David Ignatius and the understandable espionage novel, Obama’s stand against book banning; newsletter, August 4, 2023

August 4, 2023 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, history, journalism, newsletter, writers.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,845) on Friday, August 4, 2023.

My recent reading has taken me into the Book of Exodus and the story of the descendants of Abraham in Egypt. This story was first written down nearly a century before the time of Christ, and in oral tradition, it goes back to at least the 5th century B.C. Yet, it is striking how modern it is.

Genesis, the predecessor to Exodus, ends with the story of Joseph, who though he was an immigrant, saved Egypt from seven years of famine and actually made Egypt rich through his skillful management of its food resources. But in the first chapter of Exodus, generations had passed, and a new pharaoh came to power who “knew not Joseph.” This pharaoh looked at the descendants of Joseph and his brothers and realized how numerous they had become.

And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel [are] more and mightier than we: Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and [so] get them up out of the land. Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses. [Exo 1:9-11 KJV]

The pharaoh and his people fell victim to their fears. We have no evidence that the children of Israel were threatening the Egyptians, but the Egyptians perceived a threat and acted on that perception. They took action to protect themselves, but they ultimately brought plagues, devastation, destruction, and death down on their heads.

What if, instead, the pharaoh had looked at the children of Israel and said, “These people are our friends.”

Have a great and literate weekend.


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David Ignatius and the art of the understandable espionage novel

David Ignatius is my kind of spy novelist. Instead of being mysterious and enigmatic, Ignatius writes clear, concise prose, dialogue without code, and explanations when necessary.

As a reader, you always know where the action is taking place, where the characters are, and what they are talking about.

So much of the espionage literature is otherwise. The so-called greats of the genre seem to specialize in leading readers down dark corridors and withholding vital information in an effort that seems to suggest to the readers, “I’m on the inside, and you’re not.”

Not so with Ignatius. He writes like a journalist, not surprisingly, because that’s what he is. Ignatius’s day job is as a columnist for The Washington Post. As with his fiction, the prose of his columns is clear, intelligent, and well-reported. Ignatius insists that, even though his columns appear in the opinions section, he is much more interested in relating facts and analysis based on those facts than he is in expressing his own opinion.

Ignatius’s position as a best-selling fiction writer and an award winning journalist came together recently when The Washington Post published, in four parts, his latest work of fiction, The Tao of Deception. Ignatius recorded an audio version of that novel, also in four parts, which readers of The Washington Post were able to listen to.

I took full advantage of my subscription to the Post, and listened to each part as they appeared early in July. The novel—short enough, possibly to be considered a novella—was well-conceived, remarkably deep, and just downright exciting. If you are a subscriber to the Post, I highly recommend it. Otherwise, you should buy the book or the audiobook. You will not be disappointed.

Ignatius was born in 1950, the son of a man who held several high government positions, including Secretary of the Navy. He was raised in Washington, D.C. and then attended Harvard College, where he graduated magna cum laude in 1973.

He plunged immediately into journalism, first working for the Washington Monthly and then spent 10 years as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. He was the Journal’s Middle East correspondent from 1980 to 1983, during which time he covered wars in Iraq and Lebanon.

He joined the staff of The Washington Post in 1986, and he oversaw the paper’s Pulitzer Prize coverage of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. In 1999, he began writing a twice-weekly column on global politics and economics. One of the topics on which Ignatius has written frequently is the Central Intelligence Agency. His coverage of the CIA has been criticized as being too forgiving of the CIA’s many faults and blunders.

But whatever the faults of that coverage might be, it is obvious in his spy fiction that Ignatius knows the agency well and has many sources of information about it. Readers of his novels will also know that the agency is not always shown in a glowing light.

Ignatius published his first novel, Agents of Innocence, in 1987. He has since published nine more suspense/espionage novels. His 2007 novel, Body of Lies, was adapted into a film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe. His latest full novel is The Paladin: A Spy Novel, which was published in 2020.

Ignatius has followed up The Tao of Deception with a couple of question and answer sessions with readers of The Washington Post. They can be found here on the Post’s website.

Like any good espionage writer, Ignatius deals with the morality, as well as the techniques and tradecraft of deception. His novels reflect his deep knowledge of world affairs and intelligence activities.


Book banning takes a hit from a former president

In a powerful and impassioned open letter addressed to the American Library Association, former President Barack Obama has spoken out against the current spate of banning books in schools and libraries.

The letter supports the importance of intellectual freedom, the value of diverse perspectives, and the critical role libraries play in shaping young minds.

At the heart of Obama’s letter lies a defense of the fundamental right to freedom of expression.

“Banning books gives rise to a troubling trend that has no place in our democracy—a trend that aims to silence voices, quash ideas, and stifle creativity.”

A society that claims to cherish liberty, Obama says, cannot, in good conscience, stand idly by while censorship restricts the flow of ideas.

The former president highlighted the pivotal role books play in fostering critical thinking and empathy.

“Books have the power to transport readers to new worlds, expose them to different perspectives, and nurture empathy for others’ experiences.” 

Obama also underscored the need to confront uncomfortable truths within literature.

“A book may contain ideas or themes that some find objectionable, but banning it means shutting the door on an opportunity for dialogue and learning.”

“We must resist any efforts to narrow our perspectives and eliminate the ability to engage with differing ideas.” 

Obama reminds us of the vital role that libraries play in our communities.

“Libraries have been bastions of free thought, incubators of creativity, and sanctuaries for knowledge.” 

In a world of division and polarization, Obama’s call is a welcomed commitment to defend freedom of expression. 

Read more about this in The Guardian


The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.  https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”


G.K. Chesterton: The Incredulity of Father Brown: The Dagger with Wings

G.K. Chesterton’s retiring, priestly detective, Father Brown, is well-known to modern readers and viewers mainly through a series of television adaptations of his character. Chesterton, who died in 1936, was one of the chief public intellectuals of his day, and his output as an author is astounding: 4,000 essays, 80 books, several hundred poems, and numerous plays. (See the JPROF post: G.K. Chesterton: Everything about him was big, including his ‘colossal genius’.)

Many of his Father Brown stories first appeared in magazines and then were gathered into several volumes of collections. During these weeks of the long summer months, we are presenting you with easy access to the Father Brown stories in one of the collections, The Incredulity of Father Brown.

These stories take about an hour to read or listen to.

This week’s story is “The Dagger with Wings.”

The Dagger with Wings

Listen to this story here on LibriVox.org

FATHER BROWN, at one period of his life, found it difficult to hang his hat on a hat-peg without repressing a slight shudder. The origin of this idiosyncrasy was indeed a mere detail in much more complicated events; but it was perhaps the only detail that remained to him in his busy life to remind him of the whole business. Its remote origin was to be found in the facts which led Dr Boyne, the medical officer attached to the police force, to send for the priest on a particular frosty morning in December.

Dr Boyne was a big dark Irishman, one of those rather baffling Irishmen to be found all over the world, who will talk scientific scepticism, materialism, and cynicism at length and at large, but who never dream of referring anything touching the ritual of religion to anything except the traditional religion of their native land. It would be hard to say whether their creed is a very superficial varnish or a very fundamental substratum; but most probably it is both, with a mass of materialism in between. Anyhow, when he thought that matters of that sort might be involved, he asked Father Brown to call, though he made no pretence of preference for that aspect of them.

Continue reading “The Dagger with Wings”


Group giveaways for August

Kill the Quarterback and Murder Most Criminous are part of several group giveaways this month:

A Thrill a Minute (Aug. 1-22)

Blood Tingling Reads

Edge-of-Your-Seat Thrills: Enter to Claim the Best Mystery & Suspense Books

August Cozy Mystery Freebies

Each of these giveaways includes more than 20 books of various sub-genres. You can download any or all of them in exchange for your email address. The email address will be shared among all authors participating in the giveaway. The purpose of these giveaways is to get books into the hands of readers and to increase email lists for the authors.



Check out last week’s newsletter

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: 1992 Ford F250

Best quote of the week:

Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace. The soul that knows it not, knows no release from little things. Amelia Earhart, aviator (1897-1937)

Pray-as-you-go podcast

If you are looking for a quiet, meditative, non-theological but scriptural podcast to start or close your day, try pray-as-you-go.org. The podcasts are 10-12 minutes long, and they feature beautiful music, a scripture reading, and a very short devotional. It’s a great respite from an otherwise all-too-noisy world.


If you are interested in reading scripture, either the Old Testament, the New Testament, or both, you might be interested in the videos, commentary, and podcast of the BibleProject.com. The people who work on this site have done some deep and thoughtful reading of the Bible, and the videos they have produced (generally shorter than 10 minutes) are both entertaining and enlightening. They view the Bible as a single entity with a single purpose, and their approach is both delightful and refreshing.

Helping those in need

Earthquakes in Turkey, fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee: disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.

It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).

When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: Bert Bacharach, a 14-year old assassin, Women With Words nearing completion: newsletter, February 17, 2023



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