Recent Reading 19

The latest in a sequence of lists of recently-read books, listed in reverse chronological order.

  • Bill Browder [2022]: Freezing Order: A True Story of Russian Money Laundering, Murder,and Surviving Vladimir Putin’s Wrath. Simon and Schuster.
  • Bill Browder [2015]: Red Notice: A True Story of Corruption, Murder and One Man’s Fight for Justice. Bantam Press. A gripping and very well-written autobiography of William Browder, son of mathematician Felix (he of Browder’s Fixed Point theorem fame) and grandson of Earl Browder, onetime President of the CPUSA.
  • Duncan Mavin [2022]: The Pyramid of Lies: Lex Greensill and the Billion-Dollar Scandal. Macmillan. An account, mostly well-written, of the Greensill Capital affair. The company, started by Lex Greensill from a farming family of Bundaberg, Queensland, was based on the clever idea of reverse factoring of supply-chain invoices: lending against invoices from suppliers, not to the suppliers as in regular factoring, but to the receivers of the goods and services being supplied. The receivers are generally larger and more reputable, so the risk to the reverse factoring company should be less than for standard factoring. //The book ends very quickly, without the depth or detail of the earlier chapters, as if the author suddenly became tired of writing.
  • Terry Eagleton [2001]: The Gatekeeper: A Memoir. St Martins Press, New York. As one would expect, this memoir is well-written and entertaining. The jokes and similes, though, are often strained, in the manner of Clive James, and pale after so many pages. Also like James, the many snide attacks on religion and people who believe or practice religion (primarily Roman Catholics and Mormons) are condescending and wearing. To deploy a construction he uses often, one wonders why, if Eagleton so hates religion, he would spend an academic sabbatical in Utah. //As with the writing of Christopher Hitchens, I find it hard to take instruction in anything political from someone who mis-spent his twenties in a rat-bag Marxist sect. Even at the time, as I pointed with regard to Hitchens, it was obvious to an intelligent person that these sects were politically inept, derailed on an historical side-track, and engaged in futile (or even actively malicious) activities. No sensible person countenanced membership of any of these organizations AT THE TIME. Why should we trust the judgements all these years later of people who were stupid enough or so lacking in political nous to join them? //Eagleton’s writing appears erudite, but in one area I happen to know something about, his ignorance shows. On pages 65-66, he writes about Wittgenstein’s philosophy, listing W’s various obsessions: “You had to demarcate what philosophy could legitimately say, all those [page-break] not terribly important things, from those vital matters about which it had better remain silent, and to which Dostoevsky and detective thrillers, Tolstoy and bad American movies, St John and Mendelssohn might yield the odd clue.” If Eagleton had mentioned Brahms here rather than Mendelssohn, the arrow would have been better aimed. Wittgenstein disparaged Mendelssohn’s music — as being too eager to please his audience, and not sufficiently revolutionary — in terms quite close to those of Wagner’s anti-semitic rant. Like many people, Wittgenstein profoundly misunderstood the philosophy and aesthetic of Mendelssohn’s music, and, by accusing Mendelssohn of never writing any music that could not be understood, misconstrued his music, too. Where does Wittgenstein show any recognition or understanding of Mendelssohn’s innovative cyclic form? Just because his music is often pretty does not mean it is not also deep. And from a simple surface sound profundity may emerge, as Bach and Feldman as well as Mendelssohn show.
  • Peter Coleman [ ]: The Last Intellectuals: Essays on Writers and Politics. Short essays on various writers from journalist, critic and NSW state politician, Peter Coleman.
  • Robert Littell [1973]: Defection of A. J. Lewinter. Overlook Press (Reissue 2022). A workmanlike espionage thriller about a defection from the USA to the USSR of an expert on ceramic nose cones on ICBMs, and its aftermath. Does he have the actual trajectories of the three types of MIRV missile cone payloads (bombs, decoy bombs, and anti-radar devices intended to jam the enemy’s anti-missile systems)? Or does he only have false trajectories? If true, how may the USA convince the Soviets to believe that his trajectory information is false or inaccurate, so that they do not re-orient their anti-ballistic missile systems to these trajectories? By demonstrating that the USA are really upset at his defection. If false, how may the USA convince the Soviets to believe that his trajectory information is true, so that they do re-orient their anti-ballistic missile systems to these trajectories? How may the USSR falsely convince the USA that the Soviets plan to ignore his trajectory information? And so on.// The author attended Alfred College, known for its ceramic engineering program, so perhaps not surprising that one of the protagonists in this novel was a ceramicist at Alfred.
  • Peter Coleman [1989]: The Liberal Conspiracy: The Congress for Cultural Freedom and the Struggle for the Mind of Postwar Europe. The Free Press. As we see the resurgence in our own times of great totalitarian evil, in the form of the fascism and atrocities of the current regime in the Russian Federation, I have much more sympathy for US Government sponsorship of the Congress of Cultural Freedom. Thank goodness someone was fighting communism among the willfully-blind intelligentsia during the Cold War!// Older people have told me it was Czechoslovakia in 1968 that led them to leave the Party; or it was Hungary in 1956, or Khruschev’s secret speech earlier in 1956. But what about the worker protests in the DDR in 1953? They were reported at the time by Joseph Wechsberg in The New Yorker, so ignorance of them could be no excuse. Or the Slansky trial in Czechoslavakia in 1952? Or the show trials in Moscow in 1938? Or the Ukrainian genocide of The Great Famine of 1932-33? How could one be a Party member or supporter after learning of any of these?
  • William F. Buckley [2000]: Spytime: The Undoing of James Jesus Angleton. Harcourt. I had not known Buckley was a writer of espionage fiction until encountering this well-written book. The story is loosely based on the life of James J. Angleton, who is a central character in the first half. For some reason, Mother disappears for most of the second half, which is centred on Beirut at the time that Kim Philby lived there. Philby appears, as do others in the Middle East of those days (although not Miles Copeland). The imagined events are all very plausible, even if fictional. The writing is compelling, and the story could stand without Angleton’s hands manipulating the machinery.
  • Seán Hewitt [2022]: All Down Darkness Wide: A Memoir. Jonathan Cape. A poet’s fine prose about a life whose Merseyside places include many which are familiar. The writing is deeply evocative and emotionally gripping, and the account revealing of the author and the other main characters. This memoir I found profoundly moving.
  • Peter Coleman [1994]: Memoirs of a Slow Learner. HarperCollins. An engrossing account of the author’s life in Australia’s post-war literary bohemia, betwixt (but not part of either) the communist left and the puritannical Christian right. He was great friends and shared a house with one Robert James Lee Hawke when they were both PhD students at ANU, but there is little about the silver bodgie here.
  • Bob Hepple [2013]: Young Man with the Red Tie: A Memoir of Mandela and the Failed Revolution, 1960–63. Jacana Media. The South African life before exile of Nelson Mandela’s counsel and co-accused in the Rivonia Trial. Hepple was the son of the last leader of the South African Labour Party, Alex Hepple, and later a prominent British lawyer and legal academic.
  • Hilda Bernstein [2014]: The World That Was Ours. Persophone Books. A memoir of a life lived honourably and bravely, complementary to that of her husband, Rusty Bernstein.
  • Philip Augar and Keely Winstone [2022]: Agent Twister: The True Story Behind the Scandal that Gripped the Nation. Simon and Schuster. An account of the life and career of John Stonehouse, MP, British Labour Minister, mendacious businessman, womaniser, and paid agent of the Czechoslovakian foreign intelligence service.
  • Anthony Kenny [1997]: A Life in Oxford. John Murray. This is a very interesting account by a philosopher about his life in Oxford, where he spent most of his career. The narrative is interesting, although often poorly written or edited. For example, Kenny he talks about and names people without telling us who they are, as in paragraph three of Chapter 11, where he mentions someone called Zdena. From later references, this is most likely Zdena Tomin, but Kenny fails to tell us that. He also occasionally misconstrues tense. When text concerning events at a specific period of time (eg, in November 1979, on pages 131-132), is immediately followed (on page 132) by, “In December of 1980, I had paid my first visit to Norway since Arthur Prior’s death . . .), the author has forgotten where he left the reader. The word “had” may be appropriate for the time when the text was written, but is not appropriate for an action in December 1980 when the reader is at November 1979. Perhaps a deleted paragraph once stood between these two pieces of text. For a philosopher who believes (erroneously) that all human thinking is through and by language to mis-understand tense in his native language must be quite embarrassing.
  • Anthony Kenny [2018]: Brief Encounters: Notes from a Philosopher’s Diary. SPCK Publishing.
  • Ryan Dohoney [2022]: Morton Feldman: Friendship and Mourning in the New York Avant-Garde. Bloomsbury Academic. The single most important insight of 20th Century Mathematics arose from Felix Klein’s Erlangen Programme of 1872, that a mathematical object could be understood by studying the transformations of or operations on that object that leave it unchanged. Category theory is the formalization of this insight. A similar notion has occurred in recent years in biography: one can study the life of a person by looking at their interactions with their friends and associates. Dohoney has done this for Morton Feldman.
  • Rosamond Siemon [2014] The Mayne Inheritance. University of Queensland Press. (This is the new edition of 2003, an update from the first edition published in 1997.) Fascinating account of a robbery and gruesome murder in 1848 that provided the seed capital for the wealth of the Mayne family in colonial Brisbane and then Queensland. The next generation of the family tried to made amends by providing the funds to purchase the land upon which the main campus of the University of Queensland and its veterinary farm sit. Siemon’s writing has the same flaws as her book about Arnold Wienholt, reviewed below. One frustration for the reader that a competent editor could easily have rectified is her introduction of new people to the story before she describes who they are. Clearly the chapters were written out of of sequence, and no one seems to have read it through carefully in chapter order. So attention has not been paid to when the reader learns something, and what they know as they read the book in page order. If a new person is introduced into the narrative at chapter m, that person should be described there and then, not in a later chapter m+k.
  • The Secret Barrister [2022]: Nothing But The Truth: Stories of Crime, Guilt and the Loss of Innocence. Picador. An insider’s account of the quirks and failings of England’s criminal justice system. Most of the failings appear due to lack of money and resources, and disorganized and badly-organized administrative practices in the organizations concerned: the courts, the police, the prison system, the probation service, et al.
  • Rosamond Siemon [2005]: The Eccentric Mr Wienholt. University of Queensland Press. An account of a pioneer and former MHR for the electorate of Moreton, Queensland (1919-1922) and member for the electorate of Fassifern in the Queensland Legislative Assembly (1909-1913 and 1930-1935), Arnold Wienholt (1877-1940). He was killed under mysterious circumstances in Ethiopia in September 1940. //The writing is obtuse in a fusty academic way, with serpentine sentences and nouns rarely unqualified with adjectival phrases and winding clauses. Moreover, the author omits much relevant information: For example, why did the long-standing Welsh merchant ancestors of Arnold Wienholt have a German surname? What were the names of his three sisters, and whom did they marry? Why mention his first cousin and fellow African explorer Arnold Wienholt Hodson without telling us who his cousin’s parents were and how they were related? What was the “three-party dilemma” of Queensland politics and which were the three parties? What happened to Wienholt’s wife and daughter after his death? Who inherited his estate? Why did his daughter end up in the USA? How successful was she as an artist? What happened to his cousin Arnold Hodson? Und so weiter. I am surprised no UQP editor asked such questions, of if they did, why the questions were not answered. This could have been such a better book than it is.
  • Cathy McGowan [2020]: Cathy Goes to Canberra: Doing Politics Differently. Monash University Publishing. A well-written account of the political career of the author, independent MHR for the north-east Victorian federal electorate of Indi from 2013-2019, and inspirer of the Teal Independents movement which proved so successful in the Australian federal election of 2022. Before politics, she was a co-founder and President of Australian Women in Agriculture. //McGowan talks of two of her major achievements for her electorate being an increased number of Telstra mobile base stations (telecoms towers) and improvements to the rail service to the electorate. However, it is disappointing that in neither case does she give any indication in this book of what exactly was achieved – eg, How many new base stations? Where exactly? With what levels of improvement of coverage or of QoS? Compared to what was given to other electorates? What improvements of train services exactly? With what increased number of trains? Or of carriages? With what increased frequency? With what commercial or social consequences. This detail may seem nerdish, but her account lacks depth and traction without them. Did the rubber hit the road? She says so, but she provides neither chapter nor verse to demonstrate that it did.
  • Lionel (“Rusty”) Bernstein [2000]: Memory Against Forgetting: Memoir of a Time in South African Politics 1938 – 1964. Penguin.  Reprint of second edition, 2018.  A moving memoir of a leading anti-apartheid activist. //Memo to self: If I am ever detained in prison with nothing to read or write, and no one to speak with, as Bernstein was, try to imagine my way through every piece of music I have played or heard (as Francis James did in his Chinese prison), recite every poem I have learnt, and improve my musical co-ordination skills by practicing the beating of time in odd combinations of time signatures (2 vs 3, 3 vs 4, 7 vs 12, 2 vs 3 vs 5, etc). What are our 10 fingers for, but to beat 10 different simultaneous beats?
  • Robert Baer [2022]: The Fourth Man: The Hunt for the KGB’s CIA Mole and Why the US Overlooked Putin. Monoray.   A fascinating account of the possibility of a further Soviet/Russian agent inside CIA (after Aldrich Ames and those earlier), and of the secret search for this person.  As usual, Baer writes compellingly, although I find his excited tendency to break sentences into phrases distracting.  Verbs!  A must for sentences!
  • Stephen Clingman [2018]: Bram Fischer – Afrikaner Revolutionary. Jacana Media. An account of the fascinating life of Bram Fischer, scion of Afrikanerdom (grandson of the only Prime Minister of the Orange River Colony, son of a Judge-President of the Orange Free State, married to a niece of Jan Smuts), Nelson’s Mandela’s lawyer, and fellow member of the SACP. // Nice to read of three people I have been privileged to have known: Anthony Eastwood, Pat Davidson and Hugh Lewin.
  • Donald Sinden [1986]: Laughter in the Second Act. Futura. More of the same, although fewer anecdotes than in the first volume.
  • Donald Sinden [1982]: A Touch of the Memoirs. Hodder & Stoughton. An amusing collection of theatrical anecdotes.
  • Halik Kochanski [2022]: Resistance: The Underground War in Europe, 1939-1945. Penguin. A fascinating account of many different aspects of the resistances movements across Europe. Nazi colonizers established a great variety of regimes in the countries they occupied, from seemingly-tolerant quasi-self government in Denmark through to obliteration of all public administration, civil society, education and culture in Poland. It helped if you looked Aryan. As a result of this diversity of over-rule, resistance activities also varied greatly in scope, reach and intensity.//The reading needed, in multiple languages, to write such a book as this is immensely impressive.
  • Richard Crossman (Editor) and Louis Fischer, André Gide, Arthur Koestler, Ignazio Silone, Stephen Spender and Richard Wright (Contributors) [1950]: The God that Failed: Six Studies in Communism. Hamish Hamilton. I first read this book in 1981, borrowed from the library of the house I was staying at, in Maasdorp Avenue, Alexandra Park, Harare (then Salisbury), Zimbabwe.
  • John Pomfret [2021]: From Warsaw with Love: Polish Spies, the CIA, and the Forging of an Unlikely Alliance. Henry Holt & Co. An interesting account of espionage competition and collaboration between the USA and Poland, from the 1970s onwards. As the Iron Curtain fell, Poland became a very close supporter and collaborator in espionage and special forces operations with the USA.
  • James Killen [1985]: Inside Australian Politics. Methuen Haynes. A fine account of his political career by Jim Killen (“Killen The Magnificent”), one of Federal Parliament’s wittiest speakers and few gentlemen. At times, as in his account of his support for the white-minority regimes of Southern Africa through the 1960s, the text seems to be glossing over his true opinions. No orotund words about different levels of black and white social development or joining the fight against communist terrorism can justify support for those regimes without appearing to be racist, and – more importantly – without actually being racist. Killen rightly points out that, after UDI, the British Commonwealth focused on Rhodesia while ignoring evil elsewhere, for example, by Milton Obote’s government in Uganda. While this argument is forceful, it is a form of whataboutism, and does not (as Killen seems to think) provide a justification for his support of Ian Smith’s regime in Rhodesia. //Robert Mugabe was a master of the use of violence to obtain his political ends from his return to Southern Rhodesia from Ghana in May 1960, but the use of violence was occasioned by the obstinate refusal of the white settler regime to countenance any progress towards majority rule. Mugabe ruined Zimbabwe, but, three decades earlier, the white settlers first ruined Mugabe. One could argue that this view is coloured by hindsight, except for the fact that some people saw this clearly at the time – including Killen’s fellow Liberal Party MHR, Malcolm Fraser. //Killen was Minister of Defence under Fraser and describes him thus: “He unquestionably was the worst chairman I ever sat under. . . . He had not the slightest idea of listening to an argument and then drawing the various points of view together. Not infrequently he would adjourn an issue on which he could not get his way to ‘enable us to get further advice’.” (page 256)
  • Matthew Hammett Knott [2022]: A Class of Their Own: Adventures in Tutoring the Super-Rich. Trapeze. An amusing account of life as a tutor to children of the very rich.
  • Patrick Mullins [2019]: Tiberius with a Telephone: The Life and Stories of William McMahon. Scribe. McMahon was certainly very odd, perhaps the oddest person to be an Australian PM. His childhood was tragic, with the early death of his mother, then his older brother, and then his father, and his repeated shuffling from the house of one relative to another. He was mostly raised by a maternal aunt and her husband, who later became a Lord Mayor of Sydney. Inheriting wealth from his father in his youth, McMahon became a balletomane, race-horse owner, high-stakes gambler, and libertine, and also a devout and theologically-informed convert to Anglicanism. It has to be said that not many Australians of his era were balletomanes, and even fewer politicians were. The title of this fine biography is a reference to a famous description of him by his opponent Gough Whitlam, describing McMahon’s running of his government remotely. //The form of the biography is interesting, with standard biographical chapters interspersed with an account of various attempts by ghost writers to edit or re-write McMahon’s own unpublished memoirs late in his life. It is apparent from this account that, at least in his last years, McMahon suffered from the onset of forms of dementia.
  • Jess Hill [2021]: The Reckoning. Quarterly Essay #84. A powerful account of the #MeToo movement and its impacts in Australia.
  • Victor Sheymov [2013]: Tower of Secrets II: Tiebreaker. Cyber Books Publishing. This is the sequel to Sheymov’s first book, covering his years in the USA. After an MBA and a career in finance, he returned to consulting for the NSA, and later founded a tech start-up, Invicta Networks. The company implemented his ideas for dynamic parameter configurations in firewall servers. As before, written in the third person, and very thrilling. CIA is not shown in a good light.
  • Victor Sheymov [1993]: Tower of Secrets: A Real Life Spy Thriller. Cyber Books Publishing. This is a well-written account, written in the third person, of Sheymov’s career as an expert in cryptographic systems in the KGB and his gradual disillusion with communism, leading eventually to his defection to the West in May 1980.

Recent Reading 18: Copeland Family Edition

The latest in a sequence of lists of recently-read books, listed in reverse chronological order. In this edition, the books include several written by Miles Copeland II and his sons, Miles III, Ian and Stewart Copeland, or about them.

  • Ian Copeland [1999]: Wild Thing: The Backstage – on the Road -in the Studio – Off the Charts: Memoirs of Ian Copeland. Simon and Schuster.
  • Miles Copeland II [1989]: The Game Player: Confessions of the CIA’s Original Political Operative. Aurum Press. A well-written and fascinating, but often unreliable, account of Miles Copeland’s life. I admire the great intellectual heft and subtlety of political analysis Copeland demonstrates, something he shared with his contemporaries among the founders of CIA. These features stands in great contrast to the simple-minded nature of many of the attacks on intelligence, both from the State Department and the Pentagon in the 1950s, and from the left in the years since.It is interesting that a book published in 1989, in a chapter about his work in the US intelligence community in the late 1940s, argues that the main thrust of Soviet aggression towards the West was expected even then by Copeland and some of his intelligence community colleagues to be disinformation campaigns (dezinformatzia) directed against the West (page 74). It was unexpected but very heartening to see how much he despised the Moral Re-Armament (MRA) movement.
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Recent Reading 15

The latest in a sequence of lists of recently-read books, listed in reverse chronological order.

  • Michael Ovitz [2018]: Who is Michael Ovitz? A Memoir. USA: WH Allen.  This is a fascinating and well-written autiobiography by the co-founder and driving force behind Creative Artists Agency. CAA grew from nothing to dominate the agency business in movies and TV, and then entered M&A consultancy and advertising.  I always admired the chutzpah of this strategy and marveled at its success.  The book explains how CAA’s creative bundling of the products of its writers, actors, musicians, directors and producers enabled it to grow as an agency, and also enabled the diversification:  the expertise gained in strategizing and financially evaluating creative bundles was used to value Hollywood studios (with their back catalogues) as potential acquisition targets. Likewise, the creativity in bundling and the access to diverse talent was used to design successful advertisements.  What surprised me reading this book was that the diversification ended after just two acquisition assignments and one advertising project (Coca Cola’s polar bears).  The key reason for this seems to have been the opposition of Mr Ovitz’s partners and colleagues at CAA, despite the handsome and arguably unearnt rewards his efforts brought many of them.  No good deed ever goes unpunished, it seems.  // The book also presents his experiences as President at Disney.  Although of course we only hear his side of that story, he does seem to have been undermined from before he even began work there. // Overall, the writing is articulate and reflective, and he seems to have grown personally through his career and his apparent failures.  I greatly admire his continued desire and willingness to learn new things – new skills, new businesses, new industries, new cultures, new hobbies.  Doing this requires rare, personal courage.  Few people in American business were as willing as he was to immerse themselves in Japanese culture when doing business in Japan, for instance.  One characteristic Mr Ovitz does not ever display is smugness, and this absence is admirable.
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Recent Reading 14

The latest in a sequence of lists of recently-read books. The books are listed in reverse chronological order, with the most recently-read book at the top.

  • Kate McClymont and Linton Besser [2014]: He Who Must Be Obeid. Australia: Random House.   The life and fast times of Eddie Obeid, perhaps, despite the strong calibre of the competition, the most corrupt person ever to be a Cabinet Minister in NSW.
  • Bob Carr [2018]: Run for Your Life.  Australia:  Melbourne University Press. A memoir mostly of Carr’s times as Premier of NSW (1995-2005), running a government which was, untypically for NSW, seemingly uncorrupt.
  • Aldous Huxley [1931]:  Music at Night and Other Essays. Flamingo reissue.
  • Keith Gessen [2018]: A Terrible Country. Fitzcarraldo Editions.  Writing as smooth as a gimlet, and extremely engrossing.
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Roger Hollis and Elli


The British journalist Chapman Pincher (1914-2014) became convinced that Roger Hollis (1905-1973), Director General of MI5 between 1956 and 1965, had been a Soviet agent, supposedly working for GRU, Soviet military intelligence.  Pincher wrote a book, Treachery, in 2009 to present the full case for this claim.  Most of the evidence is circumstantial and, considered individually, not greatly persuasive.  But assembled and concatenated, it is strongly compelling. Hollis as Soviet agent is certainly the simplest overall explanation for the many coincidences, Western espionage failures, Soviet espionage successes, and multiple instances of MI5 inaction and bumbling idiocy that seemed to accompany Hollis’s career.  He wielded his pocket veto so often and so successfully, there was surely something up. Opponents of the Hollis-as-spy theory need not only to find a better candidate but also to provide an alternative explanation for his career-long pattern of inactions, delays, and ditherings at some times, and fast, resolute actions at others, in each particular case objectively favouring the interests of the USSR.

One supporting sub-claim is that Hollis is the spy working inside MI5 codenamed Elli by a Soviet defector in 1945, a name also used in other decrypted Soviet communications. Apparently, the Soviets believed that the agent named Elli had some Russian family connection, perhaps pre-Revolutionary. Here is Pincher (Location 432 of the 2011 Kindle edition):

Colonel John Lash, a Russian scholar at Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ), the signals interception station based at Cheltenham, assured me that ‘something Russian’ must have meant something pre-revolutionary. Otherwise, the statement would have been ‘something Soviet’. Then, in 1985, while browsing through a book called Along the Road to Frome, one of several written by Hollis’s elder brother Christopher, I made a most relevant discovery. Members of the Hollis family and other relatives believed, with genealogical evidence, that they were directly descended from the Russian czar Peter the Great, and were rather proud of it! In that book, published in 1958, Christopher had stated: ‘I did, indeed, I suppose, share with my distant and much removed cousin, Annie Moberley, a claim to descent from Peter the Great.’ In another of his books, Oxford in the Twenties, when explaining his rather peculiar looks, Christopher stated that he was ‘the inheritor of a good deal of mixed blood, but it came from Eastern Europe’.

Annie Moberley’s father, George, had been born in St Petersburg, where his forebears were well established as merchants before the revolution. He became Bishop of Salisbury and firmly believed in his descent from the heroic czar. The Hollis brothers’ mother, formerly Margaret (Meg) Church, was related to Richard Church, a dean of St Paul’s in London, whose wife was a direct descendant of a woman called Sarah Cayley, who allegedly derived from an illegitimate son of Peter the Great. The Moberleys also traced their connection with the czar through Sarah Cayley.

Christopher Hollis, who was highly intelligent, certainly believed in the royal relationship, however distant. Whether or not it was real or taken seriously by other members of the Hollis family, they all knew about it. If Roger had been Elli, he could, directly or indirectly, have revealed this Russian connection to some Soviet contact, who would have informed Moscow in one of the enciphered messages, which would explain how Gouzenko’s deskmate had heard about it.

Whether Roger believed the Russian connection or not, it is inconceivable that he failed to appreciate the danger that it might make him suspect if his MI5 superiors heard about it following Gouzenko’s statement. Confirmation of the Russian connection was the missing link in Gouzenko’s evidence, and had it been known in MI5 Hollis should surely have been closely questioned about the exceptional ‘coincidence’, along with the other matching features.

What better fit could there be for Gouzenko’s statement –‘he has something Russian in his background’? No other Elli candidate has ever fulfilled the description. Gouzenko could not possibly have known anything about Hollis or his family when, as a young cipher clerk, he had made his original statement about Elli to the Canadian authorities in 1945. It was an inexcusable gaffe by Peter Wright –later the self-styled ‘Spycatcher’ –and the other counter-intelligence investigators of the Hollis case to have failed to read the biographical books by Roger’s well-known brother, which were on the shelves of many libraries.”

Intrigued by this, I looked at Pincher’s stated sources, the two books by Christopher Hollis. These led me to other books by and about Annie Moberly (1846-1937), which I reference below. (Note that Pincher repeats the mis-spelling of “Moberly” as “Moberley” that Christopher Hollis makes in his 1958 book, which suggests that Pincher did not look far beyond Christopher Hollis’ books.) The quotation that Pincher gives from Hollis (1958) is also incomplete.  This is what Hollis wrote:

I did, indeed, I suppose, share with my distant and much removed cousin, Annie Moberley [sic] of Versailles fame, a claim which Mrs Iremonger’s The Ghosts of Versailles had not at that time exposed, to descent from Peter the Great. But even the existence of that claim had been kept from me. The exposition of it would have raised too many embarrassing questions about mistresses and illegitimacy. So I had to content myself with being Irish, and that indeed gave me a sufficient opportunity of political eccentricity.” (Hollis 1958, page 15).

Christopher Hollis is speaking here about his childhood.  He does not say at what age he became aware of the family claim of descent from Peter the Great.  The passage is sufficiently vague that he may only have become aware of it with the publication in 1956 of Iremonger’s book about the Versailles Incident, an incident in 1901 when Annie Moberly and a traveling companion later came to believe they had engaged in time travel during a visit to Versailles.  However, Iremonger’s book itself refers to an earlier book by Edith Olivier (1872-1948), a life-long friend of and, through Edith’s mother, a cousin of Annie Moberly, as the source, a book of essays published in 1938 (Olivier 1938).  Of course, neither Christopher Hollis nor Roger Hollis may have been aware of Olivier’s 1938 book, or her 1945 book, both of which talk about the Moberly connection to Czar Peter the Great (1672-1725).  Olivier notes that Annie Moberly kept a portrait of her Russian-born grandmother Sarah Cayley in her rooms at St Hugh’s Hall, Oxford, where she was the Founding Principal (1886-1915).   She was an Honorary Fellow and member  of the Governing Council of the Hall from her retirement in 1915 to her death in 1937. According to Anna Thomasson’s biography of Miss Olivier (Thomasson 2015, page 183), Annie Moberly was still living in Oxford in 1929. Did Roger Hollis meet with her while he was at Oxford during 1924-1926? If so, he presumably would have seen the portrait of their common ancestor Sarah Cayley on her walls.

Pincher has not revealed the full extent of Hollis-Cayley family connections in his 2009 book, perhaps because he did not know them. His case is in fact stronger than he recounts.  He is correct that Roger Hollis’ mother Mary Margaret Church (1874-1941) was related to Richard William Church (1815-1890), Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Richard was her uncle, brother to her father, Charles Marcus Church (1823-1915). And Richard had married Helen Frances Bennett in July 1853. But Mary’s father, Charles Church, Canon of Wells Cathedral, also married a Bennett sister, both daughters of Mrs Emily Bennett, nee Moberly. Emily Moberly was the daughter (one of 3 girls and 8 boys) of British-born Russian-based merchant, Edward Moberly, and Sarah Cayley (born 1764-), daughter of John Cayley (1730-1795), British Consul-General in St Petersberg.  Emily’s brother George Moberly (1803-1885), was born in St Petersberg and was later Bishop of Salisbury, from 1869 to 1885; in December 1834, he married Mary Anne Crokat (1812-1890), who was from a family of Scottish merchants long in Italy, as the Cayleys had been in Russia.

The wife of John Cayley (1730-1795) and the mother of Sarah Cayley Moberly was also called Sarah.  She was Sarah Cozens Cayley (1732-1803), who was born and died in St. Petersburg, and was a daughter of Richard Cozens (1674-1735) and Mary Davenport.  Cozens was British, and was Chief Shipbuilder to the Czar. His wife Mary was a daughter of Richard Davenport, also working as a shipbuilder for the Czar, and his wife Mary Dodd.  The eldest sibling of Sarah Cayley was Alexander Cozens (1717-1786), who was to achieve later renown as a landscape painter, as did his son, John Cozens (1752-1797).  Alexander Cozens was a godson of Czar Peter the Great, and also long rumoured to be the Czar’s illegitimate son. This may have been the source of the family rumour of Czarist descent.  The four sons of George Hollis and Mary Margaret Church, including Christopher Hollis and Roger Hollis, were direct descendants of Sarah Cozens Cayley and Sarah Cayley Moberly.  Another child of John Cayley and Sarah Cozens Cayley was Henry Cayley (1768-1850), whose children included the mathematician Arthur Cayley (1821-1895) and writer Charles Cayley (1823-1883), a close and life-long friend of poet Christina Rosetti.

The three Church brothers, Richard, Bromley, and Charles, were nephews of General Sir Richard Church (1784-1873), liberator of Greece.  Richard Church attended Wadham College, Oxford from Easter 1833, overlapping with the period that George Moberly was a Fellow at Balliol College, Oxford.  In the summer of 1833, before Richard met his wife, Helen Bennett, niece of George Moberly, Richard’s widowed mother, Mrs Church, married the widowed Thomas Crokat, future father-in-law of George Moberly.  Moreover, a third daughter of Mrs Emily Bennett, a sister to the two Bennett sisters who married the two Church brothers, married Charles Crokat, brother of Mary Anne Crokat.

One of the 15 children of Bishop George Moberly and Mary Anne Crokat was Charlotte Anne (“Annie”) Elizabeth Moberly (1846-1937), who wrote a book about her father, Dulce Domum (Moberly 1911).  As mentioned above, she was a participant in a supposed episode of time travel, the Versailles Incident (aka the Ghosts of Petit Trianon Incident) of 1901.  (Edith Olivier, in her memoir of 1938, also recounts an episode she, Edith, also had of supposed time travel, this time on Salisbury Plain.)  Both Christopher and Roger Hollis were first cousins twice removed of Annie Moberly, and the Crokat-Church and Crokat-Bennett marriages means the families were triply connected.  Moreover, the father of Christopher and Roger Hollis, the Right Reverend George Hollis (1868-1944), was also an Anglican clergyman and Bishop of Taunton, from 1931-1944.  One would expect that Bishop George Hollis knew his father-in-law Charles Church and knew of wife’s other ecclesiastical relatives, Richard Church (who was a prominent Anglican writer) and Bishop Edward Moberly; although much younger, he may also have met them. (Edith Olivier was also from an Anglican Church family, as the daughter of a Canon and the grand-daughter of a Bishop, Robert Eden.)

Of course, none of these connections or the fact of his brother’s knowledge prove that Roger Hollis knew that his ancestors had been merchants in Russia in the 18th and early 19th centuries, or that he had heard the claim that his family were illegitimate descendants of Peter the Great.  But the likelihood that he did not, it seems to me, is significantly less than the likelihood that he did.


J. A. Hamilton, ‘Moberly, George (1803–1885)’, rev. Geoffrey Rowell, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2009 [, accessed 6 Aug 2017]

Christopher Hollis [1958]: Along the Road to Frome. London, UK: George G. Harrap.

Christopher Hollis [1976]: Oxford in the Twenties. Recollections of Five Friends. London, UK: Heinemann.

Lucille Iremonger [1956]: The Ghosts of Versailles. Miss Moberly and Miss Jourdain and their Adventure. London, UK: Faber and Faber.

C. A. E. Moberly [1911]: Dulce Domum. George Moberly, His Family and Friends. London, UK: John Murray.

G. Martin Murphy, ‘Church, Richard William (1815–1890)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 6 Aug 2017]

Edith Olivier [1938]: Without Knowing Mr Walkley. London, UK: Faber and Faber.

Edith Olivier [1945]: Four Victorian Ladies of Wiltshire. London, UK: Faber and Faber.

Chapman Pincher [2011]: Treachery: Betrayals, Blunders and Cover-Ups: Six Decades of Espionage. Mainstream Digital.  Digital edition of book published in 2009.

Kim Sloan, ‘Cozens, Alexander (1717–1786)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2007 [, accessed 26 Aug 2017]

Anna Thomasson [2015]: A Curious Friendship: The Story of a Bluestocking and a Bright Young Thing. London, UK: Macmillan.

Dick White, ‘Hollis, Sir Roger Henry (1905–1973)’, rev. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2011 [, accessed 6 Aug 2017]

Recent Reading 13

The latest in a sequence of lists of recently-read books. The books are listed in reverse chronological order, with the most recently-read book at the top.

  • Dan Shanahan [2017]: Camelot Eclipsed: Connecting the Dots.  Independently published.
  • China Mieville [2017]:  October: The Story of the Russian Revolution. UK:  Verso.
  • Joshua Rubenstein (Editor) [2007]: The KGB File of Andrei Sakharov. USA:  Yale University Press.
  • Henry Hemming [2017]: M: Maxwell Knight, MI5’s Greatest Spymaster.  UK:  Preface Publishing.
  • Evelyn Waugh [1935]:  Edmund Campion, Jesuit and Martyr. UK:  Longmans.
  • Alison Barrett [2015]:  View from my Tower: Letters from Prague, March 1985 – May 1988.   A fascinating series of letters from wife of the British Ambassador to members of her family about her time in Prague, in the period of stasis just before the Velvet Revolution.
  • John O Koehler [2008]:  Stasi:  The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police.  USA:  Basic Books.
  • Continue reading ‘Recent Reading 13’

Recent Reading 12

The latest in a sequence of lists of recently-read books. The books are listed in reverse chronological order, with the most recently-read book at the top.

  • Edward Fulbrook [2016]:  Narrative Fixation in Economics. UK:  College Publications.
  • Pamela Vass [2016]:  The Power of Three:  Thomas Fowler, Devon’s Forgotten Genius. UK: Boundstone Books.
  • Charles Babbage [1835]:  On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures. UK:  Charles Knight.
  • Timothy James Burke [1996]:  Lifebuoy Men, Lux Women:  Commodification, Consumption and Cleanliness in Modern Zimbabwe. USA:  Duke University Press.
  • Petina Gappah [2016]:  Rotten Row. UK:  Faber & Faber.
  • Continue reading ‘Recent Reading 12’

Ends and Means

I have just read the memoir of Michael Hayden, USAF General and former head of both NSA and CIA. The book is interesting and mostly well-written.  It appears, as much as such a memoir could be, honest and truthful.
The torture of detainees undertaken by CIA personnel took place before Hayden was Director, so he could absolve himself of it completely.  But, as he did while Director and subsequently, he defends strongly and bravely his CIA staff, who acted under what they believed were legal orders and within what they believed to be constitutional limits.  This defence is admirable.
How one could imagine that torture would be legal under a constitution which prohibits cruel or unusual punishments remains one of the great mysteries of our age.  Hayden, however, also defends the torture itself.  He does so on grounds of effectiveness, grounds which are demonstrably, and which have repeatedly been demonstrated to be, spurious.  It is no good Hayden, or any other official paid by the public purse, saying “trust me, I know”.  We live in a democracy, and we need, we citizens ourselves, to see the evidence.  It has not ever been provided, at least not definitively and uncontestably.
Such a defence is essentially that the end justifies the means.  As a Roman Catholic, Hayden should appreciate the counter-argument that rebuts this defence: that certain means may vitiate, or irredeemably taint, the ends.   So, even if using torture were to be more effective than not using it, we still should not use it.   We should not because torture is contrary to our values as a humane, civilized, society, respectful of  human dignity, and because using it undermines any claims we may have to moral superiority over our terrorist enemy.
Like players cheating in sports, support for torture shows what sort of person you are, and what values you consider important. Hayden seems like an intelligent, thoughtful, and humane person, so it is a great pity that he, and others in the Bush 43 administration, came to view torture as acceptable. Not everyone in CIA thought so, which was, indeed, how we citizens came to learn about the secret detention camps and the torture in the first place.
Michael V Hayden [2016]: Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror.   New York: Penguin Press.

Transitions 2015

People who have passed on during 2015, whose life or works have influenced me:

  • Yogi Berra (1925-2015), American baseball player
  • Ornette Coleman (1930-2015), American jazz musician
  • Robert Conquest (1917-2015), British kremlinologist
  • Malcolm Fraser (1930-2015), Australian politician
  • Jaako Hintikka (1929-2015), Finnish philosopher and logician
  • Lisa Jardine (1944-2015), British historian
  • Joan Kirner (1938-2015), Australian politician, aka “Mother Russia”
  • Kurt Masur (1927-2015), East German conductor
  • John Forbes Nash (1928-2015), American mathematician
  • Boris Nemtsov (1959-2015), Russian politician
  • Oliver Sacks (1933-2015), British-American neurologist and writer
  • Gunter Schabowski (1929-2015), East German politician
  • Alex Schalck-Golodkowski (1932-2015), East German politician
  • Gunther Schuller (1925-2015), American composer and musician (and French horn player on Miles Davis’ 1959 album, Porgy and Bess).
  • Brian Stewart (1922-2015), British intelligence agent.
  • Ward Swingle (1927-2015), American singer and jazz musician.

Last year’s post is here.

Guy Burgess and Bosie Douglas

I am reading Andrew Lownie’s fascinating new biography of Guy Burgess, member of the Soviet spy circle, the Cambridge Five. Lownie’s book contains something very curious. (I am reading a Kindle edition, so can only give chapter references.) In Chapter 20, Relationships, we read in paragraph 1:

In June 1945 [Peter] Pollock returned to Britain.”

Pollock had been away several years, fighting with the British Army in North Africa and in Italy, and having been captured and held as a POW in Italy. In Paragraph 4, we read:

That summer Pollock and Burgess had seen much of Brian Howard and his boyfriend, Sam, staying with the couple at their home in Tickerage, East Sussex. On one occasion, they had visited the elderly Lord Alfred Douglas in Brighton, as Burgess wanted to show off Pollock and prove he was even more attractive than the famously attractive Douglas in his youth. [Footnote 5]”

The source (footnote 5) is given as: “Pollock taped interview, by kind permission of Miranda Carter.” Pollock died in Tangier on 28 July 2001.

But, according to Wikipedia, Bosie Douglas died on 20 March 1945, so Pollock and Burgess could not have visited him in summer 1945.

Although the content of the book is superb, the book shows the weaknesses of a text written over a long period (30 years), together with some fairly mediocre editing. On several occasions, the author mentions something without explaining it, forgetting that what he knows is different to what the reader knows. Sometimes explanations are given at the second or later mention, instead of at the first. When Lownie mentions “Johnny Philipps, a rich gay bachelor who lived in Albany”, for example, he does not explain what or where is Albany. Only in a later chapter when talking of someone else do we learn that the Albany was “a fashionable set of apartments off Piccadilly.” Likewise, the Venona transcripts are mentioned in Chapter 26, but only explained in Chapter 28. At one point, we learn that Burgess earnt some GBP 800 pa from a Canadian Trust Fund. Nothing is said about this fund, nor how Burgess came to be a trustee of it, although there is an earlier mention of a trip he took in 1930 with his mother and brother to visit Canada, before going up to Cambridge.  The 1959 TV interview which Burgess gave to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, which was only rediscovered in 2015, the only TV interview he ever gave, is mentioned (at location 5566). But Lownie seems to have missed Burgess’ statement in that interview that, “I’m a quarter Canadian myself.”  Which grandparent was Canadian? In Chapter 40, in another example, there is a throwaway reference to a Moscow party given by “the Burchetts”. Australians of a certain age would catch the reference to left-wing journalist Wilfred Burchett, who lived in Moscow in the 1950s, but who else would?

Another instance of poor editing is the description of Novodevichy Cemetery in Chapter 37. Burgess moved to a flat near the cemetery in 1956. Lownie describes the cemetery thus: “where amongst others were the graves of Chekhov, Gogol, Khrushchev, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Stalin’s wife . . . “. That “were” points to the time Burgess moved nearby. But, Khrushchev only died in 1971, and Shostakovich in 1975, both well after 1956; indeed, well after 1963, when Burgess himself died. I imagine that such poor editing must be an embarrassment to an author whose day job is acting as a literary agent for other authors. Or is Lownie another author confused about the working of tense in English?

And perhaps taking so long to write a non-fiction book means not enough advantage has been taken of the Web. For instance, is the young German actor named George Mikell mentioned in Chapter 26 the same person as the Lithuanian-Australian actor named George Mikell who has a website? Is the drifter of no fixed abode named James Turck mentioned in Chapter 29 the same James Turck (1924-2011) who acquired an MBA from Columbia and a seat on the American Stock Exchange? I find myself Googling every name mentioned, so I am surprised the author has not done so too.

Overall, the book is fascinating and riveting despite the sloppy writing and apparent lack of editing. Lownie makes a convincing case for the importance of Burgess as a Soviet agent, detailing the documents he was able to provide to his handlers at each stage of his career. Whether Burgess was MORE important than his fellow spies could not be assessed from a life of just one of them. My one major disappointment from the book was the absence of any discussion of the theory that one or more of the Cambridge Five were known to Britain’s senior spy-masters, long before their departures East, to be Soviet agents and were allowed to remain in place. If you want to deceive your enemy you need to communicate through channels your enemy will likely believe, and that may mean using their own loyal agents (or people they believe to be their loyal agents). Such channels are even more necessary if you mostly communicate to deceive but occasionally want, or may need, to send truthful messages.

Indeed, this hall of mirrors might even have further mirrors, if one or more of Burgess, Maclean, or Philby were themselves witting in this deception, and sacrificed their public reputations, their pensions, and their quiet English country-side retirements to serve the land of their birth even beyond their defection. Lots of Britons gave their lives to defend their country in WWII, so the Cambridge spies may have done similarly. To my mind, such knowing and self-sacrificing deception by these upper-class Englishmen, students of great public schools and habitués of fashionable London clubs, is immensely more plausible than any other explanation I have seen for their treason. Does MI6 hold secret medals for them all in a hidden safe in its Ziggurat-on-Thames?

PS (Added 2022-04-09)

In Donald Sinden’s autobiography (1982) we find confirmation of the date of death of Bosie Douglas: 20 March 1945 (see page 54). Sinden had befriended Douglas a few years earlier and was informed of his death by a telegram sent that same day by Edward Colman, with whom Douglas was living at the time. Sinden says that Douglas had moved from Brighton to Colman’s farm near Lancing some time before his death, so it is even less likely that Pollock visited Douglas in Brighton.


Andrew Lownie [2015]: Stalin’s Englishman: The Lives of Guy Burgess. London, UK: Hodder & Stoughton.
Donald Sinden [1982]: A Touch of the Memoirs. Hodder & Stoughton.