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30 review for Life Undercover: The explosive first-hand account of a CIA agent hunting the world’s most dangerous terrorists

  1. 5 out of 5

    Victoria

    About 30% related to the CIA, 70% self-reflection, personal history and point-of-view. I understand that much of what she worked on is classified, but I was hoping for more cloak and dagger, fewer intimate details of her life. The little bits she does share about the tradecraft were fascinating, but they were few and far between which made for rather a dull read. I listened to this book read by the author and her deadly droning delivery grated to no end, but I persevered because this was a couple About 30% related to the CIA, 70% self-reflection, personal history and point-of-view. I understand that much of what she worked on is classified, but I was hoping for more cloak and dagger, fewer intimate details of her life. The little bits she does share about the tradecraft were fascinating, but they were few and far between which made for rather a dull read. I listened to this book read by the author and her deadly droning delivery grated to no end, but I persevered because this was a couple read with the significant other and he does not give up easily. In the end, even he had to admit this was not worth our listening time, but others have loved, so it may just be that our expectations differed.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Tammy

    More than likely this memoir will be a nonfiction bestseller in 2020. As a former CIA super spy, Fox has stellar media connections and it certainly won’t hurt that she is married to a member of the Kennedy family. The pace is a bit too brisk and the writing is rather pedestrian but she does succeed in providing a glimpse into her world during the time she was working within the most dangerous countries in the world. I will sleep a bit better knowing these spooks are on duty trying to make the wo More than likely this memoir will be a nonfiction bestseller in 2020. As a former CIA super spy, Fox has stellar media connections and it certainly won’t hurt that she is married to a member of the Kennedy family. The pace is a bit too brisk and the writing is rather pedestrian but she does succeed in providing a glimpse into her world during the time she was working within the most dangerous countries in the world. I will sleep a bit better knowing these spooks are on duty trying to make the world a safer place for all.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Margo Tanenbaum

    This new memoir is a well written account of what it's like as a young woman to be recruited by the CIA and then to serve as a top secret undercover officer. While I found the book engrossing, I found the author's attitude in the book to be very irritating--I wish I could have her confidence in the US strategies abroad. In reading her book, you might think that the US always takes the moral high road--we are good, the other guys are bad, etc. The world is not that simplistic. Ms. Fox is clearly This new memoir is a well written account of what it's like as a young woman to be recruited by the CIA and then to serve as a top secret undercover officer. While I found the book engrossing, I found the author's attitude in the book to be very irritating--I wish I could have her confidence in the US strategies abroad. In reading her book, you might think that the US always takes the moral high road--we are good, the other guys are bad, etc. The world is not that simplistic. Ms. Fox is clearly a very smart individual so this single-mindedness bothered me, and frankly, frightened me. Also, she thinks very highly of herself and her CIA colleagues, who seem to almost form part of a cult of people who think they are smarter and know more than anyone else. I do wonder, also, how it is that the CIA grants people like Ms. Fox permission to divulge so many of their training methods--donj't you have to sign some kind of non-disclosure agreement? I much preferred as a CIA female agent memoir the book Blowing My Cover: My life as a CIA Spy by Lindsey Moran. She is not nearly as high and mighty as Ms. Fox.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Woman Reading

    3 Stars - Leading a double life for the CIA exacted an emotional toll but provided a valued life lesson In an October 2019 NPR article, “The War on Terrorism, Through the Eyes of 3 Women in the CIA,” this was one of three books recently published and cited. I chose The Targeter by Nada Bakos (to be reviewed later) and Life Undercover because I was curious about not only on how does one become a spook but what does a foreign intelligence officer actually do? Has this position been glorified by vi 3 Stars - Leading a double life for the CIA exacted an emotional toll but provided a valued life lesson In an October 2019 NPR article, “The War on Terrorism, Through the Eyes of 3 Women in the CIA,” this was one of three books recently published and cited. I chose The Targeter by Nada Bakos (to be reviewed later) and Life Undercover because I was curious about not only on how does one become a spook but what does a foreign intelligence officer actually do? Has this position been glorified by viewing too many James Bond and Jason Bourne movies? Life Undercover began like a thriller novel as Amaryllis Fox recounted a mission in Karachi, Pakistan and ended chapter one with a cliffhanger. The memoir then commenced chronologically from age 7. Fox’s story encompassed her childhood, her gap year adventure in Southeast Asia, university, and finally her time with the CIA. She wrote lyrically about her childhood and family members as she grew up in both Washington, D.C. and London, United Kingdom. At age 18, she made her first foray into the international thriller milieu by conducting and smuggling out a highly contraband interview with Aung San Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and political dissident who was then under house arrest in Burma. Recruited by the CIA during her graduate studies, Fox described the hurdles of “current affairs exams, role-playing and language aptitude tests, psych batteries and polygraph machines” prior to the final stage of passing the security clearance process. Her double life began at age 22, as Fox received a provisional offer and began to gather and assess foreign intelligence during desk duty while stateside. She was to tell no one about her real employer’s identity. Once she completed her graduate studies, Fox was invited into the highly coveted Clandestine Services branch. With 50 other aspirants, Fox began an intensive 1-year CIA training program at “The Farm” in Virgina after receiving this welcome: “we’re facing a multi headed monster out there and the nation has never been more in need of your service.” The intensive training program for would-be James Bonds was grueling as it seemed designed more to weed out future spies than not. Failing any stage meant being reassigned out of Clandestine Services. Fox had to master Field Tradecraft, which included how to elicit foreign intelligence by cultivating “assets” and evading surveillance measures. “The Farm” then became a simulated fictional foreign country under terrorist attack. Defensive driving, among other lessons, were also incorporated. Fox soon began to understand the level of commitment demanded by the Central Intelligence Agency. She disclosed the impact working for the CIA had on her romantic relationships. The last 40 percent of Life Undercover described how her working life impacted her sense of self and ultimately led to her main takeaway life lesson when she felt that it was time to leave the Agency. Fox’s purpose in writing her memoir was made explicit in the last chapter and it was tied to this truth: "we all pretend to be fierce because we’re all on fire with fear." Her new work is to end conflict through vulnerable, honest human exchange. Fox wrote carefully throughout her narrative so her final purpose wasn’t a true surprise to me. She revealed some very personal stories that I could see many would choose to hide - from the two marriages that were entered into because it was the pragmatic way of keeping the person within her secret CIA life to the very messy, less than ideal ways that these same relationships ended. But it’s that part of “honest” exchange that I have some issues with once I finished her memoir. She is a public speaker and now a bit of a public figure, as she has married into the Kennedy clan (yes, that Kennedy clan) in 2018. In the news articles covering her wedding ceremony, they listed her daughter’s age as 8 years old. But in my careful reading of her timeline, her memoir mentioned her daughter’s birth while she was working in the Central Intelligence Agency, not after as the articles indicate. Having the additional responsibility and vulnerability of a child during dangerous work as a spook heightened the emotional intensity and impact of her memoir. If it’s false, well then, I feel manipulated and inclined to reduce the significance of her rhetoric (and I knocked off 1 star in my rating). Controversy over Fox’s memoir also surrounds the fact that she published Life Undercover without receiving final security clearance from the Central Intelligence Agency. Fox did write that “names, locations, and operational details have been changed to safeguard intelligence sources and methods.” In interviews with other former CIA employees, they questioned some of her stories - in particular, the major one in which she approached a terrorist cell on her own without any form of back-up (https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/nati...). If she felt that that disclaimer reasonably accounted for moving her daughter’s birth up by 2 years and for making other changes, then I guess that Fox was indeed a true spook. This would be a bit of a shame as I believe that there is incredible value in the main point that she tried to communicate - ending conflict through honest human connection.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Robyn

    The spy who prevented a nuclear attack with a bottle of clove oil... This is the absolutely riveting story of a modern day spy, a real life James Bond, although, as she notes, Bond is ridiculous; in the real world of espionage, "one street chase and my cover is blown for life." This is the story of how Ms. Fox became a spy, what that life cost her and what it gained, and why she left. This memoir exposes so many secret lives, all at once. Ms Fox talks about being recruited by the CIA while still i The spy who prevented a nuclear attack with a bottle of clove oil... This is the absolutely riveting story of a modern day spy, a real life James Bond, although, as she notes, Bond is ridiculous; in the real world of espionage, "one street chase and my cover is blown for life." This is the story of how Ms. Fox became a spy, what that life cost her and what it gained, and why she left. This memoir exposes so many secret lives, all at once. Ms Fox talks about being recruited by the CIA while still in graduate school, getting up at 2 am, analyzing and preparing nuclear threat assessments for the President's morning briefings before biking back across DC for a full day of classes. She writes about being chosen for clandestine service, and how she recruited her first pretend asset, with a nod to Frank Sinatra and asking for a favor. She writes about how, in the most high stakes meeting imaginable, with a terrorist cell ready to unleash a nuclear bomb, the presence of clove oil in her backpack ended up being the prop that turned the tide. Ms. Fox first encounter terrorism at the age of 8, when her best friend was killed in the Pan Am bombing. Her father showed Amaryllis newspaper stories about the attack, hoping that understanding the threat would make it less scary. Another time, he took apart a scary toy in the middle of the night to show her the batteries and blinking lights that made it work. Amaryllis came to believe that understanding something is the secret to being less afraid of it -- an approach that would both make her a unique kind of spy, a spy who believes that the secret to saving the world is not by destroying the enemy, but by understanding them. I kept thinking, when reading this book, that I wanted more of it. It is 240 pages, and I wanted it to be three times the length, because I loved every single world that she created: her post-high school stint in Burma, where she ended up going undercover to smuggle out an interview with a political prisoner (she was EIGHTEEN years old!). Her double life as a CIA analyst and Georgetown student. Her training at the Farm, involving clandestine training missions all around the streets of DC, which should be its own series all by itself. And of course, her life in the field, where she created a double identity as an art dealer and arms broker, which covered her triple identity as a CIA spy. If this is not turned into a prestige TV series, I will REVOLT. This has more cinematic power than the entire Marvel universe. But beyond all the spy craft and storytelling, there is something else, something more powerful, and more transformational. This is a book to make you afraid of how real the threats are, yes; how close we come to devastation, and the people who spend their entire lives working to prevent the next attack. (It will also make you furious at anyone who attacks our intelligence agents.) But more than that, this is a book to make you hopeful, to follow you on Amaryllis' journey towards the belief that understanding (and clove oil) is the path towards a more lasting peace.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jasmine

    4.5/5 I was so pleasantly surprised by this book. Usually, with 'memoirs' surrounding war and violence, I find that I lose interest quickly either out of repetitiveness or because the events are tough to swallow. Life Undercover was nothing like that at all. It was very much about the strain that being an undercover agent had on Fox's relationships with colleagues, with men, and with her family. It was moving in every way, particularly from the halfway point where she talks about her decision to s 4.5/5 I was so pleasantly surprised by this book. Usually, with 'memoirs' surrounding war and violence, I find that I lose interest quickly either out of repetitiveness or because the events are tough to swallow. Life Undercover was nothing like that at all. It was very much about the strain that being an undercover agent had on Fox's relationships with colleagues, with men, and with her family. It was moving in every way, particularly from the halfway point where she talks about her decision to start a family even in the conditions she worked in. Throughout the book, we hear stories about her journeys to wartorn countries, to places overrun with fear like Pakistan, and her life in America where she remained in fear of her life. The whole experience was emotional.  Looking back on my reading experience, I know that I could never face those conditions. I know I could never leave my family without telling them the truth about where I was and what I was doing. I know I could never willingly put myself in a situation where I could die at any moment. I know I could never hold steady conversations with people who held my future in their hands. Every moment of this book, I thought of how much bravery it requires to work undercover, and how much bravery it requires to expose your identity to tell the world about your work. I was so impressed by this book. I wouldn't be surprised if it made it on the non-fiction bestsellers list in 2020. I'm excited for this book to go out into the world, for people to see the things Amaryllis Fox had to go through and how she endured it. Life Undercover was amazing in every way. I'm particularly excited for this to be turned into an Apple TV series with Brie Larson!  Thank you to Amaryllis Fox and to Ebury Press (Penguin) for sending me a copy for review. Life Undercover is due for release on 17th October 2019.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ben

    It's a bit thin for a memoir. Already a short book, it is heavily padded with stories from her childhood. There's not enough from her time at the CIA. What we do get feels a bit simplistic, not introspective, especially her final epiphany. I'm a bit skeptical of some of the situations, too; are we really supposed to believe that nuclear arms dealers were dealing with an American woman in her mid-twenties, without guessing that she's a government agent? Maybe it was all a scam. > Many of the deal It's a bit thin for a memoir. Already a short book, it is heavily padded with stories from her childhood. There's not enough from her time at the CIA. What we do get feels a bit simplistic, not introspective, especially her final epiphany. I'm a bit skeptical of some of the situations, too; are we really supposed to believe that nuclear arms dealers were dealing with an American woman in her mid-twenties, without guessing that she's a government agent? Maybe it was all a scam. > Many of the deals we track are scams. Organized crime syndicates get rich selling harmless "red mercury" the way high school drug dealers make their pocket money peddling oregano. Even the technology that’s real is usually incomplete or broken by the time it passes hands. Or too complex to operate without a team of experts and a government cleanroom. But all it takes is one > As operatives, he and I are on different sides of this struggle, fighting each other. As parents, we're on the same side, fighting for our kids' right to breathe. … I know he's thinking I've gone soft since I had my girl. And he's right. But what he doesn't understand yet is that soft works. Soft is how we end this war. The Agency taught me to fight terrorism by convincing my enemy that I'm scary. Zoe taught me to fight by taking off my mask and showing my enemy that I'm human.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ed

    Rousing, thought-provoking story of a young lady's ten-year tenure at the CIA working undercover, often overseas in trouble spots. I liked reading about her processes and methods. I also admire her dedication and tenacity. The pace doesn't lag. I don't remember reading any long gross scenes.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Carmen Liffengren

    3.5 Stars I wasn't exactly expecting Sydney Bristow and Alias or anything like that, but that's kind of what I got (minus the Rambaldi Device). Fox led a most impressive and unique life. At 21, she was recruited by the CIA and fast-tracked into ops training. I could almost see the film montage of that particularly grueling training. I was keenly fascinated by the chess-like maneuvering that Fox employs juggling intelligence, contacts, classified info, and targets. What I really wanted more of was 3.5 Stars I wasn't exactly expecting Sydney Bristow and Alias or anything like that, but that's kind of what I got (minus the Rambaldi Device). Fox led a most impressive and unique life. At 21, she was recruited by the CIA and fast-tracked into ops training. I could almost see the film montage of that particularly grueling training. I was keenly fascinated by the chess-like maneuvering that Fox employs juggling intelligence, contacts, classified info, and targets. What I really wanted more of was her adjustment back to civilian life after the birth of her daughter. After years in deep cover, living under constant surveillance, within a "swirl of fiction," I wanted to understand the psyche of human endurance and how she uncoiled from her cover to let her true identity emerge. Did she know who she truly was after so many years in the field? Fox was just touching on this as her memoir was winding down. The CIA is endlessly fascinating to me and Fox's work was truly engrossing, but her memoir covers a lot of territory quickly and I wanted more of her more emotional story.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    This book drove me crazy. It was sloppy and full of things that were way beyond belief. ie. Her high school class went to Burma and when they were leaving she told the teacher she did not want to leave so she stayed by herself with less then $100 on her. She then went to meet with Aung Sun Suu Ki. She took a videtape and snuck it out in her snapper. Right....This reads more like a Forest Gump episode then anything else. I did wonder how the CIA would allow a book to get out with their secrets an This book drove me crazy. It was sloppy and full of things that were way beyond belief. ie. Her high school class went to Burma and when they were leaving she told the teacher she did not want to leave so she stayed by herself with less then $100 on her. She then went to meet with Aung Sun Suu Ki. She took a videtape and snuck it out in her snapper. Right....This reads more like a Forest Gump episode then anything else. I did wonder how the CIA would allow a book to get out with their secrets and this is the funniest part - she gives hints on how to follow people or how to detect if people are following you. You could have learned as mcuh watching an episode of Get Smart. Save your time and money unless you want to be taken for an idiot.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Randal White

    Wow! I loved this book. How in the world did the author get it past the censors at the CIA? Quickly moving, well written, intriguing story. The author has an amazing story to tell. And tells it masterfully. So much better than the typical “I did all these great and dangerous things in my career, but due to national security, I can’t tell you about them” book of this type. No, she tells the stories, warts and all. And bares her soul, telling of her own struggles, mistakes, and misgivings. And the Wow! I loved this book. How in the world did the author get it past the censors at the CIA? Quickly moving, well written, intriguing story. The author has an amazing story to tell. And tells it masterfully. So much better than the typical “I did all these great and dangerous things in my career, but due to national security, I can’t tell you about them” book of this type. No, she tells the stories, warts and all. And bares her soul, telling of her own struggles, mistakes, and misgivings. And the toll the CIA policies took on her and the people targeted. Again, how did this get past the censors??? I am so glad that it did. The author has an important story to tell. And does it very well!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    Very disappointing: Fox keeps things pretty shallow and isn't a natural writer (a bus is like a dragon, lots of her sentences start 'I' so that they don't flow with rhythm). The first 30% or so percent is her pre-CIA life and isn't especially interesting. Once she does get recruited, there isn't enough specific detail to make this worth reading. We're all pretty clued up these days about what goes on in the intelligence services so if you're familiar with le Carré and real accounts such as 'The Very disappointing: Fox keeps things pretty shallow and isn't a natural writer (a bus is like a dragon, lots of her sentences start 'I' so that they don't flow with rhythm). The first 30% or so percent is her pre-CIA life and isn't especially interesting. Once she does get recruited, there isn't enough specific detail to make this worth reading. We're all pretty clued up these days about what goes on in the intelligence services so if you're familiar with le Carré and real accounts such as 'The Looming Tower' then this feels rather naive. Of course, one of the hooks is that Fox is a woman in a male-oriented arena but even here the book doesn't really deliver. For example, Fox has to bring her overseas lover to the US, she meets him at the airport, tells him they're going to her apartment, drives him to CIA HQ where he's put straight into a lie detector machine *without even knowing she works for the CIA*, he doesn't protest for a moment and comes out saying, yeah, it's all cool... I mean, really? If so, it's just not a scenario I can relate to. So I have to say I found this a messy narrative, lacking in the promised tension and excitement, but also light on details and without a real feel for a woman living life undercover. The lack of introspection and political naivety finished it for me.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Cheryl

    At the age of 21, Amaryllis Fox was ready to make a difference in the world. She had completed an undergraduate degree in international law and theology at Oxford. She then returned to the United States and enrolled at Georgetown University where she developed an algorithm which could predict the likelihood that a terrorist cell could attack anywhere in the world. Her work did not go unnoticed and, while still a student, she was recruited to work as a covert agent for the CIA. Her assignments too At the age of 21, Amaryllis Fox was ready to make a difference in the world. She had completed an undergraduate degree in international law and theology at Oxford. She then returned to the United States and enrolled at Georgetown University where she developed an algorithm which could predict the likelihood that a terrorist cell could attack anywhere in the world. Her work did not go unnoticed and, while still a student, she was recruited to work as a covert agent for the CIA. Her assignments took her first to CIA headquarters where she analyzed cables and other information, and prepared briefs to be read by the President. Then after graduating from Georgetown, she was given assignments as a nonofficial agent in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and North Africa. In this fascinating and informative memoir, written with frankness and sensitivity, Amaryllis traces her nearly ten years with the CIA as she develops the knowledge and perspective of how challenging and important this work really is. Along the way she came to realize that vulnerability is a component of strength and that building trust with your adversaries simply works better than exerting force. Her courage, dedication to achieving peace in the world, as well as her formidable skills in assessing situations have earned respect from her colleagues and friends. Well written and insightful, this book is a must read for anyone interested in world affairs - especially in this time!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ribhi

    For such an interesting life, I was left incredibly bored and uninterested in the contents of this book. Her boring and childish writing style is an injustice to her interesting story. She fails to explore the CIA with any real depth which left me very disappointed. Giving it 2 stars for how interesting her life was, and she did a good job of just pushing the story on, just without any real depth. Really a shame.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Donald Powell

    An interesting book about a very young agent of the Central Intelligence Agency. She is obviously very intelligent, well read and dedicated Makes me proud that such folks are selected for such duty. She left the work after a fairly short term and her ultimate message is one of peace and reconciliation. Very laudable.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Mrtruscott

    I must miss the series “The Americans,” about the suburban Russian spy couple. This book was a very PG version of that show. The book was short, it was a fast read, it was a C-. I kept thinking “they’re babies!” about the author and her colleagues. Ahem. Well, they are! We like to recruit and draft the young and naive to fight our battles. So despite the author’s hyper-educated credentials, I can attribute her earnestness and “kumbaya-parents will save the world with love for the children” to her I must miss the series “The Americans,” about the suburban Russian spy couple. This book was a very PG version of that show. The book was short, it was a fast read, it was a C-. I kept thinking “they’re babies!” about the author and her colleagues. Ahem. Well, they are! We like to recruit and draft the young and naive to fight our battles. So despite the author’s hyper-educated credentials, I can attribute her earnestness and “kumbaya-parents will save the world with love for the children” to her relative youth. Maybe I’ll go watch “Homeland.”

  17. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    Narcissism cloaked in a thin veil of patriotism and justice. It must be nice to single-handedly save the world from nuclear holocaust, hang up your spook hat after less than 10 years, move in with your wealthy parents, and write a book glamorizing your heroics. Noblesse oblige, indeed.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Edward Conley

    Not up to the hype No where as interesting as predicted. Writing not up making it suspenseful or gripping. Not worth the cost or the effort read.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mal Warwick

    Most of us know what little we know about the work of the CIA from novels. Of course, much of that, perhaps most of it, is fanciful. Former CIA officers do write memoirs from time to time, but often, as the Washington Post noted (June 4, 2012), they write to "settle scores about spies." And, as the New York Times revealed (March 15, 2005) in "Ex-Spies Tell It All," their portrait of the Central Intelligence Agency is sometimes "none too flattering." It's refreshing, then, to encounter a memoir w Most of us know what little we know about the work of the CIA from novels. Of course, much of that, perhaps most of it, is fanciful. Former CIA officers do write memoirs from time to time, but often, as the Washington Post noted (June 4, 2012), they write to "settle scores about spies." And, as the New York Times revealed (March 15, 2005) in "Ex-Spies Tell It All," their portrait of the Central Intelligence Agency is sometimes "none too flattering." It's refreshing, then, to encounter a memoir without a particular axe to grind about the agency. The book, which is both engrossing and beautifully written, is Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA by Amaryllis Fox. Awareness of the world at an early age Amaryllis Fox awoke to awareness of the world at an early age. She was eight when her best friend died with her entire family on Pan Am Flight 103, bombed by Libyan terrorists over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. The next year, she writes, "I'm transfixed by images of a solitary student, standing his ground in front of a line of Chinese tanks in a place called Tiananmen Square." She was the privileged child of an aristocratic British mother, an actress, and an economist father who traveled the world to advise governments. Showing brilliance at an early age, she declined admission to the U.S. Naval Academy to study aerospace engineering and instead attended the University of Oxford, where she took up theology and law. Following a gap year working with Burmese refugees in Thailand, Fox enrolled in "a master's program in conflict and terrorism at Georgetown's School of Foreign Service." The CIA soon came calling. Life undercover in CIA's Clandestine Service At the Agency, Fox began as an analyst, scrutinizing a flood of cables on a daily basis from officers overseas about emerging terrorist threats. As soon as she finished at Georgetown, however, Fox learned that "Clandestine Service wants you." After a year in training, she was sent overseas under Non-official Cover to begin recruiting new agents with connections who would turn up advance information about terrorist plots. But the terrorists in question are not teenagers in suicide vests. They're senior operatives in Al Qaeda, Jemaah Islamiyah, and others pursuing the "Islamic bomb." Chasing suitcase nukes: "the holy grail of terrorism" Over what seems to have been seven or eight years, Fox lived life undercover in sixteen countries pursuing timely information about terrorists seeking to acquire nuclear materials. "There have been dozens of credible nuclear threats since 2001," she writes. The greatest threat seems to come from "the holy grail of nuclear terrorism: the much sought-after, man-portable, airline-checkable suitcase nuke. Only one fifteenth as strong as either of the atomic bombs dropped [in World War II], this tactical weapon would still claim a few hundred thousand lives over a few decades and render an entire city center uninhabitable. These bombs require no codes to operate, and at the very least, we believe that 150 to 200 of them are missing from the former Soviet arsenal." And that is one of the most terrifying facts I've come across in many years. In Pakistan, she talked the terrorists out of setting off a dirty bomb It was threats of that magnitude that propelled Amaryllis Fox into the Clandestine Service, and it's clear that her work helped the CIA and its allies to forestall tragedy on several occasions. She writes in detail about one such threat, a plan by terrorists in Pakistan to set off a dirty bomb in a crowded Karachi neighborhood. In that case, she simply talked the terrorists out of carrying through their plan. "Assets want to be part of something important" "Cheesy as it sounds," Fox writes, "I've found that deep down, most targets yearn to be part of saving lives or bringing liberty to their lands. Like anyone else, assets want to be part of something important, want their lives to have meant something, want to build some legacy, secret or not, to keep the terrors of mortality and insignificance at bay." And with that perspective guiding her work, she proved to be an exceptionally successful undercover officer. Life undercover is about building relationships Fox makes abundantly clear that "it isn't waterboarding or enhanced interrogation that uncovers the location of those lethal heaps of nails and explosives. It's slow, hard-won mutual respect." And that respect can take years to attain: it's all about building relationships in the interest of gaining actionable information. "In the movies, a Glock is a spy's best friend," she notes. "In real life, it's the humble index card, lined on one side for meeting notes, blank on the other for hand-sketched diagrams, schematics, and maps. These three-by-five-inch rectangles of sacred information are our reason for existence." About the author Amaryllis Fox is not yet forty years of age but she has already accomplished more than all but a handful of people achieve in a lifetime. Today, she is known best as a peace activist and television personality on CNN, and she famously married Bobby Kennedy III. But her earlier life is even more remarkable. As a child, she lived all over the world, moving nearly every year to a new country to follow her parents as her father's clients changed. At the age of eighteen she interviewed Aung San Suu Kyi in Rangoon for the BBC. As a graduate student at Georgetown, she developed an algorithm that helped predict where terrorism might break out. And that achievement led the CIA to recruit her at the age of twenty-one. After she excelled both in training and in her early work in Langley, the Agency assigned her to the coveted Clandestine Service. Her work undercover in sixteen countries is the centerpiece of her memoir.

  20. 5 out of 5

    KC

    Recruited at a very young age, Amaryllis Fox reveals life undercover in the utmost elite clandestine unit of the CIA. Although she has a distinct talent for writing the written word, lyrical at times, the story often becomes choppy and segmented. Still, extremely interesting and engaging. She is a brilliant narrator if listening to the audiobook.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sue Em

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Provocative glimpse into the real world of a CIA elite covert ops from recruitment straight out of grad school through marrying and having a baby while undercover in Shanghai. Better written than I expected, and definitely more interesting.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Y.

    I always like reading others' reviews, because it helps me see if my views are outliers or not (not that it matters!). I didn't get the sense that Fox believes the CIA's the "only truth" at all. I thought it was pretty clear she thinks peace is the "truth" (in a sense), and that humanity, and treating others like they're humans, is the best way to go about achieving said peace. I mean, obviously, this may not apply to all, but isn't peace what some/most religious sects, etc. purport to want to h I always like reading others' reviews, because it helps me see if my views are outliers or not (not that it matters!). I didn't get the sense that Fox believes the CIA's the "only truth" at all. I thought it was pretty clear she thinks peace is the "truth" (in a sense), and that humanity, and treating others like they're humans, is the best way to go about achieving said peace. I mean, obviously, this may not apply to all, but isn't peace what some/most religious sects, etc. purport to want to have, but apparently can't because of so many reasons? (and they go around trying to get it by blowing the "others" up and trying to instill fear rather than trying to appeal to humanity) And, this book is "unbelievable," in the beyond-belief sense? I know it's hard to realize that some people don't go to work at their 9-5 and come home and binge Netflix every day, then go to sleep only to do the same thing over again. But this IS a memoir from an ex-CIA officer... Which brings me to my actual review: I stayed up till 3am to finish this. It was engrossing. Fascinating. I've always been interested in this kind of stuff, having been slightly obsessed with Alias in high school (the first few seasons). At a certain point, I thought being a CIA officer would be great (for me) - lol what was I thinking. Fox writes about her childhood in DC and London, her time in SE Asia, university, grad school, being recruited, and her 10 or so years at the CIA. I didn't expect so much detail into the CIA - training and beyond - so that was quite interesting. Also didn't expect real names and real places (...that I've been to, like a local restaurant). (But it did make part of me a little...nervous, in the way that news channels showing news that, if the "wrong" people see it, could be bad.) The book gives great insight into the agency - not all CIA officers are "killing machines" (I'm quoting the new village idiot). Certainly, some prefer to be, but others, like Fox, are perhaps more in tune with the psychological and personal side, and realize that everyone is human. So, why not try to appeal to that first? (it's not like it has to be a prolonged trial period - if it works, then great! but if it doesn't, then time for the other tactics) - This also reminded me of Jack Ryan (the Amazon show; haven't read the books), specifically, the episode where they show flashbacks of a terrorist's life growing up, and all the racism and circumstances that brought a highly educated banker to well, essentially, become a terrorist. Things can turn out differently. PSA: this is a memoir of a CIA officer, NOT a work of fiction (from what I can tell). It's not going to be like a season of Alias, which is gripping in a different way.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Dawn

    I saw the author on a docuseries about Jack The Ripper a couple of years ago. I was fascinated that she was retired from the CIA and fairly young AND a female. So I was super excited to see she had written a memoir about her experience. I feel like I barely had it together at 22. Ms. Fox was studying at Oxford, wrote a logarithm to catch terrorists, and was recruited and trained by the CIA to go deep undercover in war-torn Middle East. She is a real-life Carrie Mathison for you Homeland series f I saw the author on a docuseries about Jack The Ripper a couple of years ago. I was fascinated that she was retired from the CIA and fairly young AND a female. So I was super excited to see she had written a memoir about her experience. I feel like I barely had it together at 22. Ms. Fox was studying at Oxford, wrote a logarithm to catch terrorists, and was recruited and trained by the CIA to go deep undercover in war-torn Middle East. She is a real-life Carrie Mathison for you Homeland series fans but much more of a badass. I only gave it four stars because I wanted a little more about her espionage. However, her overall message of peace, hope, and kindness made my heart full.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Brandon Forsyth

    A real-life ALIAS, with plenty to say on geopolitics and motherhood and the nature of secrets. I’m in awe of Amaryllis Fox.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Shannon

    A super interesting insight into the life of an undercover CIA agent. It reads like a tense thriller in parts. I sort of badly want to be her but know I wouldn’t have lasted five minutes.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Heather Blair

    Amazing.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lindsey

    I could not put this book down! Life Undercover is exhilarating, intimate, and fiercely intelligent. It is a riveting narrative of compassion, revealing that the path to peace is through understanding the common humanity in us all. Amaryllis Fox records her extraordinary life of astonishing courage and passion. Long story short- she spent a decade with the spy agency (recruited at the young age of 21), traveling the world, posing as an art dealer while she recruited arms dealers as assets and tr I could not put this book down! Life Undercover is exhilarating, intimate, and fiercely intelligent. It is a riveting narrative of compassion, revealing that the path to peace is through understanding the common humanity in us all. Amaryllis Fox records her extraordinary life of astonishing courage and passion. Long story short- she spent a decade with the spy agency (recruited at the young age of 21), traveling the world, posing as an art dealer while she recruited arms dealers as assets and tried to talk extremists out of detonating dirty bombs. Her memoir recounts her years living undercover, chasing terrorists and infiltrating their networks. She came to the CIA as an idealist, and she found idealism and basic humanity within those who were apparently pitted against her. She also found that she had to keep the reality of her career a secret from everyone, even from family and friends. Throughout much of her remarkable life, secrecy was the norm, but by the time she left the agency, she’d had enough. Fox’s life was extraordinary even during her childhood, as if she were being raised for a life in espionage. She often went “wild world-wandering” with her father, who consulted with foreign governments on matters she never quite understood. Fox was raised to invent elaborate fantasies to play with her brother, and her world of make-believe intrigue became real to her after high school when she volunteered in a Mai Laa refugee camp on the border of Thailand and Burma (NOTE: at age 17!), where she decided to remain for another two years working in health clinics and helping raise funds for them. She also entered the journalism arena, recording a rare interview with Aung San Suu Kyi for the BBC. She then went on to become even more immersed in global affairs during college... She began her college education studying theology and international law at Oxford University and then, spurred by the 2002 kidnapping and beheading by extremists of her writing mentor, journalist Daniel Pearl, Fox pursued a master’s degree in conflict and terrorism at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. While at Georgetown she developed a remarkable algorithm for predicting, with uncanny certainty, the likelihood of a terrorist cell arising in any village around the world. This caught the attention of the university's CIA Officer in Residence Dallas Jones, who asked to share it with Langley. She was recruited by the CIA at age 21. She began work as a political and terrorism analyst for SE Asia, commuting between Langley and Georgetown to finish her degree with HONORS. Her first CIA assignment was reading and analyzing hundreds of classified cables a day from foreign governments and synthesizing them into daily briefs for the president. Her next assignment was at the Iraq desk in the Counterterrorism center. At 22, she was fast-tracked into advanced operations training, sent from Langley to "the Farm," where she lived for six months in a simulated world learning how to use a Glock, how to get out of flexicuffs while locked in the trunk of a car, how to withstand torture, and the best ways to commit suicide in case of captivity. At the end of this training she was deployed as a spy under non-official cover--the most difficult and coveted job in the field as an art dealer specializing in tribal and indigenous art and sent to infiltrate terrorist networks in remote areas of the Middle East and Asia. She served in 16 countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, before leaving government service in 2010.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Janet

    When it is hot as heck outside and there is nothing cool to do but reading as everything else makes you end up a sweaty mess, it is the perfect day for a speed reader. I received a temporary digital Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. From the publisher, as I do not repeat the contents or story of books in reviews, I let them do it as they do it better than I do 😸. Amaryllis Fox's riveting memoir tells the story of her ten years in th When it is hot as heck outside and there is nothing cool to do but reading as everything else makes you end up a sweaty mess, it is the perfect day for a speed reader. I received a temporary digital Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. From the publisher, as I do not repeat the contents or story of books in reviews, I let them do it as they do it better than I do 😸. Amaryllis Fox's riveting memoir tells the story of her ten years in the most elite clandestine ops unit of the CIA, hunting the world's most dangerous terrorists in sixteen countries while marrying and giving birth to a daughter Amaryllis Fox was in her last year as an undergraduate at Oxford studying theology and international law when her writing mentor Daniel Pearl was captured and beheaded. Galvanized by this brutality, Fox applied to a master's program in conflict and terrorism at Georgetown's School of Foreign Service, where she created an algorithm that predicted, with uncanny certainty, the likelihood of a terrorist cell arising in any village around the world. At twenty-one, she was recruited by the CIA. Her first assignment was reading and analyzing hundreds of classified cables a day from foreign governments and synthesizing them into daily briefs for the president. Her next assignment was at the Iraq desk in the Counterterrorism centre. At twenty-two, she was fast-tracked into advanced operations training, sent from Langley to "the Farm," where she lived for six months in a simulated world learning how to use a Glock, how to get out of flexicuffs while locked in the trunk of a car, how to withstand torture, and the best ways to commit suicide in case of captivity. At the end of this training, she was deployed as a spy under non-official cover--the most difficult and coveted job in the field as an art dealer specializing in tribal and indigenous art and sent to infiltrate terrorist networks in remote areas of the Middle East and Asia. Life Undercover is exhilarating, intimate, fiercely intelligent--an impossible to put down a record of an extraordinary life, and of Amaryllis Fox's astonishing courage and passion. Miss Fox has a life that one cannot dream up - smart as a whip (a Master's program at age 21?) and able to write an algorithm that was that successful? (I am not good at math so I am in awe of that fact alone). Her story is unique and was wonderfully written and a great autobiography about the dangerous world we live in now and how she fit into saving it. Her second husband is Bobby Kennedy III, her mother-in-law is actress Cheryl Hines and her brother-in-law dated Taylor Swift so she is now officially "legit famous" and this book cements her future career as a political advisor and commentator on TV, online and in print. (Was that the point of the book? Or was this altruistic to the world's current political problems? Judge for yourself --- or dissect it in book club!) I am on the fence about this ... truly.

  29. 4 out of 5

    John McDonald

    In what must be a heavily edited book, Ms. Fox takes on her journey as an NOC (nonofficial cover), an operations specialist for the the CIA which substantially focuses on a few aspects of her training, her marriage to a special operations CIA officer, her pregnancy and the birth of her child, and a single long term episode trying to turn 'Jakob', a small times arms dealer, into an agency informant. The work is heavy with the author's thoughts and emotions, especially those involving her marriage In what must be a heavily edited book, Ms. Fox takes on her journey as an NOC (nonofficial cover), an operations specialist for the the CIA which substantially focuses on a few aspects of her training, her marriage to a special operations CIA officer, her pregnancy and the birth of her child, and a single long term episode trying to turn 'Jakob', a small times arms dealer, into an agency informant. The work is heavy with the author's thoughts and emotions, especially those involving her marriages and the birth of her child while she acts as an NOC. I learned 3 things that I didn't realize about the commitment agency operatives make and the agency demands: 1) if you're fooling around or intimate with another agency operative and want to continue the relationship while deployed, you have to marry him and the agency essentially must approve; 2) if the marriage fails, as two of hers did, the agency is involved in the dissolution; 3) the agency permits an agent to have a child delivered in the agent's zone of operation and further permits the agent's operations to continue with the newborn; and 4) the agency performs a ritualistic signing of a written agreement with operatives who have been turned, as Jakob was, although the agreement is destroyed immediately once signed, leaving unanswered the question how these 'contracts" are enforced if ever except by killing. Ms. Fox affirms what people in dangerous situations are trained to be aware of: that exteriors of bravado are expressions of fear that people try to hide in order to accomplish their goals, and that as the entrance to Langley reminds everyone passing through its portals, "and ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free." But, her experiences also demonstrated something else she emphasizes. When your entire life is built on pretending to be something you are not, you forget who you are really and what you are doing. Or, in her own words: "Pretending is like that. The better you get at it, the more you forget you're doing it. Until one day you wake up behind a dumpster." The better you are as a Gielgud or Di Niro, the better your chances of survival in this world. It seemed fairly clear from her descriptions that she left because she could no longer pretend that her personal desires for a happy family--even without husbands--had no chance of achievement if forced to continue 'pretending.' So, she did the respectable thing--she resigned, or possibly was forced out at the first convenient opportunity. Unlike other books on tradecraft I've read, this one is nearly exclusively written from a personal perspective, no references to policies, archival material, academic papers and the like. This takes the book into the area of the personal, leaving the conduct of foreign policy and general agency practices somewhat behind. Nonetheless, it sheds light on the important work the intelligence services perform as well as the serious personal risks to which agents exposure themselves.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    Very fascinating and well-written memoir about the author's career at the CIA. (Great audiobook listen). In fact Fox's entire childhood was interesting and, as one would expect, absolutely led to her career. That she is brilliant, curious, and compassionate shines through. It is pretty short, so at times things are skipped over or otherwise breezed past, especially at the end, though I really appreciated the interesting perspective of living in fiction that she shares. Fox does at times come acr Very fascinating and well-written memoir about the author's career at the CIA. (Great audiobook listen). In fact Fox's entire childhood was interesting and, as one would expect, absolutely led to her career. That she is brilliant, curious, and compassionate shines through. It is pretty short, so at times things are skipped over or otherwise breezed past, especially at the end, though I really appreciated the interesting perspective of living in fiction that she shares. Fox does at times come across as the only one with the answers, and as though she's constantly schooling the higher-ups, even at like 22 years old. Many times I thought, she must've been the best operative Langley's ever seen! This could very well be the case--Fox is extremely intelligent and savvy. However, she never really touches on mistakes she makes at work. Every notion turns into perfectly executed plan. There are hiccups along the way but she quickly maneuvers them to her advantage. This might be by design, as I'm sure the CIA had to approve publication. It's just in very stark contrast to a book I read recently that is somewhat reminiscent-Samantha Power's Education of an Idealist. While their roles are different (UN Ambassador vs. CIA operative) and they're separated by about 10 years, the books share similar themes and a similar heart. Power details many of her professional mistakes (some are extraordinarily cringe-worthy) and thus it never seems like she just steps in to save the day. She may WANT to, but that's not what happens and it's so much more relatable. But, this could go back to the length thing, as Power's book is about 3x longer so it include more reflection. All in, though, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and if the topic is at all interesting to you, I highly recommend! Fun fact: she's married to RFK III. They met at Burning Man.

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