January 2020, Nonfiction

Life Undercover by Amaryllis Fox

Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA by Amaryllis Fox. October 15, 2019. Alfred A. Knopf, 229 p. ISBN: 9780525654971.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

Amaryllis Fox’s riveting 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

Amaryllis Fox was in her last year as an undergraduate at Oxford studying theology and international law when her writing mentor Daniel Pearl was captured and beheaded. Galvanized by this brutality, Fox applied to a master’s program in conflict and terrorism at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, where she created an algorithm that predicted, with uncanny certainty, the likelihood of a terrorist cell arising in any village around the world. At twenty-one, she was recruited by the CIA. Her first assignment was reading and analyzing hundreds of classified cables a day from foreign governments and synthesizing them into daily briefs for the president. Her next assignment was at the Iraq desk in the Counterterrorism center. At twenty-two, she was fast-tracked into advanced operations training, sent from Langley to “the Farm,” where she lived for six months in a simulated world learning how to use a Glock, how to get out of flexicuffs while locked in the trunk of a car, how to withstand torture, and the best ways to commit suicide in case of captivity. At the end of this training she was deployed as a spy under non-official cover–the most difficult and coveted job in the field as an art dealer specializing in tribal and indigenous art and sent to infiltrate terrorist networks in remote areas of the Middle East and Asia.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Harsh realities of war, Mild sexual themes, Strong language, Violence


Author Interview


Booklist starred (October 1, 2019 (Vol. 116, No. 3))
At the age of 18, Fox traveled to Burma, a country in the midst of antigovernment riots, and interviewed the leader of the opposition movement, Aung San Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest. So begins Fox’s path to the CIA. For a decade, she works as an undercover agent abroad, fighting terrorism and countering nuclear proliferation—all without her friends or family knowing her reality. She and her husband, whom she met in the CIA, don’t even know the details of each other’s missions. It is a strange and lonely life, but Fox manages to find moments to share her truth and discovers that recruiting assets (like Jakab, an arms broker who steals every scene he is in) is aided not by fear but by finding their shared humanity. Fox’s clear, present-tense prose keeps readers in the action while maintaining the heft of reality, even in totally surreal situations. With loads of suspense and adrenaline, and a streaming series starring Brie Larson reportedly in the works, this insider’s view into how the CIA functions and what life is like for a covert agent will appeal to many, including readers who don’t normally stray from fiction thrillers.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2019)
A journalist recounts her formative years in the CIA.Fox engagingly—and transparently—describes her work as an undercover agent for the CIA, which recruited the author while she was still in college. “What will happen if I tell the world the truth?” she asks, having returned to civilian life as a young single mother following the dissolution of a marriage that was all but arranged by the agency. Motherhood changed her perspective and priorities, and she now devotes herself to the cause of peace. In her fast-moving debut memoir, she seeks to “spill that most secret of secrets: that all we soldiers and spies, all the belching, booming armored juggernauts of war, all the terror groups and all the rogue states, that we’re all pretending to be fierce because we’re all on fire with fear.” The author’s life was extraordinary even during her childhood, as if she were being raised for a life in espionage. She often went “wild world-wandering” with her father, who consulted with foreign governments on matters she never quite understood. Fox was raised to invent elaborate fantasies to play with her brother, and her world of make-believe intrigue became real to her as she volunteered to aid refugees after high school and became immersed in global affairs during college. She came to the CIA as an idealist, and she found idealism and basic humanity within those who were apparently pitted against her. She also found that she had to keep the reality of her career a secret from everyone, even from family and friends. Throughout much of her remarkable life, secrecy was the norm, but by the time she left the agency, she’d had enough. A well-written account of a life lived under exceptional secrecy and pressure.

About the Author

Following her CIA career in the field, Amaryllis Foxhas covered current events and offered analysis for CNN, National Geographic, al Jazeera, BBC, and other global news outlets. She speaks at events and universities around the world on the topic of peacemaking. She is the co-host of History Channel’s series American Ripper and lives in Los Angeles, CA, with her husband and daughter.


Around the Web

Life Undercover on Amazon

Life Undercover on Barnes and Noble

Life Undercover on Goodreads

Life Undercover on LibraryThing

Life Undercover Publisher Page

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s