In the world of espionage it helps to be a mensch. So, at least, asserts Larry J. Kolb, the son of a spy and a man of many faces: He was a former agent for Muhammad Ali (a job that gave him the best "cover" of his career), a stepson-in-law of Saudi entrepreneur Adnan Kashoggi, and a secret-stealer of such versatility that he plied his trade in Lebanon, Saudia Arabia, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Nicaragua, Pakistan and India. In Overworld: The Life and Times of a Reluctant Spy (Riverhead, $25.95), Kolb explains the techniques by which he ingratiated himself in so many venues : "If you showed a bit of world-view rather than behaving like a tourist, if you bothered to learn a few sentences of the local language as soon as you arrived, so that, by the time you met the King or Prime Minister or just a delighted porter, you could greet him flawlessly in his own language, if you did not fawn but treated even the exalted like normal people who crawl around on the floor with their grandchildren, if you took flowers for their wives -- you would be well remembered and welcomed back."

Kolb learned his craft in part from Miles Copeland, whose career before spying for the CIA included a stint as a trumpeter with the Glenn Miller Orchestra, and his wife, Lorraine, an innocent-looking blonde whose wartime specialties were "blowing up bridges and derailing German trains." Having recruited Kolb, Copeland explained why his training would be less than comprehensive: "Obvious professionalism can be as undesirable in spies as in prostitutes. . . . The KGB were the first to realize this. . . . The Soviets actually taught their agents less rather than more. So when their agents came under spot surveillance -- and almost everyone with access to sensitive materials or facilities is subject to routine spot surveillance -- they didn't display mannerisms which betrayed them and subjected them to full surveillance." And then Copeland added darkly, "Almost no one can beat full surveillance."

-- Dennis Drabelle