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The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA Paperback – November 7, 2000

4.1 out of 5 stars 462 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The problem with memoirs by ex-secret agents is that they usually make their careers sound about as exciting as that of $6-an-hour bowling alley security guard, unless you're of the opinion that filing papers and making phone calls is the epitome of thrills. Antonio Mendez, however, has produced a tome that makes the life of a CIA agent sound every bit the slam-bang world of intrigue and skulking in the shadows that movies like Mission: Impossible make it out to be.

Honored by the CIA on its 50th anniversary as being one of the agency's 50 "Trailblazers," the now-retired Mendez spins a fast-paced tale of intriguing characters partaking in skullduggery in exotic locales, made all the more appealing because Mendez himself is the featured star of the proceedings. In an almost offhand manner, he writes about seeing and doing things that would wilt the flower of courage in almost any reader. "Was I proud to be enlisting," he rhetorically ponders at one point, "on our side in the Cold War? You bet." Originally drafted by the CIA as a "technical artist" to provide cover for agents behind enemy lines, Mendez worked his way up the ladder and progressed to a full-fledged agent in the field, sneaking diplomats past enemy guards and spiriting informants into the night, eluding capture and torture at every turn--and using his artist's eye for detail to paint vivid word pictures of his predicaments. Mendez possesses a remarkably keen sense of the mechanics of a good cloak-and-dagger story, and fortunately pours it on in abundance here in his quite hefty--and surprisingly lively--autobiography. --Tjames Madison --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Former CIA chief of disguise Mendez was an award-winning spy (yes, they have awards). Here, given unique permission by that agency to write about his career, he offers an entertaining and action-filled, though restrained, memoir of his Cold War clandestine service, emphasizing the gritty, complicated realities of intelligence work. Experienced as an illustrator and seeking a little excitement, in 1965 he answered a newspaper ad for navy artists to work overseas, and soon found himself signing on with "the Company" as a graphics specialist in the technical services division. Mendez effectively conveys the tension of forging documents on short notice and knowing that an agent's life depended on his accuracy. The ambitious Mendez quickly sought overseas transfer; this, coupled with his innovations in the then nascent fields of alias creation, countersurveillance and disguise, made him into a sought-after specialist who was brought in to numerous hot spots to perform daunting tasks. The book is packed with these stories, but the detail on espionage techniques his team developed can be excessively dry, and Mendez at times turns abruptly circumspect to avoid divulging current components of spycraft. Mendez offers a balanced and humanized portrait of life within the CIA, acknowledging the strain on agents' families, and grounds his tale in the Cold War era's historical realities, producing a volume with appeal for both spy buffs and the simply curious. 8 pages of photos not seen by PW. 6-city author tour.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 376 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (November 7, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060957913
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060957919
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.9 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (462 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #71,297 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Walter S. Mcintosh on November 9, 1999
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I worked very closely with Tony for many years and can attest to the authenticity of this book. I was saddened to learn through the book of the death of Karen Mendez . Tony truly was an action oriented person and his operational career was certainly not representative of Authentication Officers. This book says something about America and the Agency. The fact that a guy named Mendez , undereducated , from a town so small and isolated ( I spent the summer of 1946 there myself) could be so honored speaks volumes. For those who want to know about the can do sprirt that so characterized the Agency I knew , this is a must read.
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By A Customer on November 30, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Mendez has shared with his readers a very real sense of what it was to be inside the CIA, and then inside some of their most exciting (and up to this point) secret operations. It is interesting that the CIA has allowed these stories to be told now, but in fact, after reading them, it is apparent that the intelligence equities are not affected. In each case the or foreign source has been safely rescued and resettled or the case has been finalized, once with the ultimate sacrifice on the part of the asset. I was thoroughly caught up in these tales of rescue and escapes from danger. It is amazing that these true stories are even more exciting than the Clancey books. His first book is a definite must read and will be on my Christmas gift list for several of my friends.
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Format: Hardcover
I was given this book for my thirtieth birthday approximately a month ago and since receiving it, I really had a difficult time putting it down!
From his hiring to training to actual field experiences, Mr. Mendez really allows the reader to know each event in great detail. Each chapter provides a new adventure!
I actually found myself feeling nervous as I read his stories of exfiltrations. I cannot imagine the amount of fear a person must experience as they provide phony identification to government officials in unfriendly countries. What becomes quickly apparent is the extreme courage of Mr. Mendez and others who truly risked their lives to protect the American way of life. This book also leaves the reader with a philosophical view towards why such espionage activities are necessary.
Of particular interest was the way Mr. Mendez related childhood activities to his career. I think that most people, myself included, can often relate such early experiences to current day career paths. In that respect, I feel that everyone in any profession will learn some life lessons from this book.
Finally, I'd only like to say that I wish the book was longer. Who knows, maybe Mr. Mendez will honor the American public with a second book.
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Format: Paperback
The ambitious Mendez rose from his roots in a Nevada mining camp to become one of the top 50 agents in the CIA's first 50 years. His stories, based on his real-life adventures, crackle more than than many spy novels and movies. The CIA authorized Mendez to write this book, which casts the Company in a favorable light as the rescuer of double agents on the run and Americans caught in a revolution. With deft descriptions, Mendez portrays cities and operations in the Far East, the Middle East and Communist Moscow. Relying on Hollywood techniques, Mendez became the master of disguise who could make a Soviet agent unrecognizable to a KGB associate. The writing is straightforward and fast-paced.
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Format: Paperback
If you are interested in the CIA and the Cold War then you will love this book. Tony Mendez really did a super job in writing this. I found it very interesting and informative. I love Tom Clancy's novels and this is really so much more informative and more like real life as it actually is in the CIA. Men and women putting their life on the line every minute of the day somewhere in this world to help the USA remain a free country.
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Format: Hardcover
The book is well written making it a quick and interesting read. Tony details behind the scene facts that have never been exposed before. He provides an insight into the spy world that ended the cold war. I have read several books on the CIA and this is by far the best one I have read.
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Format: Hardcover
In his autobiography, decorated CIA veteran Tony Mendez has written a detailed and fascinating account of spy operations during the Cold War. Other books have told us what the CIA did, but this is the first and only to expose the secrets of how they did it! Tony's unique career, and mastery of disguises, deception, forgery, and exfiltration, show us that the gadgets utilized by "James Bond" weren't alwaus fictional! Spy agencies worldwide will make THE MASTER OF DISGUISE required reading for intelligence officers; the new KGB will probably charter a plane to rush the first 100 copies straight to Moscow! H Keith Melton; author of THE ULTIMATE SPY BOOK
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By A Customer on January 16, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I have read quite a few non-fiction accounts of cold war espionage and this book not only tells a fascinating story but also provides detailed descriptions of how, and with what tools the CIA operated against the enemy. The author has skillfully told a fascinating, insiders true story - pick it up!
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