The company A novel of the CIA

Robert Littell, 1935-

Book - 2002

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Subjects
Published
New York : Overlook Press 2002.
Language
English
Physical Description
894 p.
ISBN
1585671975
Main Author
Robert Littell, 1935- (-)
Review by Booklist Reviews

/*Starred Review*/ If le Carre is the Joyce of spy novelists, Littell is the Dickens. Le Carre's focus has always been internal--spying as a metaphorical search for identity. Littell, on the other hand, wants to represent the entire espionage landscape on his canvas, the social and political aspects as well as the psychological. He's done that superbly, from The Defection of A. J. Lewinter (1973) through Walking Back the Cat (1997), but never in as much detail as in this nearly 1,000-page magnum opus, the spy novel as epic. Seamlessly mixing real events and real people with the story of four fictional spies, Littell presents the history of the CIA, from postwar Berlin to the present. As we follow the intersecting careers of three Company agents and one KGB operative, we see the major events and personalities of the cold war from the inside: Kim Philby, the Hungarian revolution, the Bay of Pigs, Russia versus Afghanistan, the fall of the Soviet Union. As Littell tells it, the story of the cold war is an Alice in Wonderland-like saga of multiple U.S. fiascoes leading inexplicably to a most peculiar victory. Littell, like le Carre, understands the slippery moral slope on which all covert activity rests, but he retains a clear respect for the cunning and bravery of the men and women who live in the shadow world. Has America's post-cold war "softness" created a vulnerability to terrorism, or has the spy's "wilderness of mirrors" undermined our common humanity? Littell finds evidence for both positions in an utterly captivating novel that is as disturbing as it is awash in every kind of ambiguity. ((Reviewed February 1, 2002)) Copyright 2002 Booklist Reviews

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Here's a real preview. This thriller isn't coming out until April, but the publisher is already plugging it like mad. Littell is a former Newsweek journalist and the author of many respected spy thrillers who has never quite broken out. Overlook president Peter Mayer went after him to write a thriller embracing the entire history of the Cold War, and here it is. Rights have been sold to six countries, and the book is being promoted with the painfully relevant tag line "the spies are always with us." Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

For readers enthralled by the phrase walking back the cat (also the title of one of Littell's previous thrillers), this hefty tome will be nirvana. Littell, whose spy thrillers have ensnared readers since 1973's The Defection of A.J. Lewinter, here turns his literary eye and rapier-sharp mind on the Central Intelligence Agency. Starting during the Berlin years in the deep freeze of the Cold War, Littell follows two generations of agents and administrators right up through the 1995 mole episode. He devotes one gut-wrenching segment to the CIA's efforts in Afghanistan in 1983, which will have heightened significance for today's readers. Using historic figures amplified by artfully drawn figments of his abundant imagination, Littell also dramatizes the internal feuds and cutbacks that left the CIA, already vulnerable on the moral knife edge of espionage, barely able to meet the challenges of a changing world. Gathering its power slowly, the novel accelerates as events become more and more familiar and current. This is a work of fiction, yet its scholarship and analysis are outstanding. Littell avoids the didactic in favor of wit, irony, and ambiguity. A sure winner for libraries of all types. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/01.] Barbara Conaty, Library of Congress Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

This impressive doorstopper of a book is like a family historical saga, except that the family is the American intelligence community. It has all the appropriate characters and tracks them over 40 years: a rogue uncle, the Sorcerer, a heavy-drinking chief of the Berlin office in the early Cold War days; a dashing hero, Jack McAuliffe, who ages gracefully and never loses his edge; a dastardly turncoat, who for the sake of the reader will not be identified here, but who dies nobly; a dark genius, the real-life James Jesus Angleton, who after the disclosure that an old buddy, British spy Kim Philby, had been a Russian agent all along, became a model of paranoia; a Russian exchange student who starts out with our heroes at Yale but then works for "the other side"; and endless assorted ladyfolk, wives, girlfriends and gutsy daughters who are not portrayed with anything like the gritty relish of the men. Littell, an old hand at the genre (he wrote the classic The Defection of A.J. Lewinter) keeps it all moving well, and there are convincing set pieces: the fall of Budapest, the Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba and an eerily prescient episode in Afghanistan, in which a character obviously modeled on Osama bin Laden appears, accompanied by a sidekick whose duty is to slay him instantly if his capture by the West seems imminent. It's gung-ho, hard-drinking, table-turning fun, even if a little old-fashioned now that we have so many other problems to worry about than the Russians but it brings back vividly a time when they seemed a real threat. There are some breathtaking real-life moments with the Kennedy brothers, and with a bumbling Reagan, and with Vladimir Putin, now the leader of Russia, who is here given a background that is extremely shady. (Apr.) Forecast: The Afghanistan element will lend itself to handselling, but that will be only icing on the cake of Overlook's full-tilt publicity campaign, which will include national ad/promo, a TV/radio satellite tour and an author tour. Along with Littell's reputation among critics and spy-lit cognescenti, it should all add up to a breakout book with serious bestseller potential. And Overlook's planned reprinting in hardcover of all of Littell's work, beginning with The Defection of A.J. Lewinter, should keep Littell's name in readers' minds for years to come. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

The author of The Defection of A. J. Lewinter offers a new novel of Cold War espionage, tracing the struggles of two generations of CIA operatives struggling against Communism and battling one another in the complex world of international intrigue. 50,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

A novel of Cold War espionage traces the struggles of two generations of CIA operatives fighting Communism and battling one another in the complex world of international intrigue.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

Robert Littell creates a multigenerational, wickedly nostalgic saga of the ClA - "The Company" to insiders. The fictional and historical characters of Robert Littell's novel reveal much of the nearly fifty years of this complex and powerful organization. At the heart is a mole hunt involving the CIA, M16, KGB, and Mossad - a stunningly conceived trip down the rabbit hole to the labyrinthine Alice-in-Wonderland world of espionage, a "wood where things have no names."Racing across a landscape spanning the legendary Berlin Base of the '50s - the front line of the simmering Cold War Soviet invasion of Hungary, the Bay of Pigs, Afghanistan, and the Gorbachev putsch, The Company tells the thrilling story of agents imprisoned in double lives, fighting an enemy that is amoral, elusive, formidable.Littell also lays bare the internecine warfare within The Company itself, adding another dimension to the spy vs. spy game. An atmosphere of distrust pits the counter-intelligence agents behind the desks in Washington, like the utterly obsessive real-life mole hunter James Jesus Angleton, against the covert action boys in the field, like The Company's Harvey Torriti - The Sorcerer - a brilliant and brash rules breaker, and his Apprentice, Jack McAuliffe, recruited fresh out of Yale, who learns both tradecraft and the hard truths of life in the field.As this dazzling anatomy of the CIA unfolds, nothing less than the future is at stake. And the future is often only the day after tomorrow. At once a celebration of a long Cold War well fought and an elegy for the end of an era.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt of The New York Times called it "a perfect little gem, the best Cold War thriller I've read in years," and the praise kept coming with critics hailing Littell as "the American Le Carré" (New York Times) and raving that his books were "as good as thriller writing gets" (The Washington Post). For his fourteenth novel, Robert Littell creates an engrossing, multigenerational, wickedly nostalgic yet utterly candid saga, bringing to life through a host of characters-historical and imagined-the over 40 years of the CIA-"the Company" to insiders. At the heart of the novel is a stunningly conceived mole hunt involving such rivals and allies as the MI6, KGB, and Mossad. Racing across a canvas that spans the legendary Berlin Base in the 1950s-the front line of the simmering Cold War-to the Soviet invasion of Hungary, the Bay of Pigs, the Afghan war, the Gorbachev putsch, and other major theatres of operation for the CIA, The Company tells a thrilling story of agents imprisoned in double lives, fighting an enemy that was amoral, elusive, formidable. Littell tells it like it was: CIA agents, fighting not only the good fight, but sometimes the bad one as well. Littell also brilliantly lays bare the warring within the Company to add another dimension to the spy vs. spy game: the battles between the counterintelligence agents in Washington, like the utterly obsessive real-life mole hunter James Angleton, and the covert action boys in the field, like The Company's Harvey Torriti-the Sorcerer-a brilliant and brash rule breaker and dirty tricks expert who fights fire with fire, and his Apprentice, Jack McAuliffe, recruited fresh out of Yale, who learns tradecraft and the hard truths of life in the field. As this dazzling anatomy of the CIA unfolds, nothing less than the world's future in the second half of the twentieth century is at stake. At once a celebration of a long Cold War well fought, an elegy for the end of an era, and a reckoning for a profession in which moral ambiguity created a wilderness of mirrors, The Company is the Cold War's devastating truth, its entertaining tale, its last word.

Review by Publisher Summary 5

With a sharp eye for the pathos and absurdity of the Cold War, Robert Littell crafted his first novel, the now legendary spy thriller The Defection of A.J. Lewinter.

Review by Publisher Summary 6

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt of The New York Times called it "a perfect little gem, the best Cold War thriller I've read in years," and the praise kept coming with critics hailing Littell as "the American Le Carré" (New York Times) and raving that his books were "as good as thriller writing gets" (The Washington Post).For his fourteenth novel, Robert Littell creates an engrossing, multigenerational, wickedly nostalgic yet utterly candid saga, bringing to life through a host of characters-historical and imagined-the over 40 years of the CIA-"the Company" to insiders. At the heart of the novel is a stunningly conceived mole hunt involving such rivals and allies as the MI6, KGB, and Mossad.Racing across a canvas that spans the legendary Berlin Base in the 1950s-the front line of the simmering Cold War-to the Soviet invasion of Hungary, the Bay of Pigs, the Afghan war, the Gorbachev putsch, and other major theatres of operation for the CIA, The Company tells a thrilling story of agents imprisoned in double lives, fighting an enemy that was amoral, elusive, formidable.Littell tells it like it was: CIA agents, fighting not only the good fight, but sometimes the bad one as well. Littell also brilliantly lays bare the warring within the Company to add another dimension to the spy vs. spy game: the battles between the counterintelligence agents in Washington, like the utterly obsessive real-life mole hunter James Angleton, and the covert action boys in the field, like The Company's Harvey Torriti-the Sorcerer-a brilliant and brash rule breaker and dirty tricks expert who fights fire with fire, and his Apprentice, Jack McAuliffe, recruited fresh out of Yale, who learns tradecraft and the hard truths of life in the field.As this dazzling anatomy of the CIA unfolds, nothing less than the world's future in the second half of the twentieth century is at stake. At once a celebration of a long Cold War well fought, an elegy for the end of an era, and a reckoning for a profession in which moral ambiguity created a wilderness of mirrors, The Company is the Cold War's devastating truth, its entertaining tale, its last word.