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Left of Boom by Douglas Laux

Left of Boom

by Douglas Laux

Quick take

Laux's not necessarily a guy you like, but his forceful, unrelenting nature makes him a compulsively entertaining narrator.

Why I love it

When you think "CIA agent," do you imagine someone like Jason Bourne? A rough and tumble guy who's constantly on the run, avoiding detection and setting traps for his enemies, hiding out in safe houses between dead sprints from one danger-filled situation to another? Or do you imagine a more refined gentleman, like James Bond? Sinking $150k cars in the Venice canals, after a pulse-pounding chase through narrow alleys, escaping without a scuff on his perfectly tailored tux?

Douglas Laux – the undercover CIA operative behind true-life Left of Boom – will disabuse you that these Hollywood creations exist at all. Laux describes his 180 degree turn in the wake of 9/11 his freshman year of college, shifting his studies from pre-med to political science, and finding himself applying for a post-grad position with the CIA. Soon, he muscles his way from a desk job to become an on-the-ground operative in Afghanistan. While he's chomping at the bit to be in the middle of the action, his fellow rookie case officers are happy to round the "cocktail circuit" in foreign embassies.

Integrating as quickly as possible, Laux learns the local dialect of Pashtu, grows a beard, and begins dressing in traditional Afghani garb, while making contacts and infiltrating the village networks that feed Taliban growth. His aggressive approach, both in country and stateside, makes Laux a thorn in the side of his bureaucratic agency, but also makes him an extremely effective operative. He's an adrenaline junkie through and through, conjuring up a persona that will remind Homeland fans of the determined but high-strung Carrie Mathison. It's hard to believe that his stories are the truth, and the heavily redacted text – cloaked by the CIA’s classified censors – will leave you with just as many questions as answers.

Laux's not necessarily a guy you like, but his forceful, unrelenting nature makes him a compulsively entertaining narrator as he volleys between managing his Taliban contacts and CIA handlers, and juggles the mounting lies to his friends, family and girlfriend back home. As he is further and further embedded and his personal life falls more and more apart, Laux's memoir speeds toward an inescapable conclusion that is both shocking and satisfying. I dare you to stop reading once you've started.

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