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The Spook Who Sat by the Door (African American Life)

4.33  ·  Rating Details ·  897 Ratings  ·  64 Reviews
A classic in the black literary tradition, The Spook Who Sat by the Door is both a comment on the civil rights problems in the United States in the late 60s and a serious attempt to focus on the issue of black militancy.

Dan Freeman, the "spook who sat by the door," is enlisted in the CIA's elitist espionage program. Upon mastering agency tactics, however, he drops out to t
Paperback, 256 pages
Published May 1st 1989 by Wayne State University Press (first published March 1969)
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Grady McCallie
Jul 20, 2013 Grady McCallie rated it liked it
The Spook Who Sat by the Door tells the story of Dan Freeman, an intelligent and 'naturally athletic' man from the ghetto who becomes the first black CIA agent, then resigns and returns home to Chicago to work with what would now be called 'at risk' youth. To his white bosses and funders, he appears to be 'tame' and eager to please; meanwhile, he is actually training street gangs to become a revolutionary insurgency, which launches during race riots near the end of the book. As a middle class wh ...more
I once read this book for class and fell head over hills for Greenlee's talent for summing up what it means to enact a revolution for change in the African-American community. In our current atmosphere of #BlackLivesMatter, the need to understand the mechanisms of revolting and the tactics that should and should not be used are important.

This book packs a punch in it's blunt use of racial slurs, violence, and intellect. If you are not a mature reader who can look beyond the surface, this book ma
Nandi Crawford
Probably one of the best books I have read in so long. from start to finish it was the bomb, and what gets me is that Urban Fiction is hailed as this and that, but I am positive that if they got a hold of THIS book, they'd change their minds quick on what is good or not. But back to the book. this book was published in 1969 by a brother who had similar experiences. Somehow, the book was made into a movie, which I also own and I had watched first before reading the book. anyhow, you have a congre ...more
Crystal Belle
Jan 29, 2009 Crystal Belle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
the revolution will not be televised.
Printable Tire
At first, I thought "Spook" was going to be a broad satire of racism in America in the 60's, using caricatures as characters. But then I realized it's only a broad satire for its enemies: the white liberal do-gooders, bourgeoisie black fakers and political hacks who remain cartoons throughout. The rest is far-fetched blue prints for Armageddon.

The protagonist is a familiar character: the cold, calculating, superiority-driven mastermind who's an expert in martial arts, full of sexual virility, an
Jun 17, 2013 Andrea rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Damn, but this was good and hell of enjoyable. It moves fast, it's got that pulp feel where you always know the color of the whiskey label and the size of the man's lapels. It made me think of Gil Scott Heron's The Revolution Will Not Be Televised and this is a tale of revolution pure and simple, taking everything positive in the biggest baddest gangs and turning them into a force for a racist government to reckon with. For just a taste of the prose
Drop those names: doctors I have known, lawyer
Dave B.
This book was exceptional because of the underlying humanity detailed by the main character, Freeman. The author paints a very real dividing line between the desire to be accepted in the social norms of America and the desire to embrace one's own cultural and racial background. This particular story is about an African American man that seeks to get into the system and learn America's political and military points of view in order to turn that against the status quo. This story plays on the fear ...more
Mar 07, 2013 Makeba rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Saw the movie years ago; this book does not disappoint. I'm halfway through + am thinking about how interesting it is in conversation with 'Django Unchained,' the current political climate, and the bad ass protagonist cannon. Can't wait to talk to someone about this book. Can't wait to start giving the book to folks as gifts, Can't wait to finish it.
Sep 16, 2008 Miss rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Miss by: neighbor's friends
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 29, 2014 M rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fast paced and cool like a good pulp movie. Many of the dialogue exchanges between the main character and white characters in the book are especially painful to read, painful like nausea inducing and that's just how the main character feels as well we find out sometimes. The dialogue exchanges between him and the people he considers bourgeoisie blacks are similarly tense and disappointing/quietly upsetting. And the descriptions of police and state brutality against Black people are absolutely NO ...more
Aug 22, 2007 Troy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classic
Impotent black fantasy of a doomsday that simply cannot happen. Don't get me wrong; I love the book. I love its pacing, its sense of timing, of language. I identify with the sense of determination, with its attempt to find an answer and with its single-minded protagonist. I'm simply angry because this stands out, along with Chester Himes' Plan B, as a story of action to meet headlong a challenge and condition, in the midst of a reading public too apathetic to give a shit or too comfy in their co ...more
Sep 16, 2008 Daniel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: revolutionaries with hard-ons for armed struggle
A blistering read. A black revolutionary joins the CIA and learns all about revolutions overseas, then quits and uses his knowledge to organize a street gang into a revolutionary cadre. When the Detroit ghetto rises up, the cadre attacks the National Guard, sends out organizers to other major cities to organize cadre there, and the Black revolution breaks out across the United States. Tragically, it is not a feminist book.
This book was recommended to me years ago but I decided recently that I would read it. I was not disappointed. I won't give a long drawn out review but I will say, those that are interested in the well being and seeing 'black' people progress as a whole will not be disappointed. Just imagine if every 'black' person read this book and took it to heart?
Jul 30, 2012 Vanessa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sam Greenlee's scope is amazing. I am still trying to figure out how he got this published in the 60's.
Apr 19, 2011 Deidre rated it really liked it
Fun read. Written in the 60s about an African-American guy who goes to work for the CIA and then uses what he learned.
Walter O'Bryant
Jul 25, 2012 Walter O'Bryant rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of my favorite books. I read it at an impressionable age and in many ways tried to emulate the protagonist. Now I'm trying to emulate the author!
Aug 09, 2012 Megan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: school, iah-207
Pretty awesome book. Better than I thought it would be. Again I have to read this again for class so will save my review until then. Can't wait to see the movie!
Mar 05, 2013 Redpoet rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
How is it possible that I did t read this book in the late 60s?
Apr 29, 2009 jewelthinks rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
LOVE IT! A must read!
Sep 03, 2012 Tiaret rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Back in the day, this book was a revelation to me.. it made me proud to be a black women.
Lesia Quamina
Jul 09, 2010 Lesia Quamina rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Love this book. It is a must read.
Awet Moges
Nov 22, 2016 Awet Moges rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Usually, when people give me a book to read, I don't really open it. But this one struck my fancy - a satirical work about a black spy set in the late sixties? I'm game.

Even better yet, Greenlee successfully pulls it off - why an African American James Bond is impossible. His loyalty will never be to the country that had a long history of oppressing his people.

I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the spy genre, as well as a satire of the American mind set of the sixties in both
Tiffany Jackson
This book, while is has a very provocative and unique premise, ended up feeling more like blaxploitation fiction rather than inspiring black revolutionary fiction for me. What killed my enjoyment of the book was the endless references to the main character's sexual prowess. It seemed the author wanted to end every stereotype of black men except this one. The word "whore" was used abundantly, and women were always depicted as throwing themselves at this man, even racist white ones. I also saw the ...more
Gina Rheault
Apr 16, 2014 Gina Rheault rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A must read just because its the angry black (not light skinned Negro trying to pass, but black) man fantasy -- fooling everyone into thinking you're a good reliable Uncle Tom, and then starting a revolution. Yeah! If you've ever been a have not, excluded, underestimated, dismissed because of your looks, or your race, or your nationality, or your class you'll love this book. Aside from the angry man hero, the characters are not profound or memorable, and the gang scenes in Chicago are rather dat ...more
Feb 22, 2011 Kevin rated it really liked it
On Theme: I kept thinking of Steinbeck's "The Moon is Down." I read that one right after the start of the second Iraq War; this one in the midst of the Middle Eastern Revolutions. This is a book about the inevitability of resistance to oppression, published during the heart of the non-violent civil rights and militant black power movements, but pertinent even today.

On Everything Else: The voice of the book, the free-flowing dialogue and description, and the unassuming attention to a real world u
Jan 06, 2008 Elyssa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, sociology
I saw this book on the young adult assignment shelf at the library the other day and remembered reading it a couple of years ago. My former boss recommended it to me. This is a really interesting and engaging story of an African-American social worker who is trained by the CIA and then uses the skills to turn against them and start an uprising of inner city African-Americans. I love the premise and wish that such radical social change could occur today. I hope this book endures as a classic and ...more
Spencer Abbott
Sep 30, 2012 Spencer Abbott rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting socio-political thriller that falls somewhere between the hijinks of Hogan's Heroes and the no-nonsense potboiler espionage theatrics of vintage James Bond. A bit dated, but still teeming with nickel-slick flashback cool. Not at all what I expected from the dust-jacket blurb, but a page-turner for sure. Honestly, I'm a bit surprised that somebody had the cajones to publish it back in 1969. Also a bit surprised that the author only wrote one other novel after this and then went AWOL o ...more
Jul 14, 2014 Marcie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I can understand the anger. There have been (smaller) riots since this book was written. And the racial issues have improved a little since then. How much because of fear of African American violence? How much because of more middle class African Americans? If there were really the kind of "revolution" planned in this book, and if it were actually successful, would there be the same kind of challenges afterward to try to set things up so there is benefit to the revolutionaries or would there jus ...more
Jul 07, 2011 Leslie marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Interesting book and story. But like some other male black writers of this time, I felt like it was too much message, not enough story. I never felt part of the "narrative dream" and never really cared about what was happening. It's hard to write about what Greenlee does, so I give him props. This just isn't my kind of the book. I liken it to The Man Who Cried I Am, so if you like that, you'll like this.
Eric Emma
Great premise. A really interesting main character and the satire is so on point in the first 50 or so pages, however, it reads more like a treatment than an actual flesh out novel. Worth a read since it's quick and some of the ideas are very cool. Also a nice book to follow-up Malcolm X's autobiography. However, most of the characters are underdeveloped and the end feels so anticlimatic and tacked on after the build up of the entire book.
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African-American ...: The Spook Who Sat by the Door 20 13 Jun 14, 2014 09:23AM  
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Elder Sam Greenlee is an African American writer of novels, screeplays, stage plays, and poems. He has been a social activist since the age of 15.

His first well known and most controversal novel was The Spook Who Sat by the Door published in 1968. He also co-wrote the screeplay adaption of the novel. The film was released in 1973. In 1990 Greenlee was the Illinois poet laureate.
More about Sam Greenlee...

Other Books in the Series

African American Life (1 - 10 of 44 books)
  • The Autobiography of William Sanders Scarborough: An American Journey from Slavery to Scholarship
  • Bearing Witness to African American Literature: Validating and Valorizing Its Authority, Authenticity, and Agency
  • Bobweaving Detroit: The Selected Poems of Murray Jackson
  • Caribbean Labor and Politics: Legacies of Cheddi Jagan and Michael Manley
  • Churches and Urban Government in Detroit and New York, 1895-1994
  • Coleman Young And Detroit Politics: From Social Activist to Power Broker (African American Life Series)
  • The Concept of Self: A Study of Black Identity and Self-Esteem
  • Dear Chester, Dear John: Letters Between Chester Hines and John A. Williams
  • Discarded Legacy: Politics and Poetics in the Life of Frances E.W. Harper, 1825-1911
  • Dreaming Suburbia: Detroit and the Production of Postwar Space and Culture

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