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The Company: A Novel of the CIA Paperback – Deckle Edge, March 25, 2003

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Editorial Reviews Review

Penzler Pick, March 2002: Robert Littell, long known as one of the best writers of fiction about the Cold War, is not as well known as John le Carré or the great Charles McCarry, but nevertheless has a devoted following among serious aficionados of the literary spy novel. His latest book, which runs close to 900 pages and covers the years 1950 to 1995, is an ambitious one that is destined to become the definitive novel about the CIA.

The historical events of that crucial period are well known to most of us. The end of World War II and the division of Germany into sectors by the Allies laid the groundwork for the Cold War and the rise of the OSS, a wartime branch of the American government, into one of the most powerful tools of intelligence.

The involvement of that agency in the defection of Burgess and MacLean from Britain to the Soviet Union; the Suez Canal crisis, which ended Britain's role as a superpower; the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the Cuban Missile Crisis; the arming of rebels in Afghanistan to repel the encroaching Soviet forces; the Gulf War--all are well documented here.

All these events, which had such major consequences for our own history and that of the world, were well known to, organized by, or played out with the full cooperation of the CIA. These, as well as such minor events as defections on both sides, are the backdrop to this novel which stars a large cast of characters who we get to know as young men and women recruited while still in college. Their personal and public lives are followed as they rise through the ranks of the Company, and we know that one of them is a mole. We don't know who it is any more than the CIA does, and it will take years to unmask the traitor.

In the meantime, we have become involved not only with Littell's fictional characters, but also with some of the real people who inhabited that world: William F. Buckley Jr., G. Gordon Liddy, William Casey--and we are privy to conversations in both the Kennedy and Reagan Oval Offices.

We also know by the end of this exciting story that the fight is not always the good fight. Compromises are made, mistakes happen, and pragmatism wins out over idealism. We do not live in a perfect world, but it's the only one we have and it is that way because of the events in this book. Don't let its size deter you. This is nothing less than a stunning historical document. --Otto Penzler --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

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 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 896 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (March 25, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142002623
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142002629
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.5 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (229 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #47,614 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Bestselling author Robert Littell has been ranked amongst John Le Carre and Graham Greene for his masterful spy fiction. A Newsweek journalist in a previous incarnation, Littell has been writing about the Soviet Union and Russians since his first novel, the espionage classic The Defection of A.J.Lewinter. Among his numerous critically acclaimed novels are The October Circle, Mother Russia, The Debriefing, The Sisters, The Revolutionist, The Once and Future Spy, An Agent in Place, The Visiting Professor, the New York Times bestselling The Company (adapted for a TNT mini-series), and Legends (winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Award for Best Thriller of 2005) and For the Future of Israel, a book of conversations with Shimon Peres. Littell is an American who makes his home in France.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

393 of 408 people found the following review helpful By Sam G on June 2, 2003
Format: Paperback
First let me say that this is an outstanding reading experience. It has raised the bar for espionage novels that I will be reading going forward. At approx 900 pages, it's an epic and demands the attention of the reader throughout. Get this book.
With that said, I was stunned to read other reviews for this book that ruin the reading experience. If it were possible to have someone's review removed...I would look to see how it was done. Harmless as it may seem, there are a few plot twists that come near the end and are profoundly important to the whole scope of the book. To be this careless, simply amazes me.
So please. Don't read the following reviews by other readers without some warning that you may be getting more information about the book than you really need or should want at this point.
Thank you,
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65 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Candace Siegle, Greedy Reader on April 11, 2002
Format: Hardcover
"The Company" is an big, engrossing novel that succeeds on several levels: First, it is as enjoyable as all get out. Second, it serves as a living history review of clandestine U.S. ventures going back to World War II. And third, no matter what political perspective you come from, you will come away a different take on the War on Terrorism.
Robert Littell takes several young men who joined the brand-new CIA after the war and follows their careers. All enter the spy game because their experiences with communism during the war have lead them to believe that it is a destructive element that must be halted. From the same war comes a young communist who as whole-heartedly believes that communism is the salvation of the world. They will fight on different battlegrounds throughout "The Company"--Berlin, Hungary, Cuba, Afghanistan--until communism collapses.
In many ways, "The Company" is a standard spy thriller, with ample supply of the requisite secrets, double-crossing, and triple agents. There's an unnecessary Alice in Wonderland theme throughout and some clunky writing. But what makes the book stand out is not just the skill Littell brings to the plot,
but the scope. This is a history of covert activities, and because we see so many major incursions represented, we can watch disturbing patterns develop. It seems that since WWII, the U.S. has entered a number of frays for all the right reasons and withdrawn before the matter could be resolved. "The Company" deals with the spies and civilians left dangling, and raises questions about earlier policies that may have left us vulnerable to terrorists.
This is a timely book that I hope will excite discussion and increase understanding. If readers don't agree with Littell's take on events, then I hope they'll do research on their own. "The Company" should encourage readers to take a look at the past, and is a whopping good read to boot.
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful By taking a rest HALL OF FAME on April 13, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Robert Littell has written some of the best books in this genre but for some reason he does not seem to have the audience of a LeCarre, a Ludlum, and others. If you enjoy any of the well known and widely read of this type you will certainly enjoy this man's work. "The Company", is a massive work of almost 900 pages, it still reads well and is in no way ponderous or excessive. As many books seem to continually shorten it is a pleasing exception that Mr. Littell took all the time and pages he needed to tell his story.
To any readers of Cold War novels all of the topics that are covered in this book will be familiar but not unwelcome. This book covers a very large portion of the CIA'S existence and presents familiar events as part of a continuum as opposed to focusing on a single event like The Bay Of Pigs, Kennedy, Suez, etc in isolation. There are very good books on all of these topics both documentary and in the form of novels. This work places them all in a larger continual historical context as well as a more realistic one. These historical events did not take place in solitary or in a vacuum, they were events that were planned and dealt with together with all of the other issues that were at hand for the agency at the time. They were also planned and executed by people who developed and created the atmosphere of the agency with their talents as well as their faults. By presenting the large picture as opposed to an isolated historical event, Mr. Littell gives readers the wide perspective that only an inclusive history can offer.
This is a novel and while not appropriate it is tempting to forget that what you are reading contains much truth albeit as presented in the form of literary fiction. Mr.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Antonio on December 10, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I am not a big fan of spy novels, in the same way that I don't tend to favour genre fiction. However, having read a shining review for this book in "The Economist", which is not a normally frivolous publication, I picked it up and read it from cover to cover in a few days. The book is a compulsive page-turner. The story is nothing less than that of the CIA from its inception in 1950 to the end of the Cold War in 1992, seen through the lives of several CIA and KGB operatives. The story is rigorously researched and the period details seem to be perfectly portrayed (I am a big fan of contemporary history, and did not find any significant flaws in the book). They follow our boys (mostly boys in this book, no big surprise there) from Berlin in 1950 to Budapest in 1956, to Havana in 1960, to Washington and Moscow in 1974, to Afghanistan in 1983, to Moscow in 1991, with a brief coda somewhere in Virginia in 1995. The main fictional characters are three CIA agents who join at the beginning and then rise through the ranks. They are two-fisted action man Jack McAuliffe, honourable attorney (sic) Winstrom Ebbitt III and efficient organiser Leo Kritzky. An additional character who plays an important role is drunken and deadly Harvey Torriti, the Sorcerer, head of Berlin base at the beginning of the Cold War. Their counterparts are a KGB operative named Yevgeny Tsipin and spymaster Starik (the Old Man). Each of the episodes follows all these characters as the CIA spooks try to outsmart the KGB spies, and vice versa. Many historical figures drop by, some of them in a clearly ficionalised take on their lives.Read more ›
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