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Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  6,098 ratings  ·  718 reviews
Amaryllis Fox's 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. ...more
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published October 15th 2019 by Knopf Publishing Group
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Sharon I found a lot of it really hard to swallow, from little details to the sometimes absurd dialogue.

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Average rating 3.90  · 
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Jun 04, 2020 rated it it was ok
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
Woman Reading
3 ☆ 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 the three books recently published and cited. I read 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 me viewing too many James Bond and Jason Bourne movies?

Jun 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
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
Margo Tanenbaum
Sep 07, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: adult, memoir, espionage
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 ...more
Aug 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 25, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
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

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
Mar 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Nov 06, 2019 rated it did not like it
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 ...more
Carmen Liffengren
Oct 21, 2019 rated it liked it
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
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
Roman Clodia
Jan 18, 2020 rated it did not like it
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 ...more
Apr 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 04, 2020 rated it it was ok
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.
Donald Powell
Dec 04, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: government, biography
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.
Dec 01, 2019 rated it it was ok
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.
Nov 25, 2020 marked it as to-read
thank you, npr article, because this book sounds so incredibly interesting! ...more
Jan 26, 2020 rated it liked it
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
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.
Mal Warwick
Nov 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
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 ...more
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.
Sue Em
Jan 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jim Angstadt
Dec 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020
The author's work to find a middle ground, and avoid mass deaths, was a practical approach that sometimes seemed to work. It is a refreshing contrast to win-lose scenarios. ...more
Aug 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2019, memoirs
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
Mike Kanner
Dec 06, 2019 rated it it was ok
Mildly entertaining but not enlightening.

The first part comes off as the meanders of any undergraduate after a semester abroad. She 'just so happens' to meet all these activists and Au Song Su Chi. Since she starts by talking about her father as an international economist and her life of privilege, it is not surprising that she thinks nothing of it.

Once she joins the CIA, it is a rather mundane description of training. I understand that this would have had to have been vetted by the CIA before
Nov 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Brandon Forsyth
Apr 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
A real-life ALIAS, with plenty to say on geopolitics and motherhood and the nature of secrets. I’m in awe of Amaryllis Fox.
Aug 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Heather Blair
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