Washington Post columnist and editor David Ignatius has covered wars, diplomacy, and the intelligence community in a long journalistic career. His reporting infuses the ten suspense and espionage novels he has written over the past thirty years. The Increment, published in 2009, dramatizes the hysteria in the Bush Administration about Iran’s program to build nuclear weapons. This well-informed and gripping novel preceded by several years Barack Obama’s successful initiative to contain the program by treaty.
A gripping novel that lays bare the real world of espionage
The central figures in The Increment are a young Iranian nuclear physicist who remains nameless for much of the tale and Harry Pappas, the senior CIA officer who runs the agency’s Iran division, reporting to the director. The young Iranian, disgruntled about both life and work, “walks in” online to the CIA with high-level information about Iran’s nuclear weapons program. An alert young officer routes the information to Harry, triggering a massive effort to contact the sender directly that involves the CIA Director and the White House. Officials at the National Security Council and the President himself leap to conclusions on the basis of the information the young man has sent—and quickly begin moving to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities.
The Increment by David Ignatius (2009) 401 pages ★★★★★
Convinced that the information from the walk-in is ambiguous, and terrified by the President’s haste, Harry scrambles to delay the attack, in hopes of squelching it entirely. To do so, he must team up with an old friend who is now the chief of staff of MI6, with only flimsy cover from the director of his own agency. He’s putting his career on the line by reaching out to another government.
One of Harry’s primary concerns is that anything the US does may jeopardize the life of the young Iranian. “‘He’s trusting the agency,’ in other words . . . Not to f— it up, I mean.'” His assistant responds, “‘What an idiot . . . Doesn’t he read the newspapers?'” It would seem that David Ignatius’ respect for the CIA is not boundless.
Invading Iran would be a very bad idea
It’s all too easy for Americans (probably including some in the White House today) to assume that Iran is just another little Middle Eastern country that’s easy for the US to push around.
In fact, Iran is the world’s 18th most-populous country and the 17th largest by landmass. It’s home to one of the world’s oldest civilizations. For many centuries, the country’s historical predecessor, the Persian Empire, dominated the ancient Mediterranean. And, as American government military historian David Crist demonstrated in 2012 in The Twilight War: The Secret History of America’s Thirty-Year Conflict with Iran, the US engaged in a low-level shooting war with Iran until only a few years ago, when bilateral diplomacy at last took center stage. (I reviewed Crist’s book at “The ugly US-Iran war, past, present, and future.”) In other words, it’s important to acknowledge the consensus among US military leaders who have contemplated the prospect of invading Iran that it would be a very bad idea.
For related reading
You’ll find this book on my list of The decade’s top 10 historical novels, mysteries & thrillers, and science fiction.
I’ve also reviewed three other novels by David Ignatius:
- A Firing Offense (A suspenseful espionage story about journalists and spies)
- Siro (The most intelligent spy novel I’ve read in many years)
- Agents of Innocence (The CIA and the PLO in Cold War Beirut)
You might also enjoy my posts:
- The 15 best espionage novels
- Good nonfiction books about espionage
- The best spy novelists writing today
- Top 10 mystery and thriller series
- 20 most enlightening historical novels
- Top 10 historical mysteries and thrillers
And you can always find my most popular reviews, and the most recent ones, on the Home Page.