It’s hard not to admire this spy novel, which sprawls across nearly 900 pages and follows a group of CIA agents from recruitment in 1950 to post-Cold War obsolescence in 1995. There are crosses, double crosses, and cameos from such historical figures as JFK and Ronald Reagan. But the epic scope ultimately works against Littell’s lofty ambitions. An implausibly limited cast of spooks is saddled with cardboard characterizations tailor-made for Fox News agitprop (a KGB head doesn’t just work for the Evil Empire, he also fancies prepubescent girls). And individual novella-length episodes can be both stirring and rushed, jumping from the 1956 Hungarian revolt to the Bay of Pigs to the supposed assassination of Pope John Paul I like a Now That’s What I Call a Conspiracy Theory compilation.