Book Authors: Larry J.Kolb

Book Review by : S.S.George
Director, ICMR (IBS Center for Management Research)


Mohammed Ali, Larry J. Kolb, business, CIA, Miles Copeland, Miles Copeland, Indians, St. Kitts forgery case, Chandraswamy, Rajiv Gandhi, First Trust Corporation bank

As the son of a senior intelligence officer, Larry J. Kolb was born into the world of spies. As he grew older, he resisted numerous invitations to follow in his father's footsteps, choosing instead to become a businessman and hobnob with the wealthy and famous. Ultimately however, he was recruited as an agent by Miles Copeland, one of the founders of the CIA. In Overworld, Kolb describes his life in espionage.

Overworld is the memoir of a man who claims to have been a spy. The author of the book, Larry J. Kolb, has an easy and engaging style of writing; consequently, the book is interesting, reading like a spy novel – so much so that one is tempted to doubt whether it is a memoir or a work of fiction. But the incidents that are described in the book have happened, and many of the people Kolb describes are well known, and seem familiar enough to the author.

Kolb is a good story teller, and this is one of the many talents that he says made him a good spy. And certainly, the book has some great stories. He also had a genuine liking for people, and made friends easily - other qualities that, according to him, are required to be an effective spy. Kolb was born into the world of espionage. His father was a senior US intelligence agent, and he spent his childhood moving from country to country with his parents. His introduction to tradecraft also began in his childhood, with young Larry sitting "on the stairs in the dark and listening to his father and his men downstairs drinking into the night and saying things they thought no one else would hear".

A few years prior to his father's retirement, the family moved back to the United States. At the age of 22, the CIA attempted to recruit him, but Kolb had other plans. Always an adventurous soul, he drifted around the world, finally hitting upon the idea of starting a tour company that promoted and arranged adventure tours to various parts of the world. With his considerable charm and skills of persuasion, within a year, he managed to have his business featured in a story on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.

Subsequently, he hit upon the idea of promoting golf tours, a venture that brought him into contact with many celebrities and sports starts, and where his people skills won him many friends. At one point, he married Jan Stephenson, an Australian golfer, who was once described as the Australian Sex Bomb. However, the marriage ended in divorce after just six months. During this period, he also met Mohammed Ali, who was even then a hugely popular figure around the world, and became his friend and eventually his agent, arranging Ali's appearances around the world. The job entailed traveling around the world with Ali, and brought Kolb into contact with more rich and powerful people, with many of whom became friendly.

He also met Adnan Khashoggi. According to Kolb, Khashoggi was no mere arms dealer - instead, he was often a go-between for the Saudi royal family and successive US presidents, and often the person who provided the link between the western and Arabic cultures. Khashoggi had a "genius for explaining the West to Arabs and Arabs to the West."

The son of the court physician to King Abdul Aziz, the founder of Saudi Arabia, Khashoggi grew up at the court in Riyadh, with prince Sultan who would later become the Defense Minister of Saudi Arabia. His contacts with the Saudi royal family, and the members of the ruling class in other Arab countries stood him in good stead later, when he would become the intermediary between Arabs and the west - and an immensely wealthy power broker and middleman.

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