The Real Spy’s Guide to Becoming a Spy

The Real Spy’s Guide to Becoming a Spy by Peter Earnest with Suzanne Harper

Created by a former CIA agent (now director of the International Spy Museum), the slick pages and cute graphics do little to disguise that this book means business. It is no light watered down guide to espionage. Instead it’s a fact-filled guide that lays out what spies actually do.  Filled non-fiction text features such as boxes with key vocabulary, timelines, and interesting anecdotes in call-out boxes, the font and illustrations make it appear easier to understand and more accessible than it is.  There is a ton of information here and a casual reader just might drown, particularly when it comes to foreign countries, their own spy groups or anti-government factions.

As the title suggests, it really is a guide to becoming a spy, because it definitely is jammed packed with information on the employment opportunities within the intelligence community. At times it is repetitive, but ultimately it lays out a variety of careers and does attempt to help readers determine which would suit them best. Any adult’s favorite part however will be Chapter 6 which explains to readers exactly what skills they need to cultivate in their lives right now in order to eventually be successful as a spy. This includes electing to take a foreign language at school (preferably from the list of more desirable languages such as Chinese, Arabic, etc), learning to chat up adults (even boring great-aunts), reading a variety of news sources and learning the points of debate.

I would vote for a teen audience unless the reader is highly knowledgable on the subject and/or extremely self-motivated to learn about spying.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – Mata Hari (and the fact that she was an exotic dancer) is mentioned. A quiz question asks how you find out more information about a crush.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – Since book covers spying through the ages, dozens of wars are mentioned in passing.  Spies are executed. Atomic and nuclear weapons are mentioned. The September 11th attacks including the number of dead are mentioned. A CIA officer was killed in Afghanistan. Although many spies don’t have or need weapons, some do. Spies may be killed if they are discovered.  There’s a brief discussion of assassination vs.  targeted killing of enemy leaders. We learn that armed drones are used to kill terrorists.  A pencil can be used to set off bombs and a pen can disperse tear-gas.  A scenario is presented where you may be used by terrorists to assist in their plot. Intelligence officers worry about biochemical attacks.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – During an interview you will be asked about drug use. Intelligence officers must worry about global narcotics traffickers.
Frightening or Intense Things – Training for the CIA includes being deprived of necessities and interrogated and being chased through a swamp by potential captors.


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