Ignatius, David 1950–

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Ignatius, David 1950–


Born May 26, 1950, in Cambridge, MA; son of Paul Robert (a business executive and government official, eventually serving as Secretary of the Navy) and Nancy (a foundation executive) Ignatius; married Eve Thornberg (a computer scientist), October 18, 1980; children: Elisa Helen, Alexandra Sarah, Sarah Ahun. Education: Attended St. Albans School, 1962-68; Harvard University, B.A. (magna cum laude), 1973; King's College, Cambridge, Diploma in Economics, 1978. Religion: Episcopalian. Hobbies and other interests: Tennis and squash.


Office—Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20071. Agent—Raphael Sagalyn, 7201 Wisconsin Ave., Ste. 675, Bethesda, MD 20814. E-mail—[email protected].


Washington Monthly, Washington, DC, editor, 1975-76; Wall Street Journal, New York City, staff reporter in Pittsburgh, PA, and Washington, DC, 1976-80, Middle East correspondent, 1980-83, diplomatic correspondent, 1983-85; Washington Post, Washington, DC, Outlook editor, 1986-90, foreign editor, 1990-92, assistant managing editor, business news, 1993-98, associate editor and columnist, 1999—; International Herald Tribune, Paris, France, executive editor, 2000-03.


Council on Foreign Relations.


Edward Weintal Prize for diplomatic reporting from Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, 1985; Gerald Loeb Award for commentary, 2000.



Agents of Innocence, Norton (New York, NY), 1987.

Siro, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1991.

The Bank of Fear, Morrow (New York, NY), 1994.

A Firing Offense, Random House (New York, NY), 1997.

The Sun King, Random House (New York, NY), 1999.

Body of Lies, Norton (New York, NY), 2007.


Hong Kong (screenplay), Paramount, 1988.

Contributor to The Reagan Legacy, by Sidney Blumenthal and Thomas Edsall, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1988. Contributor to periodicals, including Foreign Affairs, New York Times Magazine, Atlantic Monthly, New Republic, and Washington Monthly. Also author of screenplay treatment The Tandem Couple, Jerry Bruckheimer Films, 1999. Some of Ignatius's novels have been translated into French, German, Italian, Danish, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Hebrew, Polish, Russian, and Swedish.


The movie rights to A Firing Offense were purchased by Paramount and actor Tom Cruise in 1996; the screenplay was written by Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne.


David Ignatius has drawn upon his experience as a former foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post to write a series of espionage novels that go behind the scenes of current events to uncover the forces and people that shape them. He has also offered detailed insights into the world of intelligence and, at times, the world of journalism. By exploring the craft of the spy from a journalist's perspective, Ignatius often reveals in his novels the parallels between the two disciplines. As the author told Glenn Lewis in a Publishers Weekly profile, both professions involve "establishing relationships of trust with people…. It's getting people to tell you things even when it is no longer in their interest. Then it's doing something specific about it."

Ignatius's first novel, Agents of Innocence, details the dealings of American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agent Tom Rogers in Beirut, assigned to penetrate the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) following its expulsion from Jordan in 1970. Earnest and decent, the idealistic Rogers eventually finds a liaison in Jamal Ramwali, a young Fatah Palestinian who is drawn by the guarded hope that the West can somehow ameliorate the plight of his people; yet, as the two become swept up in the escalating terrorism destroying Lebanon, they come to realize that theirs is a game without rules. "What he and Ramwali, the two agents of innocence, learn is that in the Middle East one pays dearly for innocence," wrote David Lamb in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. "The agenda of the foreigners in this stricken little country—the Americans, the Europeans, the Israelis—has little to do with ending Lebanon's violence. What counts is minimizing losses to maximize intelligence efforts in order to find out what everyone else is up to. Lebanon is the playground for these international adventurers and the Lebanese are the pawns." "Ignatius … spent three years during the early 1980s as Middle East correspondent for the Wall Street Journal," recounted Time critic Paul Gray. "Among the many events he witnessed was the continuing demolition of civilized life in Lebanon by indigenous sects and fractious neighbors. Having reported parts of this complex and in many ways preposterous story, Ignatius has now set about lending these experiences the coherence of make-believe."

Discussing Agents of Innocence in the Washington Post Book World, Robin W. Winks called the novel "a rare example of spy fiction that … tells the truth." "[Ignatius] assures us in an author's note that the book is a work of fiction and then provides a compelling account of how things fell apart in Lebanon between September of 1969 and April of 1983," the reviewer elaborates. "Along the way Ignatius methodically, quietly and very entertainingly shows the reader how intelligence professionals really work." Lamb offered a similar view: "The book is a first-rate achievement in the best tradition of Graham Greene—historically accurate and fictionally engrossing.… Ignatius has done a skillful job of revealing in finest detail the inner workings of intelligence agencies in the Middle East." Likewise remarking that "the novel sparkles with penetrating observations on the Middle East," New York Times Book Review critic Jules Koslow particularly admired the author's "richly drawn psychological portrait of an intelligence agent," deciding: "It is the skillfully drawn characters as much as the plot and subplot machinations that the reader will remember long after." Winks, too, commended the novel's "very real figures, … all in some measure sympathetic, all in some measure culpable." The reviewer continued: "Rendering a complex story deceptively simple, Ignatius draws in the reader who, utterly confused by the persistent destruction in Lebanon today, may have abandoned all hope of understanding the tragedy being played out in that beautiful land. This is a book for spy fans, certainly, for it tells a good story and tells it well, but it is equally a book for those who hate spy stories." "Agents of Innocence contains all the detailed local color and technical arcana that the thriller genre demands," reiterated Gray. "But this novel has something more on its mind than escapist entertainment."

Ignatius next published Siro, a Cold War novel described as "a tricky tale of power politics and double cross" by a Publishers Weekly reviewer, and The Bank of Fear, a work that combines "the sly wit of a Swiss bank caper with the horrifying account of a megalomaniacal political regime," in the words of Library Journal critic Barbara Conaty. The author's fourth novel, A Firing Offense is the story of Eric Truell, the Paris bureau chief for the New York Mirror, who pens a career-making expose of French government corruption only to find himself embroiled in intrigue that challenges his profession's tenets and threatens his job. In Paris, Truell managed to get inside a hostage situation to secure an interview with the terrorists. His actions earned him time in a Paris jail and the threat of deportation, but also netted him some excellent copy. Back in Washington, Truell is nagged by the idea that things don't add up. He learns what is actually going on from a CIA contact. The United States and France are competing against each other for a multi-billion-dollar contract with China to supply communications systems. Both sides seem willing to do almost anything to secure the deal, but Truell discovers that France may be willing to go too far—with a deal that would threaten American security interests. A French microbiologist has been forced to go to China to work on biological weapons. An American journalist and Truell's colleague is working as a French spy. The CIA wants to enlist Truell to work on its behalf in China to thwart the French plan. The journalist faces a dilemma, putting his country in conflict with his profession.

In crafting A Firing Offense, Ignatius has spun business into the spy's web of intrigue. In fact, according to John C. Hawley in America, "in a post-cold war era he has found a new threat (and topic for such novels) in international business espionage, where the interests of intelligence officers and C.E.O.'s seem to merge." And together these make for good spy fiction, in Hawley's opinion. "As a page-turner, therefore, this book passes the test. Ignatius has concocted a plot that is comprehensible and yet full of complexity and implications, with characters that are nicely realized and, for the most part, familiar to readers of this genre." Jeff Turrentine, writing in Forbes, had greater praise for Ignatius's book. A "breathtakingly good new yarn, things begin to pick up immediately, about five pages into the first chapter—and don't let up for another 300 pages, when it's all over," he commented. "If the mark of a great thriller is the seamlessness of action, character and explosion, then Ignatius has written a contemporary classic of the genre. Every detail is relevant; nothing is extraneous. People, places and events that seem to have only the most marginal of relationships to one another turn out to be connected in profound and shocking ways."

Although it shares all of the elements of classic spy fiction, Ignatius's linking of journalism and espionage raises this book to a new level for some reviewers. "What sets Ignatius' book apart from others of its type is its ongoing meditations on the search for truth, the role of choice and its consequences in daily life and the occasional urge that moves us to take action when passive observation might seem far more rational," observed Hawley. "Pondering the role of personal ethics in an amoral world, Ignatius offers us a rather unlikely hero: a journalist who toys with manipulating the news for national security." Turrentine offered a similar estimation. He notes that Ignatius "brings to this setting a realism that could only come from an insider." He added that "A Firing Offense is that rare thriller with actual themes: about the ethics of crossing lines between self and country, between personal gain and the public interest, between reporting news and making it."

This critical eye that Ignatius casts on his own profession is the quality of A Firing Offense that intrigued several reviewers. People Weekly contributor J.D. Reed called the book a "mordant commentary on the sagging and compromised state of American journalism." Journalists are no longer "reporters," as a reviewer for Publishers Weekly explained; they are "newsmakers." "Using a cleverly detailed plot," suggested the reviewer, "Ignatius … makes it very clear that journalists are in truth newsmakers, whether they know it or not, and that their high-minded claims of objectivity blind them to their complicity in the events they report." Mark Harris of Entertainment Weekly commended Ignatius's "understanding of the grimy, bureaucratic trudge of putting out a daily paper and the compromises that are made to get a story." The reviewer added: "He has a notable gift for elegant plotting and pacing and a finer ear for language than most thriller writers."

Ignatius looks at the world of journalism in The Sun King, a "suavely written, shrewd, and compelling take on Washington, the media, and, most arrestingly, the consequences of misplaced love," observed Booklist critic Donna Seaman. Reminiscent of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, The Sun King concerns billionaire publishing mogul Sandy Galvin, whose efforts to purchase a distinguished newspaper connect him to David Cantor, a jaded reporter, and Candace Ridgway, a scrupulous editor and Galvin's former girlfriend. "The emotional integrity at the heart of this novel is searingly honest," Conaty stated, and a Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that the author's "contemporary take on the tragic confluence of love, power and ambition is a sophisticated look at the media mystique and the movers and shakers in our nation's capitol."

Ignatius returned to the espionage genre for Body of Lies, "a timely and plausible cautionary tale of schemes within schemes and morality compromised," observed Thomas Gaughan in Booklist. Stationed in Jordan, CIA agent Roger Ferris is charged with hunting down Suleiman, an al-Qaeda mastermind who has left a trail of terror in Europe. Employing tactics the British used to deceive the Nazis in World War II, Ferris plans to infiltrate Suleiman's network and turn the terrorists against each other, a scheme that places his life in grave danger. According to a critic in Publishers Weekly, the author "has crafted one of the best post-9/11 spy thrillers yet."

Ignatius once told CA: "I try to write realistic novels about issues that matter to me. Because I'm a journalist by training, I always begin by reporting the underlying story." In an interview with U.S. News & World Report contributor Alvin P. Sanoff, Ignatius stated: "If somebody were to ask me: ‘What's the difference between a detective story and a spy novel?’ I would say that a detective story involves a neat solution—and it all makes sense. But a spy novel, like real life, ought to end with some measure of ambiguity."



America, November 8, 1997, John C. Hawley, review of A Firing Offense, p. 34.

American Spectator, December, 1991, review of Siro, p. 15.

Booklist, July 1999, Donna Seaman, review of The Sun King, p. 1894; March 1, 2007, Thomas Gaughan, review of Body of Lies, p. 38.

Christian Science Monitor, March 27, 1997, review of The Bank of Fear, p. 2.

Entertainment Weekly, May 23, 1997, Mark Harris, review of A Firing Offense, p. 60; April 13, 2007, Jennifer Reese, "Agent of Change," review of Body of Lies, p. 76.

Forbes, May 5, 1997, Jeff Turrentine, review of A Firing Offense, p. 137.

Library Journal, April 15, 1991, Brian Alley, review of Siro, p. 126; June 1, 1994, Barbara Conaty, review of The Bank of Fear, p. 160; April 1, 1997, Linda Lee Landrigan, review of A Firing Offense, p. 126; August, 1999, Barbara Conaty, review of The Sun King, p. 139.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 18, 1987, David Lamb, review of Agents of Innocence, p. 2.

Newsweek, June 3, 1991, Peter S. Prescott, review of Siro, p. 60; May 12, 1997, review of A Firing Offense, p. 81.

New Yorker, May 27, 1991, review of Siro, p. 100.

New York Review of Books, August 15, 1991, Thomas R. Edwards, review of Siro, p. 43.

New York Times, April 22, 1991, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Siro, p. B2.

New York Times Book Review, September 13, 1987, Jules Koslow, review of Agents of Innocence, p. 34; April 7, 1991, Robin W. Winks, review of Siro, p. 13; June 5, 1994, review of The Bank of Fear, p. 51.

People Weekly, June 23, 1997, J.D. Reed, review of A Firing Offense, p. 35.

Publishers Weekly, March 1, 1991, Sybil Steinberg, review of Siro, p. 56; May 16, 1994, review of The Bank of Fear, p. 50; March 17, 1997, review of A Firing Offense, p. 74; May 19, 1997, Glenn Lewis, "David Ignatius: The Reluctant Spy," p. 54; August 9, 1999, review of The Sun King, p. 341; February 12, 2007, review of Body of Lies, p. 62.

School Library Journal, October, 1991, Dolores M. Steinhauer, review of Siro, p. 160.

Time, November 2, 1987, Paul Gray, review of Agents of Innocence, p. 91; May 19, 1997, review of A Firing Offense, p. 95.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), May 26, 1991, review of Siro, p. 7.

U.S. News & World Report, December 7, 1987, Alvin P. Sanoff, "The Spy as a Modern Everyman," p. 69.

Wall Street Journal, June 7, 1991, Todd G. Buchholz, review of Siro, p. 11.

Washington Post Book World, September 13, 1987, Robin W. Winks, review of Agents of Innocence; April 1, 2007, review of Body of Lies, p. 8.


Washington Post,http://www.postwritersgroup.com/ (September 25, 2007), "David Ignatius."