignificance at bay." And with that perspective guiding her work, she proved to be an exceptionally successful undercover officer. Life undercover is about building relationships Fox makes abundantly clear that "it isn't waterboarding or enhanced interrogation that uncovers the location of those lethal heaps of nails and explosives. It's slow, hard-won mutual respect." And that respect can take years to attain: it's all about building relationships in the interest of gaining actionable information. "In the movies, a Glock is a spy's best friend," she notes. "In real life, it's the humble index card, lined on one side for meeting notes, blank on the other for hand-sketched diagrams, schematics, and maps. These three-by-five-inch rectangles of sacred information are our reason for existence." About the author Amaryllis Fox is not yet forty years of age but she has already accomplished more than all but a handful of people achieve in a lifetime. Today, she is known best as a peace activist and television personality on CNN, and she famously married Bobby Kennedy III. But her earlier life is even more remarkable. As a child, she lived all over the world, moving nearly every year to a new country to follow her parents as her father's clients changed. At the age of eighteen she interviewed Aung San Suu Kyi in Rangoon for the BBC. As a graduate student at Georgetown, she developed an algorithm that helped predict where terrorism might break out. And that achievement led the CIA to recruit her at the age of twenty-one. After she excelled both in training and in her early work in Langley, the Agency assigned her to the coveted Clandestine Service. Her work undercover in sixteen countries is the centerpiece of her memoir.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    ARC from ALA. My copy is filled with little post it flags marking sections or quotes that I found really interesting or that spoke to me. If I’d had time off from work this is a book I would have devoured in a day or two.

  22. 4 out of 5

    James Beggarly

    While not the most accomplished writer, she does have an amazing story to tell and the conclusions and lessons she shares are invaluable.

  23. 4 out of 5

    John McDonald

    In what must be a heavily edited book, Ms. Fox takes on her journey as an NOC (nonofficial cover), an operations specialist for the the CIA which substantially focuses on a few aspects of her training, her marriage to a special operations CIA officer, her pregnancy and the birth of her child, and a single long term episode trying to turn 'Jakob', a small times arms dealer, into an agency informant. The work is heavy with the author's thoughts and emotions, especially those involving her marriage In what must be a heavily edited book, Ms. Fox takes on her journey as an NOC (nonofficial cover), an operations specialist for the the CIA which substantially focuses on a few aspects of her training, her marriage to a special operations CIA officer, her pregnancy and the birth of her child, and a single long term episode trying to turn 'Jakob', a small times arms dealer, into an agency informant. The work is heavy with the author's thoughts and emotions, especially those involving her marriages and the birth of her child while she acts as an NOC. I learned 3 things that I didn't realize about the commitment agency operatives make and the agency demands: 1) if you're fooling around or intimate with another agency operative and want to continue the relationship while deployed, you have to marry him and the agency essentially must approve; 2) if the marriage fails, as two of hers did, the agency is involved in the dissolution; 3) the agency permits an agent to have a child delivered in the agent's zone of operation and further permits the agent's operations to continue with the newborn; and 4) the agency performs a ritualistic signing of a written agreement with operatives who have been turned, as Jakob was, although the agreement is destroyed immediately once signed, leaving unanswered the question how these 'contracts" are enforced if ever except by killing. Ms. Fox affirms what people in dangerous situations are trained to be aware of: that exteriors of bravado are expressions of fear that people try to hide in order to accomplish their goals, and that as the entrance to Langley reminds everyone passing through its portals, "and ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free." But, her experiences also demonstrated something else she emphasizes. When your entire life is built on pretending to be something you are not, you forget who you are really and what you are doing. Or, in her own words: "Pretending is like that. The better you get at it, the more you forget you're doing it. Until one day you wake up behind a dumpster." The better you are as a Gielgud or Di Niro, the better your chances of survival in this world. It seemed fairly clear from her descriptions that she left because she could no longer pretend that her personal desires for a happy family--even without husbands--had no chance of achievement if forced to continue 'pretending.' So, she did the respectable thing--she resigned, or possibly was forced out at the first convenient opportunity. Unlike other books on tradecraft I've read, this one is nearly exclusively written from a personal perspective, no references to policies, archival material, academic papers and the like. This takes the book into the area of the personal, leaving the conduct of foreign policy and general agency practices somewhat behind. Nonetheless, it sheds light on the important work the intelligence services perform as well as the serious personal risks to which agents exposure themselves.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Lackey

    Good memoir of a career in the clandestine service of CIA by someone who seemed to get into it very young (family background, plus a high school project to learn about Myanmar and Aung San Suu Kyi...). There were elements fictionalized to protect sources/methods, but overall it was consistent with what I knew about the backgrounds of those who joined CIA in the late 90s/00s and how the organization has changed post cold war (basically, a pretty massive schism between paramilitary/military ops an Good memoir of a career in the clandestine service of CIA by someone who seemed to get into it very young (family background, plus a high school project to learn about Myanmar and Aung San Suu Kyi...). There were elements fictionalized to protect sources/methods, but overall it was consistent with what I knew about the backgrounds of those who joined CIA in the late 90s/00s and how the organization has changed post cold war (basically, a pretty massive schism between paramilitary/military ops and drones, vs. more traditional humint and analysis, with most of the great people from the cold war days leaving in the 90s before the war on terror, at least at the mid levels.). I'd never really thought about the problems of case officers being pregnant and their relationships/families -- she certainly seems to have had a particularly challenging personal or romantic life due to CIA needs. Downsides of the book: pretty short actual career, and lots of basically boring/generic childhood stuff (I almost stopped reading until the Myanmar stuff started about 1/3 of the way in; rich girl and divorce just isn't that interesting, almost no childhoods are interesting, it should be a few pages, tops.). A lot of the "why" was pretty over the top. Much of the "what" and "how" was fictionalized or cursory (for some legitimate reasons, but also because a lot just isn't that special or interesting and the IC likes to maintain mystique). The real problem with the book is that she didn't have a long enough or varied enough career to put any of this into much context -- it's a front line junior person's account of her time in an important job, but for a reader who doesn't know much about intelligence or CIA, that's a detached story. It's interesting what she seems to have done post-CIA; much higher profile than others to have left, and more connected to the work she had been doing.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Dana

    I first became aware of Amaryllis Fox after watching the TV show American Ripper a few summers ago. She seemed like such a fascinating person, so when I learned she was coming out with a memoir about her time in the CIA I knew I had to read it. It did not disappoint! Fox takes us through her rather unconventional childhood to her college years, where she develops an algorithm to predict the likelihood of a terrorist attack in any given location. Naturally this piques the interest of the CIA, who I first became aware of Amaryllis Fox after watching the TV show American Ripper a few summers ago. She seemed like such a fascinating person, so when I learned she was coming out with a memoir about her time in the CIA I knew I had to read it. It did not disappoint! Fox takes us through her rather unconventional childhood to her college years, where she develops an algorithm to predict the likelihood of a terrorist attack in any given location. Naturally this piques the interest of the CIA, who pursue her after she graduates. She joins and quickly shoots to the top, eventually becoming an undercover spy overseas. Through it all, I was struck again and again by this woman's sheer brilliance, as well as her commitment to keeping her fellow citizens safe. The insight she gave into the incredibly strenuous training she underwent, both physical and psychological, was shocking to say the least. I have a renewed sense of gratitude for these men and women who put their personal lives on hold in order to serve their country behind the scenes and keep the rest of us safe. The number of credible nuclear threats we faced after 9/11 were more numerous than I'd ever imagined. We can sleep soundly at night because people like Fox are working to keep the threats at bay. The quickest way to make me put a book aside is when the author spouts their personal political beliefs. Given the subject matter, I expected that Fox would indulge in this a bit. However, I was pleasantly surprised that although Fox advocates for peace and understanding, she refrains from lecturing her readers, nor does she criticize particular administrations, parties, or individuals. She shows great empathy and understanding for those who think differently from her, particularly her ex-husband, and acknowledges that their life experiences have contributed to their way of thinking. In these unfortunate times of great political resentment and divide, I was so very appreciative of this, and I wish that more authors would follow in her example. I cannot recommend this book enough. Fast-paced and well-written, it's a great example of nonfiction that feels like fiction. Thank you to Netgalley for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Avid

    3.5 stars. I never really got on board with this. The writing itself was mediocre, and everything felt really rushed and superficial. The extensive training that it must have taken to get her from a completely naive 22-year-old to a savvy, multi-lingual, CIA operative (the “growing up” part mentioned in the subtitle) was never really covered. Or how she progressed emotionally to someone who’s comfortable with throwing herself into unknown situations in myriad foreign countries, casually and expe 3.5 stars. I never really got on board with this. The writing itself was mediocre, and everything felt really rushed and superficial. The extensive training that it must have taken to get her from a completely naive 22-year-old to a savvy, multi-lingual, CIA operative (the “growing up” part mentioned in the subtitle) was never really covered. Or how she progressed emotionally to someone who’s comfortable with throwing herself into unknown situations in myriad foreign countries, casually and expertly dealing with all the different customs, cultures, currency, transportation, food, lodging, etc., seemingly without intense training for each situation. And why in the hell did she and her husband decide that bringing a baby into the mix would allow them both to continue in their careers - “i’ll just strap the baby to me on my reconnaissance missions!” - seemingly without any plan for the baby’s wellbeing, not to mention their own? On the other hand, this very brief, and i assume very sanitized, glimpse into the CIA from the perspective of a former employee is probably the closest we’re going to get to learning what it’s like to work as an agent, and the very serious threats that they deal with on our behalf every day. (I don’t know if i’m more, or less, terrified after reading this book!) I did get a sense of the work being done by the CIA, and how it allows me to blithely go about my own business each day and fall asleep peacefully each night. I’m glad i read it.

  27. 5 out of 5

    George

    It's a breezy read, for a CIA memoir. Given the restrictions of her work and the restrictions the CIA places on books published by past employees, I suppose its not shocking to see the book be relatively thin. It's basically a brief chronology of her upbringing, how she came to the attention of CIA (and MI6), and how she was ultimately recruited and trained. And her eventual retirement. There's little in there in terms of operational details, which again isn't really surpri It's a breezy read, for a CIA memoir. Given the restrictions of her work and the restrictions the CIA places on books published by past employees, I suppose its not shocking to see the book be relatively thin. It's basically a brief chronology of her upbringing, how she came to the attention of CIA (and MI6), and how she was ultimately recruited and trained. And her eventual retirement. There's little in there in terms of operational details, which again isn't really surprising, other than the somewhat terrifying disclosure that AQ was truly trying to pursue nuclear materials, albeit without anything remotely resembling the technical ability to execute on it. Ultimately, the book is about her slight disillusionment with the mission; i.e., as she says, the only way to rid yourself of an enemy is to turn him into a friend. That may sound hippy-dippy but even hardened warfighters will tell you that you can't kill an idea, and at some point you cannot kill everyone, as appealing simplistic as that might be to parts of your citizenry. So the book is really about her transition from front-line warrior to bridge-builder. I doubt she's naive, having seen more of the human condition than most of us ever will, but at the same time she argues that we need to persuade those who are persuadable, and not give them more reason to hate us, rather than blithely doing whatever we want and killing whomever gets in our way. It's a fine and enlightened message and hopefully it works.

  28. 5 out of 5

    S

    This was a fast, very interesting read... but not a very engaging one. It is easy to believe that she wrote a lot of straightforward reports in the course of her job, since that is very much the way this reads - concise, matter-of-fact, skipping over a lot of the emotional bits or introspection that would humanize things more. It came across as totally believable that a person who grew up like she did would end up in the CIA (!! but who grows up like that?! swimming races under the iced pool, et This was a fast, very interesting read... but not a very engaging one. It is easy to believe that she wrote a lot of straightforward reports in the course of her job, since that is very much the way this reads - concise, matter-of-fact, skipping over a lot of the emotional bits or introspection that would humanize things more. It came across as totally believable that a person who grew up like she did would end up in the CIA (!! but who grows up like that?! swimming races under the iced pool, etc...!!?). I found it especially interesting how she was so good at analysis and reading people and situations, and yet she seemed not great at knowing herself and what would be the best decisions for her life (like, dude: if you are going to be a superspy, maybe don't get married?). Regardless though, like I said: a very interesting read. If autobiographies like this are your thing, then a few others I would recommend include: ~ Educated by Tara Westover ~Rising Out of Hatred by Eli Saslow ~Shrill by Lindy West ~ Toil & Trouble by Augusten Burroughs Or if you are willing to veer from the real and read some related fiction, then check out: ~ The Cruelty by Scott Bergstrom ~ The Eight by Katherine Neville ~ Maestra by Lisa Hilton

  29. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

    This account of Fox's recruitment into the CIA, her training, and some information about her assignments is fascinating. The parts about her childhood less so. I have no idea how accurate her account is given that the CIA would not want a lot of details out in plain sight for all to read, but I was captivated by her story. It reminds me somewhat of Carrie Mathison, the character on Homeland, so maybe it is not fully grounded in reality. Putting that aside however, Fox comes across as intelligent This account of Fox's recruitment into the CIA, her training, and some information about her assignments is fascinating. The parts about her childhood less so. I have no idea how accurate her account is given that the CIA would not want a lot of details out in plain sight for all to read, but I was captivated by her story. It reminds me somewhat of Carrie Mathison, the character on Homeland, so maybe it is not fully grounded in reality. Putting that aside however, Fox comes across as intelligent, creative, and flexible. She is also an interesting mixture of cynicism and idealism. But the pressure that such a job puts on a young person is truly eye-opening. Unable to tell anyone who she really is and what she is doing for a living, even sometimes other agents, eventually takes such a toll that she has trouble finding her real self under the layers of emotional armor she built up over the years. She very briefly touches on the difficulty of being female in this male dominated world and I wish she had gone into more detail on that aspect. Also a little more detail about her immersion back into real life after she leaves the CIA would have been interesting as well.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

    This book was amazing, or I should say Amaryllis Fox's life was amazing! (at least the first part.) After reading the book I know she will go on and do more great things for the world. The book was very readable, and felt like a thriller at times. And with thrillers, there is a lack of character development as it slows down the story. Here I wanted it to slow down and provide us more. I wanted more of her personal relationships, particularly with the husbands, and why with the second one they ch This book was amazing, or I should say Amaryllis Fox's life was amazing! (at least the first part.) After reading the book I know she will go on and do more great things for the world. The book was very readable, and felt like a thriller at times. And with thrillers, there is a lack of character development as it slows down the story. Here I wanted it to slow down and provide us more. I wanted more of her personal relationships, particularly with the husbands, and why with the second one they chose to have a child when their lives are in constant danger. I wanted to know more about her relationship with her mother, as Fox kept coming back to words her mother said or wrote to her, and how that shaped Fox's life. This book was too short. I don't say that often, but this book did need to have more. Despite the places that needed more, I was blown away by this book. It opens your eyes to the work that is being done to make everyone safer in the world, not just American's but every human being. Thanks to Knopf Publishers for an advance review copy of this book.

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