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MacGyver Your Food

FoodHacksMy family jokes that I can make always make somethin' out of nothin' in the kitchen, but what I usually  come up with is pretty pedestrian. Peggy Wang's Amazing Food Hacks is going to make me look like a kitchen magician instead of just a fridge scavenger. 

Her book has 75 tricks between the chunky covers: "Banilla Wafer Sandwiches" (peanut butter, banana, and sprinkles)--um, yes please.  "Better Than Crack" Crackers that are little more than oyster crackers, a packet of ranch dressing mix and a trip to the oven?  Bye-bye Chex mix.  Wang makes it easy and she's got a great sense of humor as you can see for yourself in the guest post below, along with a couple of examples from the book.


One of the challenges that comes up constantly for me as an editor at BuzzFeed is figuring out what even qualifies as a life hack. As I started pulling together recipes that would eventually constitute basically the longest, most glorified BuzzFeed list of my life which is this book, I began to doubt my ability to discern an actual food hack from just a weird and interesting recipe. I began to have existential debates over the addition of avocado to egg salad, which is a completely legit way to transform a pedestrian sandwich filling to something I would gladly shove into my mouth with a spatula. I vacillated between whether simply adding avocado to a dish makes a life hack (in the end, it did, as per my editor, and it is quite transcendent if I may say so myself).

AvocadoTips

Ultimately, I felt like the test was taking something you didn’t think would work — and having it turn out even better than you could have ever expected.

My favorite stories from testers went something like, “This recipe sounded sorta weird and gross and then I made it and was pleasantly surprised and ended up eating the whole thing to the point of making myself completely sick, which is half this recipe’s fault but also half my own fault for having no self-control whatsoever.”

These stories served as a nice counterpoint to my incredibly utilitarian way of thinking about food hacks: I just wanted something incredibly easy that my exhausted self could make after a really long day out of the sad remnants of my refrigerator.

So basically, this book weaves between those unexpectedly yummy but weird recipes, as well as just the ones that have personally made my life easier as a terminally lazy person. I like to think of these hacks as spanning from the practical to the practically insane, which will hopefully cover just about all of your culinary needs.-- Peggy Wang

DippableGrilledCheeseRolls

Matthew Thomas Is Going to Carry That Weight

Every year, a handful of books are singled out for big advance buzz months in advance of the fall season: debuts and "break-out" titles carrying the burdens of hope (the author's) and expectation (the publisher's). Needless to say, not all of these work out. September and October are brutally competitive as publishers line up their blockbusters and heavy hitters ahead of the holidays, and sometimes a book just doesn't live up to its pitch.

Among this year's most highly anticipated books is Matthew Thomas's debut novel, We Are Not Ourselves, which we first learned of in early spring, when Thomas made some early rounds visiting booksellers. It's an American family saga on the epic side--in both scope and page-count--drawing favorable comparisons to The Corrections and The Art of Fielding, and while that grandness might have compounded its already high expectations, we're pleased to say that the book has certainly earned its acclaim. In selecting We Are Not Ourselves for Amazon's Best Books the Month, Neal Thompson writes:

What’s special about this book is how Thomas takes us, slowly and somewhat unexpectedly, deep inside a family battling the gray-toned middling place of their middle-class existence ... It’s oddly addictive to watch this family unfold, age, and devolve. Intimate, honest, and true, it’s the story of a doomed father and a flawed son and the indefatigable and loving woman who keeps them all together, even as they’re falling apart.

Thomas set aside a few minutes from his busy Book Expo America schedule to chat with us about the book, his inspirations, and the experience of publishing his first novel. (An edited transcript of the conversation is below.)

 

 

Matthew Thomas at Book Expo America (transcript)

Could you tell us a little bit about your book, and a little bit about and the process of writing it?

It is a story about an Irish-American family, set in Queens—initially. It largely focuses on a woman named Eileen, who’s born to Irish immigrant parents. It follows her through the course of her life, as we watch her develop ambitions for a life greater than the one she has, and pursue a different course. She runs into obstacles at various points, overcomes them, and eventually runs into something that she can’t overcome. And the story becomes, in large part, the focus of how she handles this obstacle. Her marriage to her husband, Ed, is a focus of the book, and their relationship becomes the heart of the story. And in many ways, the way that she handles what happens to her husband--this calamitous event that occurs--reveals her character, and the essence of it.

I worked on the book for 10 years. I started the book at the end of my time at UC Irvine. I submitted to workshop--as the last submission I made--after writing and submitting short stories. I finally worked up the courage to write this story--because it involved some difficult emotional material--and I submitted the first portion of it, got some feedback, and then was off on my own in the real world. I worked as a high school teacher for eight years—the last eight years—while I wrote.


Where did you draw inspiration for the book? Was it based on your own experience or your family’s history?


It’s rooted originally in autobiographical impulse, but I think the book improved when I got away from that. It eventually became impossible for me to think of this book as anything but the novel it wanted to be. The characters started asserting themselves and being individuals I couldn’t entirely control, so it quickly got away from autobiography. But the emotional reality of the story certainly extends from my experiences. My father, in particular, is an inspiration for Ed (in what happened to my father), and in fact, I started writing this book after he died. A year later, I found the courage to begin it.


Did you have any literary heroes, or any model, that you wanted to emulate?


A few. 100 Years of Solitude was certainly in the back of my mind as I was writing this: the inter-generational aspect of it, and in the way he [Gabriel Garcia Marquez] conveys so much about the inheritance of traits and the playing out—unconsciously—of themes from one generation to the next. The scope of that book was something I admired and I wanted to try to write toward.


Gatsby was always on my mind, as well, for a lot of the thematic content in that book. Mrs. Bridge was another book that gave me a model for how to write with short chapters, and manipulate short chapters in a larger whole.


So this is your first book, and presumably your first Book Expo. What has been your experience? There’s a lot of hype building around it.


It’s been a big thrill! The biggest thrill for me was meeting the fellow panelists on the Buzz Panel. I got to chat with them for a few minutes beforehand, and it was exciting because everybody had a similar experience, in the sense there was a shared excitement and enthusiasm for what was going on--and gratitude to be here. And it was fun to be part of a group of people who were potentially going to make a mark, and it was exciting to think about reading their books. It’s also amazing to be here because it’s such an unbelievably huge event... it’s like the Metropolitan Museum of Art: you can’t take it all in at once. But it’s a big thrill to be here.

We Are Not Ourselves

Chip Kidd, on Designing Haruki Murakami's 5-Fingered Book Cover

Murakami2 Murakami-kidd

“You know, in a sense we were the perfect combination, the five of us. Like five fingers.”

So declares Ao Oumi--better known as Blue--to Tsukuru Tazaki, otherwise known as Colorless. They and their other three friends--Aka (Red), Shiro (White), and Kuro (Black)--were inseparable in high school. But that changes abruptly when, during the summer break of Tsukuru’s sophomore year of college, the other four suddenly cast Tsukuru out. They forbid him to ever contact any of them again, for no apparent reason, and thus begins his agonizing journey to find out why.

When considering the design of Haruki Murakami’s masterful Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, I wanted to make something that not only demanded to be held, but decoded too. I guess you could say the same thing about 1Q84, but this was going to be completely different, because it’s such a different book. Just logistically, the title is so much longer, while the text itself is so much shorter. That demanded a smaller trim size, which also bulked the book out to feel like a box that needs to be opened.

The five fingers analogy is only mentioned that one time, but it really stuck with me. I decided to make Tazaki the ‘thumb,’ the anchor that unifies the other four yet is separated from them. When you first look at the book, you may or may not see the hand, but  it doesn’t really matter. What you definitely see is that there is something going on behind the facade. The ‘fingers’ are actually windows, holes that give onto an entirely different scene that relies on the visual iconography of Tokyo’s subway/rail system--a universe unto itself where Tsukuru finds solace and eventually a livelihood as an engineer. The friends become train lines, and Tsukuru intersects each them, one by one.

As with every book by Mr. Murakami, this was a thrill to work on. I was able to design the interior too, and I should add here that along with Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and 1Q84, there is definitely something weird going on with the page numbers. I can’t really say what it is, but if you search carefully enough--definitely a theme of the story--you’ll come to understand.

--Chip Kidd 

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1Q84

Guest Q&A: Colum McCann Interviews Vanessa Manko

ExileColum McCann's contributions to the world of literature go beyond his lyrical, award-winning novels (most recently TransAtlantic). The guy is a ceaseless champ for the written word, whether it's promoting global storytelling via the Narrative4 collective he cofounded or nurturing students at Hunter College's MFA Creative Writing Program.

One of those students, Vanessa Manko, has written a debut novel, The Invention of Exile, based partly on her family's history. Exile (on sale August 14) tells the story of a goodhearted Russian immigrant who's unfairly deported to Russian, then flees to Mexico where he's stranded and separated from his wife and kids. Our thanks to Colum for this intimate Q&A with his former student.

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ColumColum McCann: For me this novel is not only an auspicious debut but it’s a thrilling thing to have in my hands since I’ve known you for so many years as your teacher in the Hunter MFA program. I’m very proud of you. It’s wonderful when the teacher relationship becomes a “colleague” relationship.

Vanessa Manko: Thank you Colum. It was really amazing for me to hand it over to you--the final book as an object.

CM: When you came to Hunter College, you were mostly writing short stories and then you began to work on this novel. So, tell me, how did you make the shift from the short story to the novel, and where did the idea for this novel come from?

VM: The Hunter MFA program gave me the time and space to think about a larger work and to extend and challenge myself. I think working with faculty (like you and Peter Carey) whose life work and focus was on the novel was incredibly influential. The Hertog Fellowship at Hunter also helped me to understand how writers employ research in building the world of a novel. This story had been inside me for a while as it is partly inspired by family history, but I only began to see its potential as a novel when I had the two years at Hunter to work, write and imagine.

CM: The main character, Austin Voronkov, lives in exile in Mexico City. He is a lonely, broken man, yet he has hopes that he will reunite with his family through his inventions. Can you talk about how the theme of invention works in his life and in the novel?

Vanessa Manko (c) Beowulf SheehanVM: As an engineer-turned-inventor, Austin is convinced that his inventions will bring him across the border to his family in the U.S. He has a kind of monomania about it (the same kind of obsessive focus needed to write or invent a novel, in fact). But he also uses his aptitude for invention in another way, meaning he invents his particular reality, haunted by the past and forever focused on a future when he can be with his family. All of this takes place in his mind and memory and imagination so he is in a continual state of reliving or inventing the past and, likewise, his future. Meanwhile, in the present, in Mexico City, he deals with the paranoid fear that an FBI agent has him under surveillance. Is it real? Is it in his mind? His entire life seems to be an invention. And then of course the novel itself is a work of invention so while the main character believes his inventions will bring him across the border to the U.S., the novel is also an attempt to do just that.

CM: The book is set in Mexico City of 1948 and yet shifts back and forth in time and place--from the U.S. in 1919-1920, to Russia, Constantinople and Paris in the 1920s and to Mexico in the 1930s and 40s--allowing us the chance to see Austin facing a variety of difficult events and circumstances. How did you build the world of the novel from one country to the next and one time period to the next and what made you decide on this structure? It fascinates me by the way.  It’s great to see such agility in a writer.

VM: I first had an image in my mind of this lone figure walking around Mexico City, silent and absorbed in a world of his own. I wanted to follow him. We all know and see people like this, mostly in cities, sort of overwhelmed by their surroundings and incredibly fragile. What happened to him or her? What is his or her particular story? I think too about how we learn someone’s story. It doesn’t come all at once, we learn people’s stories in fragments and over time, adding layers and finding out new facets of a person’s character. I wanted the reader to have this experience when getting to know Austin and his story. I knew I had to go back to his past to understand him and then present how the events of his life affected him. So the novel isn’t linear and straightforward. I very consciously knew that it would jump around in time and place and that I would present him one way in Mexico City 1948, older, broken and a little lost, and another way as a young Russian immigrant in the U.S., filled with hope and pride and ambition and then that I would follow him throughout his travels and hardships, eventually allowing the reader to piece together his life and experience and come to understand why he ends up the way that he is. As the novel also deals with a family that has been torn apart, my aim was for this fragmented structure--juxtaposing time and place on the page--to underscore and mirror the disparate life of a refugee family. I wanted the reader to get a sense of dislocation and loss and to empathize with Austin’s experience and the family’s sense of travel and separation and what it is to be divided by borders.

CM: What are you own links with Mexico?  Can you tell me a little about your friendship with Aura? 

 

Continue reading "Guest Q&A: Colum McCann Interviews Vanessa Manko " »

August Debut Spotlight: "Painted Horses" by Malcolm Brooks

It’s tempting to dismiss Malcolm Brooks’s debut as the latest in a series of American epics treading on Cormac McCarthy territory: The Son, Fourth of July Creek, and The Kept come to mind as recent novels dealing with the darker realities of frontiers, both geographical and personal. Like The Son, Painted Horses positions itself at the moment the frontier era gives way to modernity: in mid-century Montana, a dam project threatens to flood a canyon historically inhabited by Native Americans, submerging thousands of years of Crow history under hundreds of feet of slack water. When the inexperienced Catherine Lemay is appointed to survey the canyon for cultural evidence that could thwart the dam-builders, she assumes one corner of a Faustian triangle with a scheming hydroelectric shill and the mysterious John H, a rugged, reticent horse whisperer who opens the secrets of the country to the young archaeologist. Tangled relationships, difficult decisions, and hard compromises ensue. Decades and continents are spanned, and history unfolds. Maybe we’ve read this before?

But dismissing Painted Horses for its Western tropes would ignore just how good this book is. Brooks's prose is stylistically bold, announcing his artistic aspirations from the opening sentence. His characters are carefully drawn, yet their intentions remain ambiguous enough to be authentically human. His Montana is vivid, wild, and broad, and it’s obvious that Brooks lives where he writes, and loves where he lives. Ultimately, Brooks accomplishes no small feat in this remarkable debut: a tale of literary ambition that lives comfortably inside its genre roots, but not by its conventions.

Painted Horses is the Debut Spotlight selection for Amazon.com's Best Books of the Month for August 2014. Watch our interview with Malcom Brooks at Book Expo America below.

 

Painted Horses

You Said It: Customer Reviews of Amazon's Best Books of the Month

The thing about reviewing a book: it’s all subjective. Even when our Editorial team selects our monthly top-10 Best Books list, our opinions are just that: opinions. One of us adored the narrator's voice, another thought he/she was a crybaby. Someone thought the ending was heartbreaking, another was bored. Assessing what's good or bad about a book is an imperfect, messy, inconclusive process, usually more of a dialogue than a declaration. And so it is with customer opinions, where a book can garner just as many 1-star reviews as 5-star reviews. In the spirit of "no such thing as a bad opinion," we're launching a new monthly column, You Said It. Here's what you said about our Best Books of July. [Looking for our Best Books of August? You can find those here.]

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WhalesWar of the Whales, by Joshua Horwitz

Ann D. wrote: “The author has written a gripping book that reads as easily as a crime novel, full of rich characters and exciting situations that tell a remarkable story of fascinating, dedicated men and women fighting against one of the biggest and most powerful government agencies in the world."

Read the full 5-star review.

California, by Edan Lepucki

Rebecca Mccab wrote: “A relentless honest portrait of a couple's relationship with or without the looming end of days. Vivid characters. Compares favorably to The Road, Above, A Handmaid's Tale. However, Edan Lepucki deserves her own place on the shelf of survivalist, end of days fiction.”

Read the full 4-star review.

HorsesHigh as the Horses' Bridles, by Scott Cheshire

Jude NYC wrote: “In prose that often makes a fellow writer sit up and take notice, High as the Horses' Bridles elegantly and insightfully portrays the push-pull of love, familial and romantic. The narrator's voice is wonderfully realized and authentic ... If this is Scott Cheshire's debut, I can hardly wait to see what comes next.” 

Read the full 5-star review.

Liberty's Torch: The Great Adventure to Build the Statue of Liberty, by Elizabeth Mitchell

Seth Mnookin wrote: “I'm big into history, so I expected that I'd like this. I didn't expect it to read like an adventure -- nor did I expect Mark Twain and Victor Hugo would show up on the scene. It's rare that a book is both fun and enlightening. Mitchell somehow pulled it off.” 

Read the full 5-star review.

TorchFlight 232: A Story of Disaster and Survival, by Laurence Gonzales

Julia Harbeck wrote: “As one of the nurses that was called upon to assist in the emergency of flight 232 I worked in ER on the day of the crash. Reading this book brought back so many memories and helped fill out parts I didn't know about. I was very proud of how my hospital, and the entire community came together...”

Read the full 4-star review.

The Fracking King, by James Browning

C.R. Hurst wrote: “With its breakneck pacing and colorful cast of characters Browning creates a sly and entertaining novel that nevertheless has two important lessons: words do have meaning despite attempts to disguise that meaning, and even misfits can become heroes by fighting against greed and corruption.”

Read the full 4-star review

Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty

Brett Benner wrote: “Moriarty follows up her wildly successful, The Husbands Secret with another group of women harboring their own skeletons in the closet ... Although not quite the winner that her previous book was, (due to some plot conveniences which seemed to stretch a bit), it's still an immensely entertaining read, and one that should be scattered across many beaches the remainder of the summer.” 

Read the full 4-star review.

Landline, by Rainbow Rowell

Lili’s Reflections wrote: “This is definitely a book for romance lovers. If you're married, you must read this. If you're not married, just know that some things will not be easy to connect to. Full of laughs, adorableness, and moments that will literally break your heart, this book is definitely not short on the feels.”

Read the full 4-star review

The Girls from Corona del Mar, by Rufi Thorpe

David T. Isaac wrote: “Those who are looking for a 'Beach Book' are likely to find themselves with more than they expected. The novel doesn't tell you how to feel about the characters and their actions, because they are real characters, and, like real people, some of the things they think, do, and say (and the way the author presents it) can make us feel unsure and uncomfortable.”

Read the full 5-star review.

The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee, by Marja Mills

Barbara Bamberger Scott wrote: “Mills’s book is remarkable, even if it does not come quite near enough to answering questions that hover around the legendary Lee ... THE MOCKINGBIRD NEXT DOOR gives a sense of how attached Harper Lee is to the town and the culture that she has long inhabited. So much at home there that, as Mills notes, the locals pay her the courtesy of pretending she is nobody special.” 

Read the full 4-star review.

Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng

Pamela A. Poddany wrote: “This book is not a mystery as toted, to me it is a view of how a family loves [badly], functions [hardly], reacts to many situations, and tries to heal. Celeste Ng writes beautifully, and gets into the grit, secrets, and facts of what makes this family tick ... The characters are believable, the story tragic and sorrowful.”

Read the full 4-star review.

New in Paperback: "Pilgrim's Wilderness" by Tom Kizzia

PilgrimsWildernessThough this article was originally published July 16, 2013, we're taking the paperback publication of Tom Kizzia's Pilgrim's Wilderness as an opportunity to revisit one of our favorite books of last year.

 

When the "Pilgrim" family rolled into the old mining outpost of McCarthy, Alaska, they were a sight to behold: Robert "Papa Pilgrim" Hale, his wife Country Rose, and their 15 children--an old-fashioned, piously Christian family from another time, packed into two ramshackle campers. Looking for the space and freedom to live out their lives as they pleased, they were welcomed as kindred souls by the ghost town's few residents. A tad eccentric, they quickly ingratiated themselves into the tiny frontier community through Papa's charisma, their apparent dedication to self-reliance, and occasional family performances of their unique blend of gospel and bluegrass, music that seemed to soar on the conviction of their beliefs. And when they purchased an old mining claim in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park with plans to permanently settle there (dubbing it “Hillbilly Heaven”), it seemed the Pilgrim family had come home to the last existing place in America that suited them.

But Hale chafed against the regulations that came with being a National Park inholder, and he quickly adopted an adversarial stance with the NPS, refusing to communicate with or even acknowledge its rangers. Everything went sideways when he bulldozed a road to town across national park lands, stopping just short of McCarthy in an attempt to avoid scrutiny. It didn't work. When the road was discovered by backpackers, NPS agents were fast on the scene and all over the Pilgrims' activities, and suddenly the humble hermit became a lightning rod for property-rights activists in McCarthy, Alaska, and far beyond.

That's where Tom Kizzia entered the story. As a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, he wrote a series of lengthy articles on the family's struggle with the federal government, and he soon discovered that Papa's past belied the tales he told about himself and his clan. This simple man of faith carried a long, strange, and troubled history: the violent death of his first wife, whom he married when she was 16, and who also happened to be the daughter of Texas governor John Connally; his hippie phase (when he went by the name "Sunstar"), filled with drug-fueled epiphanies and raging outbursts; a contentious relationship with his neighbors in the New Mexico wilderness, who accused Hale of casual disregard for laws that didn't suit his interests (especially the ones related to "Thou shalt not steal"); and worst of all, a dominion over his children that hinted at the most vile forms of abuse. As the situation with the NPS degraded and grew more tense, Hale's behavior became more erratic, driving himself and the entire town toward a denouement worthy of the creepiest Robert Mitchum movies.

With Pilgrim's Wilderness, Kizzia has expanded on his original reporting and written a spellbinding tale of narcissism and religious mania's concussive effects on Hale's family and adopted town, a book that's likely to end up on many year-end Best Of lists. Kizzia answered our questions about Hale, McCarthy, and the town's relationship with the National Park Service.

 

Hale-TwinsHow did you first come to the story of Robert Hale and his family?

This started with a renegade bulldozer in a national park. As a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, it seemed like a good news story. I’d heard from friends out in McCarthy that this guy, Papa Pilgrim, was stirring up the ghost town. I wanted to go out to his wilderness homestead to meet him and his family of 15 kids. When he heard I had a cabin nearby, he said yes, and suddenly I was tumbling down the rabbit hole.
 
“Papa Pilgrim” was a mess of contradictions: he idolized his FBI father and took advantage of benefits such as food stamps and Alaska Permanent Fund dividends, and yet he vigorously agitated and undermined the federal government, particularly the National Park Service. Were his anti-government convictions honest (if confused), or self-serving and opportunistic?

Mostly the latter. He needed enemies to hold his family together. But he was reflexively anti-establishment. Which makes the FBI dad a rich twist. As for being anti-government while accepting government handouts, Alaskans by and large don’t spend too much time worrying about that contradiction.

Continue reading "New in Paperback: "Pilgrim's Wilderness" by Tom Kizzia" »

100 Children's Books to Read in a Lifetime

Today we launched our list of 100 Children's Books to Read in a Lifetime and it's been fun to hear from readers and co-workers about their favorites.  When we came up with our list we were thinking only about books for readers age 12 and under.  Of course, we wanted to include classics like Goodnight Moon and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory but we also wanted to have the recent releases that we think are going to be favorites for future generations, like Wonder and The Day the Crayons Quit

What books on this list do you love?  What would you have added if it was your list?  We have a poll on Goodreads where you can vote, and in two weeks we'll announce the Readers Choice version of 100 Children's Books to Read in a Lifetime.

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The Men (and Women) Who Knew Too Much: History's Most Notorious Spies

Nobody knows spies like Ben Macintyre. With Double Cross, Agent Zigzag, and Operation Mincemeat, the London-based author established himself as the master chronicler of spooks and subterfuge, a biographer of the most eccentric personalities ever to dwell in the shadows of diplomacy. (Macintyre is also a regular dweller of our Best of the Month lists.) His latest, A Spy Among Friends, tackles the story of the man who may have been the most damaging double-agent in history: Kim Philby, Britain's top spy-hunter charged with catching Soviet moles, who all the while spilled deadly secrets to the Soviets themselves.

We couldn't think of anyone more qualified than Ben Macintyre to ask for history's most notorious double-crossers, and unsurprisingly (spoiler alert) Philby made the list.

 

A Spy Among Friends

 

History's Five Most Notorious Double-Agents

by Ben Macintyre

The FBI has coined an acronym to describe the motivations of the spy: MICE, which stands for Money, Ideology, Coercion and Ego. Some spies are inspired by simple greed; others by pure conviction. But the greatest spies of all are a driven by something that defies categorization: a love of espionage, an addiction to the thrill and danger of subterfuge, and a dedication to this most fickle of professions for its own sake. The most successful and notorious spies in history have all possessed this peculiar quality: they each fell in love with spying itself, and remained besotted, prepared to take the most appalling risks to remain one step ahead in the lethal espionage game. These are the most dangerous spies of all, because they cannot be controlled by money or blackmail, by appeals to their vanity or ideology. They do it for love of the game.   

Eddie Chapman
Chapman was a burglar, con man, and gangster in pre-war London, who happened to be in prison in Jersey when the Nazis invaded the Channel Islands. He struck a deal with the Germans to spy against Britain in exchange for his freedom. Trained at a spy school in occupied France, he was parachuted into Britain in 1942, and immediately defected to British intelligence. For the rest of the war, he spied for Britain, while pretending to spy for Germany. The British code-named him “Agent Zigzag,” because they could never be sure whose side he was on. The Germans never realized the game he was playing, and even awarded him the Iron Cross for services to the Third Reich. After the war, Chapman immediately returned to a professional life of crime.

Richard Sorge
Ian Fleming, the creator James Bond, considered the half-German and half-Russian Richard Sorge to have been “the most formidable spy in history.” A committed communist, Sorge spied for the Soviets in Japan at the start of the war, supplying vital military intelligence gleaned while ostensibly working as a journalist. He even informed Moscow that Japan was not planning to attack the USSR, which enabled the transfer of Soviet troops from the east to defend Moscow and changed the course of the war. Sorge was eventually betrayed, captured by the Japanese secret police, tortured into confessing, and hanged in November 1944. In 1964 he was recognized as a Hero of the Soviet Union.  

Juan Pujol
Pujol was a Spanish chicken farmer, who managed to get himself recruited as a German spy at the start of the war while always intending to spy for the Allies. He is one of the very few spies in history who set out to become a double agent.  Ensconced in a safe house in London, Pujol (codenamed Garbo, on account of his acting abilities) not only supplied reams of false information to the Germans, but invented no fewer than twenty-nine additional sub-agents, all of whom were entirely fictitious, and wholly deceptive. He was one-man band, with a huge, invented orchestra. Pujol was, in a way, a spy-novelist, creating an imaginary world and then luring his German spy-masters into the illusion that it was real. He played a pivotal role in the run-up to D-Day, successfully convincing the Germans that the invasion would come at Calais, and not Normandy, thus tying up thousands of German troops. After the war, he took on a false name, and vanished into obscurity.

Rose O’Neal Greenhow
Greenhow was not technically a double agent, since she only ever spied for one side (the Confederates during the Civil War), but she was undoubtedly America’s most successful woman spy. Socialite, diplomat and secret agent, she ran an extensive spy network in Washington, DC, during 1861, helped to bring about Union defeat in the First Battle of Bull Run. Betrayed and captured, she was imprisoned for five months and then deported to Richmond. Undaunted, she then represented the Confederacy on a diplomatic mission to France and Britain, and was drowned after her ship ran aground on the return journey. Greenhow was a ferocious ideologue, but a most effective spy: “Instead of loving the old flag of the stars and stripes, I see in it only the symbol of murder, plunder, oppression, and shame,” she said.
 
Kim Philby
The notorious British spy and KGB agent was recruited to the communist cause in 1934, and went on to achieve something no other spy has managed: he got himself recruited by the enemy spy-organization, namely Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, better known as MI6. By 1944 he had become head of the Soviet counter-intelligence section of MI6, responsible for attacking Soviet espionage around the world, exposing Russian spies and breaking up the USSR’s spy rings. In other words, he was in charge of hunting people like himself. Tipped as the future head of MI6, he used his position to extract a multitude of secrets from his friends in British and American intelligence, and did spectacular damage by betraying everything to Moscow. Hundreds, if not thousands, died as result of Philby’s betrayals, for which he never expressed a single word of remorse.

Philby was the most remarkable example of a spy acting, in the end, out of pure love for the game of espionage. Philby was a master spy, addicted to the thrill of betrayal, whose willingness to manipulate and double-cross his friends allowed him to survive uncaught for three decades, and then escape to Moscow to spend the rest of his days. Philby is the greatest double agent in history.

American Spymaster

Meet Jack Devine. Something of a real-life George Smiley, he is a 30-year veteran of the CIA who, among a lot of things, ran Charlie Wilson's war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, knew a thing or two about the Iran-Contra affair long before the rest of us did (including the president?), and tangled with some of the agency's most notorious double-agents. In Good Hunting: An American Spymaster’s Story, Devine has written a fascinating memoir of his time overseeing the agency’s spying operations, while also critiquing its policies and direction--arguing that covert ops (i.e. actual undercover operatives on the ground) is the best, most effective use of the CIA’s talents, rather than its increasingly paramilitaristic role during a decade of war. Devine has managed an unlikely accomplishment: enhancing the aura of the agency while stripping away some of its myths, in the process producing a clear-eyed and forthright account from an intelligence insider.

 

 

Mr. Devine stopped by our offices for a candid--and lengthy!--chat about the book, his career, as well as some other notable current events. Good Hunting is a selection for Amazon.com's Best Books of the Month for June 2014.

 

Omnivoracious™ Contributors

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