For readers enthralled by the phrase walking back the cat (also the title of one of Littell's previous thrillers), this hefty tome will be nirvana. Littell, whose spy thrillers have ensnared readers since 1973's The Defection of A.J. Lewinter, here turns his literary eye and rapier-sharp mind on the Central Intelligence Agency. Starting during the Berlin years in the deep freeze of the Cold War, Littell follows two generations of agents and administrators right up through the 1995 mole episode. He devotes one gut-wrenching segment to the CIA's efforts in Afghanistan in 1983, which will have heightened significance for today's readers. Using historic figures amplified by artfully drawn figments of his abundant imagination, Littell also dramatizes the internal feuds and cutbacks that left the CIA, already vulnerable on the moral knife edge of espionage, barely able to meet the challenges of a changing world. Gathering its power slowly, the novel accelerates as events become more and more familiar and current. This is a work of fiction, yet its scholarship and analysis are outstanding. Littell avoids the didactic in favor of wit, irony, and ambiguity. A sure winner for libraries of all types.