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The Company We Keep: A Husband-and-Wife True-Life Spy Story [Paperback]

by Robert Baer, Dayna Baer
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 6, 2012
Robert Baer was known inside the CIA as perhaps the best operative working the Middle East. Over several decades he served everywhere from Iraq to New Delhi and racked up such an impressive list of accomplishments that he was eventually awarded the Career Intelligence Medal.  But if his career was everything a spy might aspire to, his personal life was a brutal illustration of everything a spy is asked to sacrifice. Bob had few enduring non-work friendships, only contacts and acquaintances. His prolonged absences destroyed his marriage, and he felt intense guilt at spending so little time with his children. Sworn to secrecy and constantly driven by ulterior motives, he was a man apart wherever he went.
Dayna Williamson thought of herself as just an ordinary California girl -- admittedly one born into a comfortable lifestyle.  But she was always looking to get closer to the edge.  When she joined the CIA, she was initially tasked with Agency background checks, but the attractive Berkeley graduate quickly distinguished herself as someone who could thrive in the field, and she was eventually assigned to “Protective Operations” training where she learned to handle weapons and explosives and conduct high-speed escape and evasion. Tapped to serve in some of the world's most dangerous places, she discovered an inner strength and resourcefulness she'd never known -- but she also came to see that the spy life exacts a heavy toll.  Her marriage crumbled, her parents grew distant, and she lost touch with friends who'd once meant everything to her.
When Bob and Dayna met on a mission in Sarajevo, it wasn't love at first sight. They were both too jaded for that. But there was something there, a spark. And as the danger escalated and their affection for each other grew, they realized it was time to leave “the Company,” to somehow rediscover the people they’d once been.
As worldly as both were, the couple didn’t realize at first that turning in their Agency I.D. cards would not be enough to put their covert past behind.  The fact was, their clandestine relationships remained.  Living as “civilians” in conflict-ridden Beirut, they fielded assassination proposals, met with Arab sheiks, wily oil tycoons, terrorists, and assorted outlaws – and came perilously close to dying.  But even then they couldn’t know that their most formidable challenge lay ahead.
Simultaneously a trip deep down the intelligence rabbit hole – one that shows how the “game” actually works, including the compromises it asks of those who play by its rules -- and a portrait of two people trying to regain a normal life, The Company We Keep is a masterly depiction of the real world of shadows.

From the Hardcover edition.

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The Company We Keep: A Husband-and-Wife True-Life Spy Story + See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism + Sleeping with the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Robert and Dayna Baer's initial meeting was slightly unusual—both were on a covert mission in Sarajevo for the CIA. In this intermittently intriguing memoir, they describe their careers in "the Company," their romance, and the difficulty they have in establishing a balanced life outside the world of secret agents. Their travels take them to interesting places in interesting times—from Bosnia and Lebanon during civil wars, to Syria under the Assads, the mansions of sheiks, and the safe houses of terrorist groups. As the Baers drift away from family and see friends die, they learn the costs of covert life. Told in chapters that alternate between each partner's perspective, their story is best when discussing the minutiae of agency work. In understated prose, the couple effectively narrate the long bouts of tedium interspersed with moments of paranoia and fear that make up a CIA agent's life. On most assignments, they never learn if their efforts have any positive result—often, they don't even know their co-workers' real names. When the personal becomes the subject, however, the understatement feels inadequate. The Baers give us so little insight into their mutual attraction that it feels like another state secret. After they leave the agency, they seem adrift, and the book loses focuses as well. (Mar.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

When they met in Croatia in the early 1990s, he didn’t know her real name. His alias was Howard, but he introduced himself as Bob. By that time, he was a seasoned CIA spook, with 15 years of international intrigue under his belt. Dayna, a relatively new field agent, was expecting that her new friend's veteran’s counsel would increase her quickly growing knowledge of the spy game; she wasn’t expecting to fall in love. This fascinating memoir, written by Bob and Dayna in alternating chapters, traces their lives from before they met—she was carrying out security checks in L.A.; he was in Tajikistan, scoping out the former Soviet republic—and follows them as they fell in love and began to build a life together. The book is full of insight into the world of international intelligence-gathering, and it contains some interesting surprises, too (at one point, after he resigned from the CIA, Bob came awfully close to taking a job in Kabul, working with the Taliban). An engaging narrative that should appeal to readers of spy-themed literature, factual or fictional. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Expect the publisher of this real-life spy and love story to take full advantage of the off-the-book-page human-interest angle. Comparisons to Mr. and Mrs. Smith and to Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson (and the recent biopic starring Sean Pean and Naomi Watts) won’t hurt a bit. --David Pitt --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books (March 6, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307588157
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307588159
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #242,166 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

ROBERT BAER is the author of two New York Times bestsellers: Sleeping with the Devil, about the Saudi royal family and its relationship with the United States; and See No Evil, which recounts Baer's years as a top CIA operative. See No Evil was the basis for the acclaimed film Syriana, which earned George Clooney an Oscar for his portrayal of Baer. Baer writes regularly for and has contributed to Vanity Fair, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. He is considered one of the world's foremost authorities on the Middle East.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
77 of 81 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A ragged ride January 30, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Dayna and Robert Baer were in the CIA's clandestine service. The first half of the book is a bunch of spy anecdotes from their work on Hezbollah-related issues from Morocco to Central Asia, mostly in Bosnia and Syria. These are good stories, connected by the common set of policy targets but not really tied together in a narrative. Some seem to be heavily cleaned-up by CIA censors, and (perhaps as a result) the chronology is somewhat jumbled. Still, they're good stories.

They get to know each other on a mission in Bosnia and eventually become a couple. There's enough information about parents, former spouses, and Robert's kids to make clear the personal costs of the CIA life. When they leave the agency, their recognition of those costs drives a number of personal choices, which then become the focus of the book. The transition here is very rough, and doesn't really cohere - - in part because they're living well despite having no apparent career, though Robert in particular has a lot of good connections in shady places.

It all comes together in the third part of the book when they settle down, get married, and decide to adopt a child. At that point the book is no longer a spy story.

Those three different parts make it hard to evaluate the book as a whole and its audience. They both write well, but in eerily similar styles - if I were to read a random page I wouldn't be able to tell whether Robert or Dayna had written it. If you want some rip-roaring spy stories that then coasts into something rather different, it's an enjoyable, fast read.
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting accounts, but somewhat disjointed. February 5, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Ok, first off, let me say I really liked this book. The accounts were great and I was intrigued the entire time, but... I will get to that in a minute.

This book is the story of Bob and Dayna Baer, two CIA agents who worked in the field, mainly in the Middle East. The chapters bounce back and forth between them and the different assignments they worked. All riveting accounts of their time in the field, but... the stories do not seem to be connected. They are loosely connected, but they do not really seem to flow. Sometimes the stories are years and countries apart. All good stories, but the flow seems interrupted. Unless you step back and look at the big picture of what they were trying to convey?

This book is basically a story of two souls coming together. Not a romance, at least the book does not get all mushy or romantic, but it is two lost souls finding each other. The story tells of spending months at a time in different scumholes around the world. I know when I think of undercover agents I think of James Bond, not Bob and Dayna, that spend months living in dirty, nasty places, many without running water, or if the water does work its only cold water. It gives you an idea of how many people on this planet live. They had one assignment watching a Hezbollah safe house, but the only apartment they could rent had an unexploded artillery shell stuck in the floor. Since it was too dangerous to remove, the owner of the apartment just cemented over the shell. Nice. I wonder if he put that little detail in the advertisement for his rental apartment?

This book does a great job of showing the amount of sacrifice that goes into being a CIA operative.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Few mysteries are ever solved March 10, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
If you like true-life spy stories, you'll probably like this book, but you'll also might find it thin gruel since it's not connected to big events and most of the story builds up to the writers leaving the CIA. They don't write about catching any bad guys or stopping terrorist tasks. Maybe they did that, but they just can't talk about it. They were as coy about it in their Fresh Air interview too.

The problem with any book from former members of the CIA is that they can't give you the real dirt, and even if the CIA doesn't censor the book (see the fight over Operation Dark Heart: Spycraft and Special Ops on the Frontlines of Afghanistan -- and the Path to Victory, for instance), the authors self-censor. I have no problem with that and I recognize that importance of it in the real world, but while reading the veneer of stories that any former-agent tells, I am constantly wanting to know more about what is going on, and I'm never satisfied. But, that's the genre. The book is short on operational details, and that extends even to the start of their personal relationship and Bob's seemingly sudden decision to leave the CIA, their divorces, and many of the other pivotal moments in the story. Even when they are out of the CIA, they can't let on too much about their lives. The book is mostly the highlights.

This book alternates between chapters by Bob and Dayna. For the first half of the book, their stories aren't connected. Bob is doing something in Central Asia, and Dayna is starting her career in the CIA protective services. Eventually there stories converge, and when they do the CIA portion is mostly over.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Ok book
Ok book. Feels a big exagerated at times - like he was trying to make a big deal about nothing.
Published 17 days ago by Ben
2.0 out of 5 stars Boring and lacked excitement
I did not enjoy this book at all, there was a lack of order to the writing as well excitement to the pages. Read more
Published 29 days ago by D.Armstrong
3.0 out of 5 stars good book, imperfect read.
A very interesting read, but overly complicated by the cutting back and forth between authors. The most engaging aspect is the adoption story.
Published 1 month ago by Mad Dog Reader
5.0 out of 5 stars Just amazing insight into our govt
This was a great behind the scenes of how our CIA works. To read how the our government sends these individuals out with a mission. Read more
Published 3 months ago by cbilbo
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable, unique spy adventure
I love books about spies so when this one came out a few years ago, it instantly went on the TBR. I'm so glad I finally got around to reading it because I really enjoyed it. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Book Nympho
5.0 out of 5 stars Good spy book
I enjoyed this book, as it showed the non-glamouris side of spying and all about what goes wrong on operations, and how boring it can get.
Published 9 months ago by Jamie Michael Norris
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting insight
I find anything about the clandestine arena to be interesting. What I particularly like about this book is that it demonstrates how the life of an agent can run the gamut from... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Andy Cialone
5.0 out of 5 stars If you enjoyed "Syriana" the George Cloney movie
Then you will enjoy any of Bob Baer's books.
A refreshing and honest look at todays post cold war/911 intelligence community. Read more
Published 12 months ago by D.C.Fresch
1.0 out of 5 stars dull, dull, dull
This book is incredibly boring. If you're expecting a riveting tale of spies and espionage look somewhere else. Read more
Published 12 months ago by new mom
3.0 out of 5 stars Good enough if you're looking for the personal side of espionage
The my-life-in-espionage genre spectrum has two ends: disillusioned-true-believer-tell-all and my-so-called-life-as-a-spy. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Lance Charnes
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