Books

The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames
 April 18, 1983, a bomb exploded outside the American Embassy in Beirut, killing 63 people.  The attack was a geopolitical turning point. It marked the beginning of Hezbollah as a political force, but even more important, it eliminated America’s most influential and effective intelligence officer in the Middle East – CIA operative Robert Ames.  What set Ames apart from his peers was his extraordinary ability to form deep, meaningful connections with key Arab intelligence figures. Some operatives relied on threats and subterfuge, but Ames worked by building friendships and emphasizing shared values – never more notably than with Yasir Arafat’s charismatic intelligence chief and heir apparent Ali Hassan Salameh (aka “The Red Prince”). Ames’ deepening relationship with Salameh held the potential for a lasting peace.  Within a few years, though, both men were killed by assassins, and America’s relations with the Arab world began heading down a path that culminated in 9/11, the War on Terror, and the current fog of mistrust
Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis, 1956-1978
Pulitzer Prize-winner Kai Bird's vivid memoir of an American childhood spent in the midst of the Arab-Israeli conflict in Jerusalem, Beirut, Cairo and Saudia Arabia. 
 
"I was entranced by this book from the first page to the last, and can recommend it with enthusiasm." 
       Sir Martin Gilbert, is the official biographer of Sir Winston Churchill and author of Israel: A History, Jerusalem in the Twentieth Century and The Holocaust. 
 
"Kai Bird has done the impossible, and written a wholly original book challenging both the conventional and unconventional wisdom about Israel, the Jews and the Middle East." 
       Victor S. Navasky, Editor Emeritus of The Nation, and author of Naming Names and A Matter of Opinion. 
 
"Kai Bird has stepped back from the dreaded Middle Eastern present to create a spellbinding portrait of an earlier time. He grew up on the seam between Arabs and Israelis, an American in the heyday of American innocence and power. He has not adorned that past, for he was there when the region’s current ordeal was hatched, but he has given a bittersweet rendition of a world now irretrievably gone. A beautiful memoir, and a supremely honest one." 
        Professor Fouad Ajami, author of The Dream Palace of the Arabs 
 
 
"A wonderfully intimate account, which reminds us that the path to peace passes through the gate of personal narrative.  We need not agree with Bird’s analysis to be moved by his story and allow it to help us walk through that gate." 
 
- Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is the author of You Don’t Have To Be Wrong for Me To Be Right: Finding Faith In Our Differences.  He is also president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership and a popular commentator on religion and society.  He is the cohost of the weekly radio show Hirschfield and Kula, and creator and host of the television series Building Bridges: Abrahamic Perspectives on the World Today.  Named one of the Top 50 Rabbis in America in Newsweek magazine and one of the nation’s leading preachers and teachers by Beliefnet.com.
American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer
Kai Bird's and Martin J. Sherwin's biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer is a deeply researched, carefully judged and well-written examination of the life and politics of the man who directed the development of the atom bomb.
The Color of Truth: McGeorge Bundy and William Bundy: Brothers in Arms

 The Bundys, brilliant, privileged, well connected--epitomes of the Eastern establishment--attracted much of the blame for Vietnam. After the debacle, they conceded little to critics, as Bird remembers his infuriation with a 1972 McGeorge Bundy performance at Bird's college, in which Bundy coolly deflected all attacks. This biography doesn't mitigate Bird's anger, yet it fairly explores the Bundys' background, early careers, and views of the turbulent situation in Vietnam in the early 1960s. By then ex-Harvard dean McGeorge was the national security advisor, and his lanky older brother Bill was an assistant secretary of state. After critiquing McGeorge's performance in the Cuban missile crisis, Bird exhumes his and Bill's memos rationalizing U.S. support of Saigon. The brothers knew that success was remote, though Bill was more willing to countenance withdrawal, according to a 1964 memo that was shot down by hawks. Following the disaster, both repaired to establishment institutions (Mac ran the Ford Foundation; Bill, Foreign Affairs magazine), where they partially restored their liberal credentials. Ably researched and fluidly synthesized, this biography will have no challenger for a long time. --  Gilbert Taylor, Booklist

 

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