The Central Intelligence Agency: An Encyclopedia of Covert Ops, Intelligence Gathering, and Spies. Edited by Jan Goldman. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2016. 2 vols. Acid free $189.00 (ISBN: 978-1-61069-091-1). E-book available (978-1-61069-092-8), call for pricing.

This two-volume reference set offers a well-rounded look at the CIA from its inception to the present. As is made clear in the introduction, it is intended to be much more than a straightforward history of the CIA as an organization, but rather a compendium covering the broader spectrum of related topics. It would appear to live up to this claim. It does provide a detailed timeline chronicling the historical highlights, but moves right into over two hundred individual entries comprised of important events (i.e., operations, projects, cases, etc.), key players and names, and other relevant terms (e.g., “Contras,” “Handwriting Analysis,” “Torture”). Entries are substantial, too, ranging on average between five and ten paragraphs, with many reaching the teens, peppered with black and white images throughout. Naturally, I compared a handful of entries with their Wikipedia counterparts, and can say with confidence that there is no comparison—that is, this encyclopedia wins. (As we all know, this is not always the case.) Included are the usual cross-referenced entries and “Further Reading” suggestions, but what I find especially helpful is the referencing of associated primary documents.

This leads us to volume 2. Here, ninety-eight primary documents are organized chronologically, starting in the 1940s and ending with the 2014 Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s “Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program.” I did some sleuthing and not surprisingly, many (probably most or all) of the documents are freely available online at,,, etc. But, as I often say, just because something is online does not mean a researcher will come across it, or even be aware of its existence. Having these documents coupled with the encyclopedia entries makes for a convenient starting point and solid base for a broad range of CIA-related topics.

To my knowledge, the Encyclopedia of the Central Intelligence Agency (Facts on File 2003) is the only other encyclopedic volume primarily devoted to the CIA. Aside from being thirteen years out of date, its entries are noticeably skimpier, many being simple definitions. Another comparable reference is Spies, Wiretaps, and Secret Operations: An Encyclopedia of American Espionage (ABC-CLIO 2010). For a wider look at everything “American espionage,” especially for pre-CIA operations (dating back to colonial times), this title would be worth checking out.

Back to the title at hand. It definitely has something to offer both students (high school through undergraduates) and the general public. If your library is short on CIA-related materials, especially those more general in nature, this set would be a worthwhile addition.—Todd J. Wiebe, Head of Research and Instruction, Van Wylen Library, Hope College, Holland, Michigan


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