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From the author of Argo comes an unforgettable behind-the-scenes story of espionage in action. In the first ever memoir by a top-level operative to be authorized by the CIA, Antonio J. Mendez reveals the cunning tricks and insights that helped save hundreds from deadly situations. Adept at creating new identities for anyone, anywhere, Mendez was involved in operations all o From the author of Argo comes an unforgettable behind-the-scenes story of espionage in action. In the first ever memoir by a top-level operative to be authorized by the CIA, Antonio J. Mendez reveals the cunning tricks and insights that helped save hundreds from deadly situations. Adept at creating new identities for anyone, anywhere, Mendez was involved in operations all over the world, from “Wild West” adventures in East Asia to Cold War intrigue in Moscow. In 1980, he orchestrated the escape of six Americans from a hostage situation in revolutionary Tehran, Iran. This extraordinary operation inspired the movie Argo, directed by and starring Ben Affleck. The Master of Disguise gives us a privileged look at what really happens at the highest levels of international espionage: in the field, undercover, and behind closed doors.


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From the author of Argo comes an unforgettable behind-the-scenes story of espionage in action. In the first ever memoir by a top-level operative to be authorized by the CIA, Antonio J. Mendez reveals the cunning tricks and insights that helped save hundreds from deadly situations. Adept at creating new identities for anyone, anywhere, Mendez was involved in operations all o From the author of Argo comes an unforgettable behind-the-scenes story of espionage in action. In the first ever memoir by a top-level operative to be authorized by the CIA, Antonio J. Mendez reveals the cunning tricks and insights that helped save hundreds from deadly situations. Adept at creating new identities for anyone, anywhere, Mendez was involved in operations all over the world, from “Wild West” adventures in East Asia to Cold War intrigue in Moscow. In 1980, he orchestrated the escape of six Americans from a hostage situation in revolutionary Tehran, Iran. This extraordinary operation inspired the movie Argo, directed by and starring Ben Affleck. The Master of Disguise gives us a privileged look at what really happens at the highest levels of international espionage: in the field, undercover, and behind closed doors.

30 review for The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    This isn't an action-packed spy thriller featuring ruthless agents breaking all the rules. This is about a guy who wanted to eat & be an artist, but found an opportunity with the CIA & rose through the ranks impressively. He spent 25 years mostly forging documents, identities, & working out disguises so other agents could do the job, but he did have quite a few hours in the field as well. There was some repetition due his meticulous handling of every subject, definitely great fodder for any spy-t This isn't an action-packed spy thriller featuring ruthless agents breaking all the rules. This is about a guy who wanted to eat & be an artist, but found an opportunity with the CIA & rose through the ranks impressively. He spent 25 years mostly forging documents, identities, & working out disguises so other agents could do the job, but he did have quite a few hours in the field as well. There was some repetition due his meticulous handling of every subject, definitely great fodder for any spy-thriller novelists. Forged papers & identities - legends - aren't whipped up at the spur of the moment. The amount of tedious preparation, sometimes in primitive conditions, was incredible. The skills needed were mind blowing. He discusses slicing open an envelope & then gluing the threads back together until the glue job was invisible! I can't imagine doing detail work like that, sometimes for 18 hours at a time under threat of discovery. Perhaps the best part was to hear an insider's account of some of the milestones of recent history. He discusses Argo (but never mentions Zelazny or Lord of Light by name) the fall of the Berlin Wall (the very end of his career), & several traitors. He doesn't excuse Iran-Contra or other boondoogles, but it's pretty easy to see that the CIA has done some great work as well as made some great goofs. They're also hampered by politics & news coverage. He doesn't blame either, but does mention a couple of times when both certainly put extra pressure on those in the field. I'm glad I listened to this. I would have skimmed a lot if I'd read it in print. Still, it's well worth getting through the entire book. I don't think I'll read Argo: How the CIA & Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History, since it was covered well enough for me in this book, but I might read another of his books. Spy Dust: Two Masters of Disguise Reveal the Tools & Operations That Helped Win the Cold War & Gathering Info: Getting the Scoop by Using Your Wits both look interesting because they're co-authored by his second wife, who worked with him in the CIA.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Robert Bidinotto

    While I was researching the CIA background for my debut thriller, HUNTER, I devoured a host of books written by former Agency officers. My goal was to try to get a sense of the reality of their day-to-day lives and activities. And because aliases and disguises play such an important role in my novel, I was especially eager to learn as much as possible about that aspect of spycraft. For both reasons, I was delighted to discover The Master of Disguise. Antonio Mendez is, and presents, the real deal While I was researching the CIA background for my debut thriller, HUNTER, I devoured a host of books written by former Agency officers. My goal was to try to get a sense of the reality of their day-to-day lives and activities. And because aliases and disguises play such an important role in my novel, I was especially eager to learn as much as possible about that aspect of spycraft. For both reasons, I was delighted to discover The Master of Disguise. Antonio Mendez is, and presents, the real deal when it comes to life in the clandestine services. His CIA memoir is rich with detail about operations, tradecraft, and the personal impact of living in a universe of lies, ruses, and manipulations. I profited greatly from reading this book -- both as a writer, and as a citizen who acquired a greater appreciation for the brave, dedicated men and women who often must put their lives on the line to defend our nation. With the hit movie "Argo" now paying tribute to his greatest covert-ops triumph -- his daring rescue of six desperate American citizens from the heart of post-revolutionary Iran -- I'm delighted that Mr. Mendez is now receiving the public acclaim that he never sought, but has richly deserved. Thank you, sir, for your service to America. And thank you for this wonderful book.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lacey

    The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA is easily one of my favorite memoirs of all time. It reads like fiction, while giving you that adrenaline rush without having to be in the do-or-die situations yourself. I've loved every Tony Mendez memoir/non-fiction book I've read and would recommend them all full-heartedly, but this is probably the most expansive of them all since it covers his full career in the CIA rather than a specific operation or location. This is the one to read if you The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA is easily one of my favorite memoirs of all time. It reads like fiction, while giving you that adrenaline rush without having to be in the do-or-die situations yourself. I've loved every Tony Mendez memoir/non-fiction book I've read and would recommend them all full-heartedly, but this is probably the most expansive of them all since it covers his full career in the CIA rather than a specific operation or location. This is the one to read if you only read one and would like a better understanding of what the CIA actually does and how it goes about doing those things.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jenny GB

    I read this book after seeing the movie Argo and becoming intrigued to hear the real story behind the mission to help the six embassy workers get home from Iran. Mendez in this book takes you through his early life and the parts about his career in the CIA that he can reveal. It's not an action packed spy novel, but it's better than that because the is talking about real operations and real things that officers did in their daily work. Mendez primarily worked with disguises and exfiltration duri I read this book after seeing the movie Argo and becoming intrigued to hear the real story behind the mission to help the six embassy workers get home from Iran. Mendez in this book takes you through his early life and the parts about his career in the CIA that he can reveal. It's not an action packed spy novel, but it's better than that because the is talking about real operations and real things that officers did in their daily work. Mendez primarily worked with disguises and exfiltration during his years with the CIA. Even though the Iran situation takes up about 60 pages of the book, the other stories were quite interesting, too. I found this to be a fascinating piece of insight into the pre-911 CIA and how it conducted some of its work. The one down side is that Mendez clearly wanted to boast at least a little about the awards that he won (despite him saying otherwise), although even with the little information he can disclose it seems clear that his awards were highly deserved.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mara

    The book's author (and ex-CIA agent), Antonio Mendez, also wrote Argo, which was/is, IMHO, just a better book. I'd say more, but I'm on a frantic book logging catch-up scramble, so, for now, I'll leave it at that. The book's author (and ex-CIA agent), Antonio Mendez, also wrote Argo, which was/is, IMHO, just a better book. I'd say more, but I'm on a frantic book logging catch-up scramble, so, for now, I'll leave it at that.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    An interesting book. Parts of it were very intriguing, while other parts could get boring. It was cool to learn about CIA tradecraft, but also takes some of the mystique away. Not so many James Bond stories, but still some interesting things they did.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Gabriel

    *** 3.5 *** this is quite a nice book, as much as a memoir or an autobiography can be, it's not really full of action and intrigue or suspense and tension like a fiction spy book, but it's nonetheless quite entertaining the author is a retired CIA operative, that reached over the years the equivalent of the rank of colonel or even close to a general, if compared with the army ranking system, as such he had the chance to see a lot and to take up a special seat with a great view in his career to som *** 3.5 *** this is quite a nice book, as much as a memoir or an autobiography can be, it's not really full of action and intrigue or suspense and tension like a fiction spy book, but it's nonetheless quite entertaining the author is a retired CIA operative, that reached over the years the equivalent of the rank of colonel or even close to a general, if compared with the army ranking system, as such he had the chance to see a lot and to take up a special seat with a great view in his career to some events that took place in fact in our recent history is covering the cold war era, from 1965 all the way to 1990 and even a bit more, so, if you have some interest in some significant events that happened during this period, you may find this book quite interesting I know I did and it was time well spent on my end

  8. 4 out of 5

    Arwen Zhang

    A bit boring at parts, but overall, very interesting. The actual processes that go into operations is much more than I thought it'd be.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Steven Yenzer

    Fun "behind-the-scenes" account of CIA operations, mostly during the Cold War. It's "fun" because Méndez carefully avoids most of the CIA's most heinous history in favor of rollicking spy tales. I enjoyed The Master of Disguise with eyes wide open to Méndez's bias.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Clausen

    Within the limits set by the CIA, he writes of cool disguises and spy tradecraft. This book is best when it’s a first-person account of his adventures on the job in exotic locations, with code-named foreign agents working for the US. When it gets to the expositions of how and why his occupation works, it can be a bit dry but necessary. And the most famous of his tales, the extrication of 6 diplomats from Iran using the Argo movie scam, gets only a few pages.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Melinda

    I really enjoyed reading this book! The reality behind the cloak-and-dagger work of CIA work is revealed by Tony Mendez in this book. I found it to be VERY fascinating, and worth reading. How the 6 US diplomats escaped from Iran when the American Embassy was taken over is explained in this book. How informants are managed and extracted from various countries is also explained. Have you read "The Hunt for Red October"? Well, it seems that Tom Clancy must have known some real details, because it m I really enjoyed reading this book! The reality behind the cloak-and-dagger work of CIA work is revealed by Tony Mendez in this book. I found it to be VERY fascinating, and worth reading. How the 6 US diplomats escaped from Iran when the American Embassy was taken over is explained in this book. How informants are managed and extracted from various countries is also explained. Have you read "The Hunt for Red October"? Well, it seems that Tom Clancy must have known some real details, because it meshes and matches with what Mendez speaks about. The most fascinating aspect of the book to me is that Mendez had a friend in the movie makeup / special effects industry. Mendez asked for some disguise help from his Hollywood friend, and then the Hollywood friend used some of the techniques in subsequent movies! The real name of the Hollywood friend is not supplied, but it would be fascinating to know and then watch the movies. Of course not all the details are shared or spelled out in detail, and many of the disguise methods are still classified. But to read about the CIA during the 70's and 80's is worth the time with this book. I find myself wanting to read "Agent Zigzag" again, as I remember how the British spy handlers managed Eddie Chapman. Even though there is always the "gadget" aspect of this kind of work, the one-on-one human work is also important and critical.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ken

    Unfortunately, because of the author’s position as a forger and disguise-master, he didn’t get the plum assignments. No tales of break-ins or derring-do here, but rather hours spent behind a magnifying glass creating documents. The most exciting cases here involve ex-filtrating spies and others from behind unfriendly territory. This usually involves making a mask for them and walking through an airport. In fact, there’s about 3 tales of making masks and walking through airports … and the author Unfortunately, because of the author’s position as a forger and disguise-master, he didn’t get the plum assignments. No tales of break-ins or derring-do here, but rather hours spent behind a magnifying glass creating documents. The most exciting cases here involve ex-filtrating spies and others from behind unfriendly territory. This usually involves making a mask for them and walking through an airport. In fact, there’s about 3 tales of making masks and walking through airports … and the author can’t tell you the details of the masking technique, because it’s secret. I can’t help but think that any CIA spook who did see REAL adventure couldn’t tell about it anyway because it would be classified. So this is the best we’ll get. I’ll stick with John LeCarre. EDIT: In retrospect, this book is more interesting than I thought at the time I wrote the review above. The book is about real CIA work, not fictional heroism. The author Mendez is the subject of the film "Argo", as well.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jesse

    I liked this book. There’s a lot of ‘behind the scenes’ books regarding American intelligence but this is one of the few that’s agency sanctioned. Antonio Mendez is a CIA lifer who has worked in Southeast Asia and Russia during the Cold War including working with a woman who has her own small exhibit at The Spy Museum. I definitely liked it and parts of it were very difficult to put down. However, parts of it very dry and dragged. If you already have an interest in spying and intelligence, this I liked this book. There’s a lot of ‘behind the scenes’ books regarding American intelligence but this is one of the few that’s agency sanctioned. Antonio Mendez is a CIA lifer who has worked in Southeast Asia and Russia during the Cold War including working with a woman who has her own small exhibit at The Spy Museum. I definitely liked it and parts of it were very difficult to put down. However, parts of it very dry and dragged. If you already have an interest in spying and intelligence, this is definitely worth the read. Mendez has lead a fascinating life but it doesn’t come across as enthralling as it should in print.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    Mendez is in the news again because of the part he played in smuggling six U.S. diplomats out of Iran in early 1980, but don't read this book merely to get that story. Read it because Mendez manages to write 300 pages of fascinating stories without revealing any trade secrets, keeping the suspense up while juggling your curiosity with his pledge to protect classified material. This is a Cold War memoir, one that captures the spirit and attitudes of those times. A true tale well told.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Maria

    Very informative on the world of espionage. The reason why I don't read much crime or spy novels is because I know it isn't like that. I admit, it is cool, but it's something I'm very sensitive in. Anyway, while. do know that the US Department of Defence has taken out every classified piece in this book, it truly does give a meaning to what "CIA officer" means, and he's not a man who wears custom tailored suits who shoot guns like they're vigilantes.

  16. 5 out of 5

    J.R.

    After seeing the movie Argo this is really interesting. At first I thought I'd only be into the Argo section, but the lead up to it was very important to understand aspects of the situation and the movie. Somethings that were detailed but were not explicitly explained are much more understandable after having read this. I do think movie first and then this book.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    I read this after watching Argo, and it was interesting to hear about this and several cold war operations from the man who lived it. Surprisingly candid and relatable. Action buffs may be disappointed by the lack of certain story details that relate to still-classified agency tactics, but that's a small price to pay for a peek inside life as a CIA officer,

  18. 5 out of 5

    Samadrita

    Didn't particularly like Argo. But....I'm intrigued.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ann Evans

    Fascinating story. Author is the character played by Ben Affleck in the movie Argo. A real behind the scenes reselling of events.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Elliott De

    I became friends with Miguel Mendez in 2006. He is the son of the late CIA agent Tony Mendez and stepson to CIA agent Jonna Mendez. His uncle was United States Army Medal of Honor winner Roy Benavidez. Miguel’s call sign was red fox. Over the course of our friendship I was made aware of who Miguel is and was told about his parents job and how potentially unsafe they are because of their history at the agency. I was told a small detail of agents watch over members of the family, including Miguel. I became friends with Miguel Mendez in 2006. He is the son of the late CIA agent Tony Mendez and stepson to CIA agent Jonna Mendez. His uncle was United States Army Medal of Honor winner Roy Benavidez. Miguel’s call sign was red fox. Over the course of our friendship I was made aware of who Miguel is and was told about his parents job and how potentially unsafe they are because of their history at the agency. I was told a small detail of agents watch over members of the family, including Miguel. I was made to feel part of a team that included 3 sisters (M, Tara, and Tara’s twin sister Taryn, as well as David). Since that time I’ve been consistently monitored by the CIA agents that watch Miguel. I was told that I would always have someone monitoring me. Since July 2018, I’ve been trying to get ahold of someone at the CIA who can help me. I finally got ahold of [email protected] in November 2018 and emailed him for 2 months. His phone number is (703) 222-4063. I was told on specific occasions not to return home until I received a call saying my house was clear, and on one occasion that a WASP (surveillance device) had picked up movement in my home. I was never asked or told that such a device would be watching me. Does my house still have anything in it? Am I safe? The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) CFAA criminalizes unauthorized access to a computer or computer network, and the Wiretap Act prohibits use of a tool to intercept calls, texts or emails. Why was the CIA illegally monitoring me?

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Dwight

    This book is an interesting and very biased narrative from behind the scenes at the C.I.A., of its development of operations, techniques, and thinking during Mendez's 25 year career (ending in 1990). There is a lot of description of the Cold War and the attitudes within U.S. Government, without much accountability for many horrific events which are conveniently omitted - such as the C.I.A.'s involvement - on U.S. soil - of the development and testing of chemical and biological agents on U.S. cit This book is an interesting and very biased narrative from behind the scenes at the C.I.A., of its development of operations, techniques, and thinking during Mendez's 25 year career (ending in 1990). There is a lot of description of the Cold War and the attitudes within U.S. Government, without much accountability for many horrific events which are conveniently omitted - such as the C.I.A.'s involvement - on U.S. soil - of the development and testing of chemical and biological agents on U.S. citizens without their consent from the 1960s into the 1980s. Mendez is obviously proud of his creative involvement, ability to navigate the power structure, and his rise through the ranks. This book is his effort to tell the world about it - under the guise of explaining to readers what it is the C.I.A. "actually does" with our taxpayer dollars. I was not won over, by a long shot. The sugar coating is so thick as to not be palatable. The justifications for C.I.A. operations on U.S. soil, expressly prohibited in its charter, are pathetic. The book would have been more effective if Mendez spent less time blowing his own horn and preaching the party line. But then again, the C.I.A. has always been about distorting perceptions and doing the U.S.'s dirtiest work. There is just no way to put lipstick on that pig.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Gary

    Master of Disguise is one of many books by Tony Mendez about his life in the CIA. This one tries to summarize his entire time with the CIA. It is a fun book to read as Mendez goes through his evolution to being a master at his craft. You realize that being a spy is not just fun and games, but is deadly serious. The reason for the deception is to be kept alive. These people and you assume the United States as well, played for keeps. Mendez writes this book to record some of the successes of the C Master of Disguise is one of many books by Tony Mendez about his life in the CIA. This one tries to summarize his entire time with the CIA. It is a fun book to read as Mendez goes through his evolution to being a master at his craft. You realize that being a spy is not just fun and games, but is deadly serious. The reason for the deception is to be kept alive. These people and you assume the United States as well, played for keeps. Mendez writes this book to record some of the successes of the CIA which he participated in. He says it is not self-glorification, but he is the central character. So do not expect a CIA expose. Enjoy the read and enjoy the talents which Mendez shows. For more of my thoughts, please see my book blog.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Joe Davoust

    Just as expected, this was a biographical narrative of one man's work in the CIA and though well written was not compelling. It includes many stories of both CIA inner workings and operations during the cold war era, including the rescue of some Americans during the Iran Hostage Crisis. Sometimes the stories were entertaining, sometimes informative, often a bit too braggy, and occaisionally boring, especially when talking about politics or the inner workings of the agency. Overall, it is just ok Just as expected, this was a biographical narrative of one man's work in the CIA and though well written was not compelling. It includes many stories of both CIA inner workings and operations during the cold war era, including the rescue of some Americans during the Iran Hostage Crisis. Sometimes the stories were entertaining, sometimes informative, often a bit too braggy, and occaisionally boring, especially when talking about politics or the inner workings of the agency. Overall, it is just okay.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Tony

    Good book, like other have said this is no high speed "007" thriller. The late Tony Mendez was looking for a better job and the CIA found him. With that he pulled off one of the best spy plans in history with Argo. That said I was really hoping for a little suspense, of which there was none. The Argo part is heres the plan and we go them out, thats it. Overall, it's a good read and has some slow parts, yet adds a lot of behind the scenes information of his type and style of work.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Joy Cagil

    This is a non-fiction book in which the author relates his memories, at least what he can safely expose. Having lived through the cold-war years, I was truly impressed with the contents while reading the book in its Kindle version. Although the movie Argo is well-known, it is only a small part of this author’s story. What was most interesting to me were the years this painter-turned spy spent behind the iron curtain under disguise. Entering into the secret service because of his artistic ability, This is a non-fiction book in which the author relates his memories, at least what he can safely expose. Having lived through the cold-war years, I was truly impressed with the contents while reading the book in its Kindle version. Although the movie Argo is well-known, it is only a small part of this author’s story. What was most interesting to me were the years this painter-turned spy spent behind the iron curtain under disguise. Entering into the secret service because of his artistic ability, Tony Mendez became a copier of documents first, then expanded his horizons into disguise to help with surveillance and counter-surveillance. The book also discusses the stories of the turncoats in the service and those defectors from the other side who lost big. Some of the things the author talked about made me think that maybe I shouldn’t be knowing or reading these things as they might have something to do with the welfare of my country, but the author clarified this concern by saying that his book was checked out by those who knew these things and what he relates to the general public is already known by the other side. In any case, now that he is retired from the service, the author has turned to painting again in his home in Knoxville. The writing is clear and easily understandable, and I found the entire story stunning. The bottom line is, I was amazed by the incredible courage the people in the CIA and other such services have shown and possibly still are continuing to show. If it did nothing, this book has been good for making us readers aware of that purpose.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jay

    I think Mendez writes far better than most CIA vets who produce memoirs. I would put in the same class as the volume by the retired CIA general counsel that appeared a number of years ago. The descriptions of spy tradecraft and other street-level adventures clearly point the way to the screenplay and the movie Argo.

  27. 4 out of 5

    David

    Mendez was a CIA agent who specialized in disguise which was an important (although not central) part of his role in his most famous exploit (described in the movie Argo) of smuggling 7 US consular officials out of Teheran after the 1979 Iranian revolution. He tells , in a lucid way, of many other exploits in a lucid (if sometimes self-aggrandizing) way

  28. 5 out of 5

    Steven

    The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA. Authored by: Antonio J. Mendez. This autobiography is an okay read. The author says a lot, yet, provides as little information as possible. I re-read certain sections to see if I had missed something. It turns out it was just the style it had been written in.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Natalie Walters

    Read this out of interest. Author explains his life leading up to his career in the CIA and some of the operations he was a part of that are no longer classified. The historical context of some of the CIA's missions was interesting.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Donigian

    I was impressed I remember as a youth when Iran took the American hostages in 79 and these things are brought to light in this book. It was mostly an enjoyable read. It gives a good picture of spy craft.

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