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The Wolf and the Watchman: A Father, a Son, and the CIA

3.31  ·  Rating Details ·  251 Ratings  ·  44 Reviews
What happens when a father asks his son to lie for the greater good?

Growing up, Scott C. Johnson always suspected that his father was different. Only as a teenager did he discover the truth: his father was a spy, one of the CIA's most trusted officers. At first the secret was thrilling. But over time Scott began to have doubts. How could a man so rigorously trained to dece
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published May 20th 2013 by W. W. Norton Company (first published June 6th 2012)
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May 26, 2013 Julia rated it liked it
This book drew me in at the beginning, as any charismatic spy should. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Scott Johnson's childhood. But as he grew into a conflicted, confused, depressed adult, the charm dissolved. I felt I was reading the story of a whiny, obnoxious, immature little boy. His palpable resentment of his father, who suddenly he considered a liar and a con man, was disturbing. He provided no evidence that his father had acted with anything but integrity, yet he felt he was withholdi ...more
Rebecca Applewhite

There were some fascinating stories hidden in here, but it needed a good edit - far too much self indulgent analysis
Jan 20, 2014 Liz rated it it was ok
Agree with the reviewer below who wrote there is no narrative here, definitely no through line. I read it because I heard an interview with the author, and he was very interesting, but I had a hard time getting through the book itself.
Aug 20, 2012 Susan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely beautiful
Aug 09, 2015 Kelly rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
i really wanted to like this more. i am obsessed with the show "the americans" and couldn't wait to read about the true story of a son and his "spy" father. maybe i had too high of expectations. i definitely anticipated more action and crazy stories than what i got. honestly, it read more like johnson's journal or inner monologue and unresolved issues, not just with his father's career but with his own. while i think some of it was quite interesting, in my opinion, it wasn't worthy of 300+ pages ...more
Mike Keren
Feb 25, 2014 Mike Keren rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
Interesting read. The tale of his childhood, growing up with this big secret, yet surrounded by the secret, was very engrossing. The second part, his travels into the war zone as a reporter were also interesting. Harrowing. His effort to describe the interplay between himself and his father seemed less successful. Too much effort to report and not enough of a critical eye for my satisfaction.. Still, worth a read.
Jan 02, 2014 Michael rated it liked it
The author mentioned his father said " was just like James Bond." If only that were true, and maybe that is why I have been gravitating towards fiction. Don't get me wrong, I admire those who serve our country, whether that is covertly, as a soldier, or the people that risk their lives to report on wars.
Dec 19, 2014 Katie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The imagery of the Colville area highlands is good; the perspective of time growing up with his father in the CIA is interesting, but much of his grappling over that time while an adult is less so. It could have been much condensed to provide the same overall story.
Jocelyn (foxonbooks)
When he was 14, Scott’s father tells him the truth: the secret that explains why the family moved from New Delhi, to Belgrade, to Islamabad, to Williamsburg, Virginia. The reason people always looked a little sceptical when Scott said his father was a diplomat. The why behind his parents’ divorce.

Scott's father, Keith Johnson, was a spy.

Letting Scott in on the secret reinforced the incredibly strong connection between father and son but at the same time sowed a seed of suspicion for Scott – his
Oct 22, 2013 L rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
Is lying ever right? Or teaching a child to lie? This book gave me a reason to think for some parents, it might be the only possibility.

What a wonderful is the review from Amazon:

"Growing up, Scott C. Johnson always suspected that his father was different. Only as a teenager did he discover the truth: his father was a spy, one of the CIA’s most trusted officers. At first the secret was thrilling. But over time Scott began to have doubts. How could a man so rigorously trained to dec
Sep 28, 2013 Michelle rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, 2013
This book was all over the place. I am fascinated by the CIA and the sneaky things we do on a global scale, all the while pretending we’re all above it and staunchly Puritan-esque. But this had no clear narrative throughput, at least from my vantage point. In this, we have the memoir of a man who found out at age twelve his dad was a spy. I’m a little surprised he told him, as it is a big burden to keep, though I guess it speaks to how much dad trusted his son. As a child and an adult, the narra ...more
Jul 26, 2013 Mary rated it liked it
This book was disturbing in its portrayal of both the relationship of the son (the journalist) and father (the CIA agent) and the larger picture of the CIA's action on behalf of the USA in Mexico, Iraq, India, and other places. We learn more than we want or need to know about the son's emotional disturbances and his ambivalent feelings toward his father. He ends up saying how much he loves and respects his father, but I am not totally convinced!

One Goodreads reviewer said the book needed a bett
Aug 12, 2015 Lillian rated it really liked it
I had no idea how close to home this book would range when I started it. New Delhi, Belgrade, and Islamabad are a long ways from eastern Washington, but St. Maries, ID, Colville WA, and the tent city in Petersburg, AK? Those are places I know and don't associate with the CIA.

Scott Johnson's memoir closely follows his relationship with his father whom he always suspected had hidden secrets. Scott is a teenager when he learns his father is a spy and begins to question the life they have lived, tr
Oct 04, 2013 Kristi rated it liked it
This book is often incredibly interesting. But it was often boring as well. Scott Johnson grew up with a father who essentially worked as a spy for the CIA. Because of this, Scott grew up extremely well-traveled, but also almost incapable of fulling trusting his father, who had to lead a sort of double life constantly in order to earn a living. And while it bothers him that he can't trust his father, it bothers him even more that he may be much more like him than he thought. If this book stuck t ...more
Margaret Sankey
Nov 23, 2013 Margaret Sankey rated it liked it
Johnson's father was a CIA agent active in the 1970s and 80s, taking his family (with a realistic view of the stresses and fractures deployment and these jobs place on families) on assignment to India, Mexico and Pakistan--and the accounts of this and being stationed on a base in the US are eerily familiar to anyone who was a military kid in the late Cold War. As an adult, Johnson became an investigative reporter, confronting many of the consequences of US policy in these regions, and grappling ...more
Feb 04, 2015 Jo rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating premise. I saw this at my school's library, and checked it out on the spot.

I got to 2001, and just couldn't finish it. Not because it was bad, but because other things in my life kept popping up, and I kept thinking, "I'll finish this book," but then life kept interfering, to the point that the book didn't really warrant a "Wow!" factor for me to return to it. It started off as gripping, with a childhood cloaked in mystery, but like everyone else said, this memoir would benefit from
This book was not what I was expecting. A fairly mediocre read, that took some effort to finish, Johnson gives a wandering history of growing up with a father working for the CIA and his own choice to become a journalist, which he sees as a similar/parallel career path. While he repeatedly relays his effort to unearth the truth from his father, Johnson doesn't really reveal anything of interest. His struggle with depression and conversations with a terrorist working with the CIA in Iraq are the ...more
Dec 17, 2016 Jim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hardback, 2016
I enjoyed this book immensely, especially Mr. Johnson's writing concerning the trials and tribulations he experienced as he learned more of his father's secret. The book was easy to read and follow along with the flashbacks that were incorporated, the only slight I have for this book is it seemed to end abruptly, the last two chapters seem rushed. Overall, anyone interested in those who choose to serve the nation in a thankless often dangerous job this book is a must read. I will definitely keep ...more
Some other reviewers were correct. This book was great in the first half as a upbeat yet somehow sad memoir of growing up in different places, as an only child, never rooted anywhere, yet having fun with dad along the way.

The second half had no theme, it did seem like a lot of confused bitching. But then again, that's pretty much the mind of a young 20-something guy. Never achieved the expected ending. Not to spoil anything, but I really have no idea what the epilogue meant. Maybe I'm just dens
Shana Nichols
This book was received as a First Reads Giveaway.

Scott Johnson's compelling memoir tells an extraordinary story of the closeness of father and son and yet the walls inevitably constructed by career and country. Shuttling back and forth between views through chinks in the wall and vistas above it, Johnson seamlessly weaves a story of family, father and son with arresting elements of war and espionage. What does it mean to be honest with those we love, and can trust be built on partial views?
Henderson County Public Library
Until he was 14, Scott Johnson believed his father was a diplomat for the United States, but one afternoon his father told him a secret. Scott’s father worked for the CIA as a spy. While the burden of this secret was exciting to a child, as Scott grew older, he began to question his father’s trustworthiness. A rift began to form between them until Scott’s career as a war correspondent put him on a path to intersect with his father’s past.
Mar 02, 2013 James rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-read, blog
To be completely honest i did not think I was going to like this book, but i did. This true store is amazing and even a little hard to believe. I just loved his writing style. In college I minored in journalism and I have always loved the way that journalist's write. It is always so straight forward and easy to read. And i feel that Scott does not hold anything back.

for a more complete review please see my blog:
Aug 06, 2012 Ruth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book - arrived in mail today and have read a fair bit .... and finished it this morning, months later. The somewhat sad quest to understand his dad's CIA complicity is sort of almost stomped out when his dad asks if he protected a witness in gaining a dangerous interview, as a journalist and pits the two careers together at the end. A description of escaping death is unbelievably horrible. Descriptions of countryside and towns are fabulous
May 12, 2014 Glen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: firstreads, biography
I won this book in a goodreads drawing.

An unusual autobiography about a man who was the son of a CIA agent, grew sick of the lies, and became a journalist for Newsweek. Rather a counterintuitive choice.

It's a disjointed affair with some abrupt shifts in time and location, but that doesn't serve as an obstacle to enjoyment. Johnson still seems ambivalent about pretty much everything.

On the whole, interesting, but not wholly coherent.
Jan 17, 2014 Cat rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2014
A very loving father who seems as honest and genuine as a child could want. I'm having trouble understanding how the deception of his dad's involvement in CIA provided anything but a life of travel and adventures. The dad obviously loved his son dearly.

The book lacked focus and possibly needed some editing.
My biggest difficulty with this book, was the boy's questioning. Having grown up in the DC area, with so many people, with job that you can't ask them about, I didn't understand the son's need to know. Maybe that makes me different from the sons, daughter, wives, husbands, of people who are in this "Industry".
Aug 21, 2013 Randy rated it it was ok
Not what I expected based on reading reviews of the book. I was disappointed in the ending (exactly what did the author indicate was happening??). I expected more revelations about his father's career but not much was forthcoming.
Kenneth E
A good beginning for a new book writer. It's one thing to write an article, and another to write a book that will hold the readers interest and bring forth a thorough insight to the subject matter.

Scott needs a good editor, if he is going to be a best seller writer.
Oh Me
Jul 30, 2013 Oh Me rated it it was ok
Shelves: i-gave-up-on-it
It started out captivating but degraded into nonstop self-indulgent whining. I misunderstood - I thought I could learn from what I thought would be the account of someone with a matured perspective.
Sep 27, 2015 Jgnat rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a memorable book that I quickly related to, having spent part of my childhood living in the tropics, and having a complex relationship with my father. There are mildly distressing loose ends which I think are essential to the narrative. This is also a relationship with loose ends.
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Father Like Son 1 4 Jul 15, 2014 11:03AM  
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Scott C. Johnson was a Newsweek foreign correspondent for twelve years, often providing exclusive war reporting from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other fronts in the Middle East. He also served as Newsweek’s bureau chief in Mexico, Baghdad, and Africa; was part of the team that won the 2003 National Magazine Award for reportage of the Iraq War; and received a 2004 Overseas Press Club Honorable Mention f ...more
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“But despite the ease, theirs was also a world of intrigue and secrets, in which wit and flashy derring-do were rewarded. In such circles, people began to call my father Silver Tongue, and so my mother did, too, smiling and teasing him about his ease with people and his facility with words, all the while feeling intimidated by those things herself.” 0 likes
“What [my father] didn’t say, but what was understood, was that he needed me to lie for him from then on, and lie like a professional. I had license to dissimulate, fabricate, invent, cover-up, and deceive if necessary. There was a greater good.” 0 likes
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