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An Ordinary Spy

3.48  ·  Rating details ·  185 ratings  ·  41 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 terminati
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published December 26th 2007 by Bloomsbury USA
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Average rating 3.48  · 
Rating details
 ·  185 ratings  ·  41 reviews

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Apr 01, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction, spy-thriller
I agree wholeheartedly with the review at ...more
Jan 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Feb 11, 2009 rated it did not like it
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. ...more
Aug 09, 2015 rated it liked it
Interesting book, but Weisberg made much better use of his CIA experience in his excellent tv show The Americans.
Elizabeth Sulzby
I am reading this book because it is by the former-CIA agent and author Joseph Weinberg who is behind the creation of the FX television series, The Americans. I was not prepared to find a book with key words blacked out, "masked" as if the novel were censored in its entirely by the CIA. In a review, I read that some of these items were indeed blocked by the DIA; OK, I get that. But the review said that others were created by the author as part of his "art." That is most annoying to me as a reade ...more
Kathleen (itpdx)
Jun 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
Weisberg evidently worked for the CIA for a time and the story feels like there is a basis of truth to it. The bits about training and spy craft just feel right in their ordinariness, routine and goals. The first assignment cover of working in a US embassy in a friendly country and mingling with staff from other embassies I think is well known. Weisberg builds a suspenseful and touching story on this base of two spies who let their humanity and ambition get in the way of their jobs.
The book is p
Jan 29, 2008 rated it it was ok
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
Brad Feld
Sep 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
If you like spy books AND great writing, this one is for you.
Aug 08, 2013 rated it did not like it
once you get past the redactions, its still not very good
Mar 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Been a minute since I got my clutches on a book that made me not want to put it down.

That, first of all.

Second, yes, if you dig "The Americans," you'll love this. Never mind all the authentic-feeling spy craft and tricks and tools and lingo of the trade, it's the heart and humanity of the story combined with the, you know, spy stuff that really, really works ... ala that show on FX. It's such a human story, delivered at a swift pace and yet methodically. Super fun.

I'm struck by how not elaborat
Feb 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
A refreshing story of the much less hollywood-esque world of real spycraft. Shows the typical work of a case officer working abroad and the moral dilemmas they fall into.

It takes a little bit to get used to the blacked out confidential style but I felt it sometimes added to the mood of the story. Bit of a slow burn with no real climax which feels suited to a more realistic look at espionage. Overall quite enjoyable and engrossing second half.
Oct 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
An unusually-structured book, plot-wise, organized around an odd gimmick whereby large passages of the text are blotted out, as though the CIA review board had censored it. Various other touches are included to blur the line between fiction and reality. The writing itself feels stilted and almost childlike at first, but as one grows accustomed to the voice it's less so. ...more
Sep 02, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2019-read
I actually liked the overall story, even though the first half of the book was dull and boring.
Could have got more stars, but no clue as to what book editor thought the "redacted by the CIA censors" premise was a good one.IT WAS NOT.(mho)It was distracting, and extremely annoying. Guess I'm lucky the used book store had this on thier 99 cent shelf.
Feb 04, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
JS Found
Mar 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Jackson Vick
Jul 12, 2016 rated it did not like it
Don't waste your time on this book. In the beginning a statement from the CIA leads the reader to believe they have blacked out so many words & paragraphs. But today I read the author did it himself! How absurd, how strange this author is, & how ridiculous the editor & publisher must be.
It was Very difficult to get interested in this novel. I was so frustrated with all the blacked out names, places & actions (sometimes whole pages!) that I set it aside more than once, thinking I just didn't care
Dec 10, 2007 rated it really liked it
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.

Mar 30, 2008 rated it it was ok
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.
Aug 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Dec 05, 2011 rated it liked it
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.
Jan 27, 2016 rated it liked it
Discovered this while waiting for Weisberg's magnificent TV show "The Americans" to return for its 4th season. This is an interesting, anti-glamorous look at the spy trade. Very quick and entertaining read. The infamous faux redactions are sometimes annoying, sometimes amusing; they did cause me to imagine what might lie beneath those black bars . . ! ...more
Dec 30, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: mystery-thriller
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. ...more
Mar 01, 2008 rated it liked it
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. ...more
Jun 10, 2008 rated it liked it
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
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.
Blake Kanewischer
May 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
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.
Kathleen Krepps
May 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
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.
Sep 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Even with all the redacting, this was an interesting read. Who can do this job? Not me!!! Such a deceitful life, full of lies and no true friends. I enjoy books like this because this life is interesting and full of dangers. It fascinates me that people want to do this for a job!
Oct 07, 2015 rated it it was ok
At time the redactions made you think, but for the most part, they were annoying. Its fiction. From the text, you could tell what the redacted word should be and that made it annoying. It moved pretty slow. Not something I would recommend.
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