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An Ordinary Spy

3.48 of 5 stars 3.48  ·  rating details  ·  137 ratings  ·  27 reviews
A former CIA case officer's novel about two embattled spies who go to extraordinary lengths to keep their informants out of harm's way, published as vetted by the agency itself.

Mark Ruttenberg may not be fit for the CIA. Early in his tenure with the agency, he learns about a former operative, Bobby Goldstein, and becomes curious about the case that led to his termination.
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published December 26th 2007 by Bloomsbury USA
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Oct 09, 2008 Corny rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommended to Corny by: Barnes and Noble
This is a weird read because you are constantly distracted by the "CIA redacting". The premise is interesting but the book does not deliver much. I was at times bored and irritated by the black lining which soon loses its novelty. Perhaps, the book has achieved its purpose by showing us how humdrum the life of a CIA agent really is. No James Bond or George Smiley here!! The annoying thing is that because of the redacting you never learn anything interesting about procedures and practices and are ...more
Also known as "that spy book that used the black marks to blot out whole sections of prose, as a narrative gimmick that pretends to be a CIA censor's marks." But I thought the device worked well and, more importantly, the book is a very human story that cuts past the cliches about high-stakes espionage, drilling down into the reality of what it's like to gather intelligence about another country, another society, another person. An interesting and very unusual book.
JS Found
Not a conventional spy thriller. Weisberg, who worked for the CIA, isn't interested in confirming pop culture stereotypes. He's written more a literary examination of what being in the CIA does to people and their relationships. The main story doesn't even get started until midway through. The narrator we thought we would spend time with as he started working at the CIA, wraps up his time there, and then relates the story of a more experienced agent. Both experiences are thematically linked to w ...more
Its really hard to pin this book down as its really not a spy novel more like two separate stories about spies and what happens to their sources and themselves when they were sent overseas spying. One agent falls in love with his source. Another agent finds that keeping a source is difficult and that not everyone is what it may seem. The story drags a little, but is interesting because it seems to cover real spycraft and not James Bond work.

An interesting side angle is that the CIA reviews all p
Dr. Barrett  Dylan Brown, Phd
An Awesome Novel! After my second reading I come away just as full of emotion and contentment as the first reading. One of my most favorite memoirs ever.

Unlike any other Spy Novel I have ever read, Weisberg writes about his time in The Company like he is reporting on data entry; Flat, beauracratic, and noticably human. Rather than trying to surprise or embellish the author describes CIA life in all it's most boring aspects.

And of course, rather than rewriting his memoir, Weisburg simply publishe
I agree wholeheartedly with the review at
The premise of the book is that you are reading a bunch of declassified documents about an secret agent's mission gone awry. So, a lot of the text looks like old government classified documents with ommissions and blacked out sections. I didn't find this particularly annoying, but it did interrupt the pace of the story at times, I thought. Also, this isn't as much a spy/thriller sort of novel as much as it is a novel about human nature and friendship. That said, I did enjoy it.
Ugh. Redacting is distracting. And the novel reads like a report. I probably would have given it a 3 star rating if the style had been different, and if the jacket description had been more accurate (the novel covers Goldstein and his story more than anything else).

Those wanting a fast-paced, can't-put-it-down spy thriller will be disappointed. Those looking for something more realistic and less James Bond-ish will probably like the novel.
I loved this book! A spy novel written by a former CIA officer. Brings to mind John Le Carre's The Honorable Schoolboy! Nothing flashy, but every bit as thrilling and touching. Can a good spy be a decent human being with a good conscience at the same time? I loved the way Joseph Weisberg tells the story (2 separate stories broken down into four parts). Tradecraft hasn't been this interesting since Le Carre's George Smiley/Karla trilogy.

Okay, I'm sure this would be a great book, but I just couldn't get past all of the blacked out sections interrupting the flow of the story. I didn't finish it because of this. I'm sure it was meant to give the reader the impression that this book was more clandestine or classified, but to me it was just annoying. I didn't finish the book as a result.
My latest experiment in judging a book by its cover from the library shelf.

Truly irritating: Author pretends to have novel reviewed by the CIA, leaving all specific place-names and other details "redacted" in big black swaths.

That said, it was an interesting, quiet little story that I wanted to finish immediately. So, mixed goodness.
A somewhat unusual "spy novel" - had phrases & sentences (& occasionally whole paragraphs) blacked out. Apparently, the author, a former CIA agent himself, subjected this fictional account to CIA review before publication. We end up with a low-key, very realistic & believable tale.
Blake Kanewischer
This is an interesting book. The redaction throughout is by turns frustrating and intriguing, since it allows the book to have a certain timeless feel to it. The story is quite straightforward, and deeply human. A solid book, more than brain candy, but not a giant of the genre.
Lots of redacted (blacked-out) sections that distracts from the continuity/enjoyment of the story. The longer segment is a story within a story, done mainly through flashbacks (of course). The end is predictable since the narrator is still alive - very little tension/suspense.
A very interesting take on the typical spy novel, which seems much more realistic. I really liked the concept and most of the execution, but I felt like the ending didn't resolve well. Some people may really like that though.
More in the style of Le Carre than any of your 'raised letter books', it's a quiet novel of failure and the quest to understand why. Probably more true to life than other CIA novels, and a good deromanticizing of the spy life.
Kathleen Krepps
An engaging, even addictive spy novel. Starts slowly and really reels you in. Lots of real-life details and interesting moral dilemmas. Parts of the novel are redacted, which is a neat device. Highly recommend.
Aug 24, 2013 Chris added it
Shelves: bookclub
Fun to read on the heels of Last One In. A bit gimmicky with the redactions but provokes a good discussion.
This was my first espionage novel. I'd read some good reviews of it. Even so, I don't get it.
This was a really tense spy thriller; I really enjoyed it and did not want to put it down.
This fictional account of being in the CIA is thought-provoking, confusing, and hard to put down.
A clever spy story that feels more realistic than the typical Ian Fleming/John LeCarre fare.
I have a penchant for spy novels, and this one was very enjoyable.
An Ordinary Spy: A Novel by Joseph Weisberg (2007)
once you get past the redactions, its still not very good
Depicts the downside of being a spy.
Richard Hintz
Sep 27, 2008 Richard Hintz marked it as to-read
Shelves: spy
New Yorker 21 Jan 08
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