Recent Reading 16

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

  • Leo McKinstry [2019]:  Attlee and Churchill: Allies in War, Adversaries in Peace.
  • Isidor F Stone [1947, this edition 2015]:  Underground to Palestine: And Other Writing on Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East (Editor: Mark Crispin Miller).  A superb first-hand account of the Bricha (or Bericha) Movement, the Jewish underground railroad in Europe immediately following WW II, spiriting Jews from the USSR and Eastern Europe, particularly Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, to the Middle East.  For most people this was illegal, and was completed against a British blockade of Palestine.  In Stone’s account, Czechoslovakia was the most friendly of the EE governments towards Jewish citizens and displaced persons in transit. (HT: JG)
  • Lawrence Weschler [2019]:  And How are You, Dr Sacks? A Biographical Memoir of Oliver Sacks.   A fascinating account from a long-term personal friend of this complex, multi-faceted man. I once wrote to Sacks about what I considered to be a mistake in one of his books (describing how he thought people recognized faces), and he replied thoughtfully.  This was long before I knew of his prosopagnosia, and I now realize that his mistaken description may have arisen from his own inability in facial recognition.
  • Thomas J Chermack [2017]:  Foundations of Scenario Planning: The Story of Pierre Wack.   The very interesting biography of spiritual seeker Pierre Wack and the the history of his role in the development of scenario planning at Shell from the late 1960s.
  • Stephen Hough [2019]: Rough Ideas: Reflections on Music and More.
  • Richard Bassett [2012]:  Hitler’s Spy Chief:  The Story of Wilhelm Canaris.  I had not realized that the Abwehr under Canaris helped British special forces reach Finland in late 1939/early 1940 to aid the Finns in their defence against the USSR (in the Winter War).  Nazi Germany was allied with the USSR and fighting the UK at the time.
  • Michael Mueller [2007]:  Canaris:  The Life and Death of Hitler’s Spymaster.
  • Richard M Nixon [1962]: Six Crises.
  • William Cook (Editor) [2010]: Kiss Me, Chudleigh: The World According to Auberon Waugh.
  • Anthony Seldon [2019]: May at 10.  After reading this account, I was somewhat more sympathetic towards Mrs May, knowing more about her predicament and her constraints as PM.  On the other hand, she does seem an insufferably awful person, completely unable to empathize with people who are not daughters of Bishops from the Home Counties. For instance, I did not know before of the various exigencies of her Brexit travel and meetings around the night of the Grenfell Tower fire.  Still, these constraints do not excuse her failure to visit the site without delay.  Even having just gone to bed after a quick trip to Brussels (as she had) a few hours before the fire, Tony Blair or David Cameron or even Margaret Thatcher would have got up again in the early hours and gone to the site as soon they were awoken with the news.  Even Gordon Brown or John Major, if they’d not been woken at 3am, would have gone there the very first thing the next morning. Only someone severely lacking in human understanding and having no political nous would have delayed visiting for several days, as she did.  It ill behooves her and always will. 
    May is also revealed as inept in her negotiations with the EU over Brexit, encumbered as she was by the character defects she had exhibited as Home Secretary: wilful stubbornness (as in her irrational refusal to remove University students from the Immigration statistics); extreme secrecy; and a recalcitrant refusal to learn. Added to these defects was an ignorance and lack of interest in Europe and its institutions, and an ignorance and lack of interest in business and finance.  She reminds me immensely of one of those puritannical spinsters who administered the backwaters of nineteenth century British life, women such as Anne Moberly, first Principal of St Hugh’s College, Oxford (and daughter of a Bishop). May’s most enduring legacy will be the Windrush Scandal, where the hostile environment policy she created and implemented at the Home Office destroyed the lives of hundreds of law-abiding British citizens.  For that vile policy she has generously managed to ensure others have received most of the the blame. 
  • Henry Hemming [2019]: Our Man in New York:  The British Plot to bring America into the Second World War.  A fascinating account of fake news and deception campaign run by a government aiming to influence political events in a foreign country.
  • Brian Abrams [2018]: Obama: An Oral History.
  • Patrick Cunnane [2018]: West Winging It: My Unforgettable Time in the White House.  Chatty and unpleasant. 
  • Steve Vogel [2019]: Betrayal in Berlin: The True Story of the Cold War’s Most Audacious Espionage Operation.  Riveting account of the Berlin tunnel operation.
  • Graeme Skinner [2007]:  Peter Sculthorpe: The Making of an Australian Composer.  Led to this by the biography of Peggy Glanville-Hicks (below).  Only covers the first part of  his adult life.
  • Suzanne Robinson [2019]:  Peggy Glanville-Hicks: Composer and Critic.  What a fascinating life she had, and seemed to know everyone. Reading about and listening to her music, I realize her main structural technique was ethnomusical collage.  Interesting, and often very pretty, but, like theme-and-variations form, ultimately shallow. 
  • David Cameron [2019]:  For the Record.
  • George Ferguson Bowen [1850/]: Ithaca in 1850.  Second Edition. Bowen [1821-1899], twice President of the Oxford Union, was President of the Ionian University in Corfu from 1847-1851, and then was Chief Secretary to the Government of the United States of the Ionian Islands from 1854-1859.  While serving in that latter post, he married Contessa Diamantina di Roma, daughter of the President of the Ioanian Senate.   Bowen was then appointed founding Governor of Queensland from 1859 to 1868.
  • Nick Thorpe [2015]: ’89: The Unfinished Revolution.
  • Michael Meyer [2010]: The Year that Changed the World: The Untold Story Behind the Fall of the Berlin Wall.
  • Peter Millar [2016]:  1989: The Berlin Wall: My Part in its Downfall.  Books to read on the 30th anniversary of the opening of the Berlin Wall.  I recall the excitement of those end-of-days vividly.
  • Sandra V. Grimes and Jeanne Vertefeuille [2012]: Circle of Treason: CIA Traitor Aldrich Ames and the Men He Betrayed.  A very good account from two of the team who identified and caught Ames.
  • Duncan White [2019]:  Cold Warriors: Writers Who Waged the Literary Cold War.  Fascinating and gossipy, although I had picked up much of it before.
  • Robyn Arianrhod [2019]: Thomas Harriot: A Life in Science.  Harriot was a remarkable person and deserves a respectful and learned biography.  This book is not it, because the author does not understand the extent to which a modern, secular, anti-religious scientific worldview was alien to Harriot’s time (and even to Newton’s time, a century later).  Harriot may or may not have been an atheist, but he certainly wasn’t a modern, secular scientist.  In her attempt to assert that he was, the book comes across as very anachronistic, and she fails to enter into or evoke his time and worldview. The book is much more a product of her time than of Harriot’s.  
  • Miranda Carter [2001]: Anthony Blunt: His Lives.
  • Edward Snowden [2019]: Permanent Record.  Superb. My respect for this very courageous and intelligent man continues to grow apace.
  • Karen Olsson [2019]: The Weil Conjectures: On Maths and the Pursuit of the Unknown.  A book about pure mathematics by a non-mathematician.  Not as good as she thinks it is.
  • Blaine Harden [2018]: King of Spies: The Dark Reign of America’s Spymaster in Korea.  A biography of Donald Nichols, one of the stranger people, of the many very strange people, to end up as an intelligence office.
  • Gordon Thomas [2003]:  Assassination Robert Maxwell:  Israel’s Superspy.   A compelling case for Cap’n Bob being a long-term informant for Israeli intelligence and for his corrupt involvement with money-laundering schemes of communist Eastern European leaders (particularly the regime of Todor Zhikov in Bulgaria).   A less compelling case is presented that Maxwell was assassinated by Israeli agents.  But who of us knows?
  • Tom Bower [2019]:  Dangerous Hero: Corbyn‘s Ruthless Plot for Power.  The Dear Leader comes off very badly in this account.  First, his one experience of actual executive power (in local government) showed him to be inept, ideological and recalcitrant.  As most others with close experience of him recount, he is not very bright, learns nothing, and almost never changes his mind.  Second, what precisely DID he do in those missing months after the early finish of his VSO service in Jamaica before his return to the UK?  Was he being trained at a revolutionary camp in Cuba?  Bumming across the USA?  Working on Wall Street?   Third, is Dianne Abbot still sitting in his office chair when he is away from his desk?
  • Ross McMullin [2005]:  So Monstrous A Travesty: Chris Watson and the World’s First National Labor Government.  Australia’s third Prime Minister (and the only one so far who was born in Chile).
  • Tim Parks [2005]: Medici Money:  Banking, Metaphysics and Art in Fifteenth-Century Florence.  A fascinating multi-disciplinary account of the Medici banking dynasty.
  • Mungo MacCallum [2009]:  Kevin Rudd and the Lucky Country. Quarterly Essay 36 Australian Story.
  • Mungo MacCallum [2014]:  The Whitlam Mob.
  • Norman Moss [1987]: Klaus Fuchs: The Man Who Stole the Atom Bomb.
  • Steven Pfaff  [2006]: Exit-Voice Dynamics and the Collapse of East Germany: The Crisis of Leninism and the Revolution of 1989. (HT: OK)
  • George Packer [2019]:  Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century.  This is a superb account, effectively combining detailed political and historical analysis with personal knowledge of Holbrooke. It is sad to see that the lessons of Vietnam were deliberately and wittingly ignored by Obama and most of his foreign policy team.  I was reminded of Susan Sontag’s statement after 9/11 that “America has lost her innocence. But don’t worry, we will get it back. We always do.”

    The only flaw of this book, a serious flaw and making for unpleasant reading, is a discussion of Holbrooke’s sex life.  Although Holbrooke himself seems to be someone I would have been unlikely to have warmed to, no true friend, as Packer claims to have been, would write or publish such a discussion.

  • Gordon Corera [2018]:  The Illegal:  The Hunt for a Russan Spy in Post-War London.  The story of Gordon Lonsdale, aka Konon Molody.
  • Morris Dickstein [2002]:  Leopards in the Temple: The Transformation of American Fiction 1945-1970.
  • Jeremy Duns [2013]:  Dead Drop: The True Story of Oleg Penkovsky and the Cold War’s Most Dangerous Operation.
  • Jeremy Duns [2019]: A Spy Is Born: Dennis Wheatley and the Secret Roots of Ian Fleming’s James Bond.
  • John Earl Haynes [1999]:  Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America.
  • Evan Ratliff [2019]: The Mastermind: The Hunt for the World’s Most Prolific Criminal.  The intriguing story of white Zimbabwean Paul Le Roux, who may also be Satoshi Nakamoto.  If only he’d been satisfied with the vast profits from online sales of legal drugs in the USA. 
  • Roy A. Medvedev [1989]:  Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism.
  • Aino Kuusinen [1974]:  Before and After Stalin: A Personal Account of Soviet Russia from the 1920s to the 1960s.  A fascinating autobiography of someone who had an interesting life near to the top  of Soviet politics, was the second wife of Otto Kuusinen and knew Victor Sorge in Japan.
  • Roy A Medvedev and Zhores A Medvedev [1976]:  Khrushchev: The Years in Power.  From this account, Krushchev was undone by his idiosyncratic and impulsive decision-making style, and his failure to ensure his continued support from the apparatchiks.
  • Zhores A Medvedev [1983]: Andropov:  An Insider’s Account of Power and Politics within the Kremlin. This biography and the one by both brothers on Krushchev are both superbly well-written (and/or translated) in a fine literary style.  A great pleasure to read, as well as interesting and very informative. 
  • Chris Smith [2019]:  The Last Cambridge Spy: John Cairncross, Bletchley Codebreaker and Soviet Double Agent.
  • Jon Davis and John Rentoul [2019]:  Heroes or Villains? The Blair Government Reconsidered.
  • Owen Matthews [2019]: An Impeccable Spy: Richard Sorge, Stalin’s Master Agent.

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.
  • Mark Urban [2018]: The Skripal Files: The Life and Near Death of a Russian Spy. UK: Macmillan. A very good account of the back story of Sergei Skripal, mostly based on interviews Urban conducted with him and others before the events which led to Skripal’s name becoming well-known.  Skripal is a former GRU officer who had spied for Britain, was arrested and imprisoned by Russia, and then traded in a spy swap in 2010.  He was living quietly in Salisbury, England until he and his daughter were poisoned with Novichok in 2018. Salisbury, of course, is famous for its Cathedral with its 123-metre-high spire. Roger Hollis, one-time Director-General of MI5 whom some people believe was a GRU agent, was a great-great-nephew of George Moberly, Bishop of Salisbury from 1869 to 1885.  The good Bishop’s daughter, Annie Moberly, published a memoir of the family in 1911, Dulce Domum, which for some reason does not mention the spire. In these strange times one has to wonder if her omission was deliberate.
  • Howard Blum [2018]: In the Enemy’s House: The Greatest Secret of the Cold War. USA: Amberley. A fascinating account of the partnership between FBI agent Robert Lamphere and polyglot Meredith Gardner in decrypting the Venona transcripts of Soviet cable traffic and identifying the Soviet spies mentioned therein.
  • Adam Hall (aka Elleston Trevor) [1985]: Quiller. Again, superb writing and story-telling, with cliff-hangers all the way through, and close attention required to keep up.  Some superb psychological insight and moving descriptions.  My only scepticism was over the ease with which foreign intelligence services seemed to move undetected within the USSR.
  • Adam Hall (aka Elleston Trevor) [1989]: Quiller KGB. USA: Spectrum.  I was alerted to this book and an author new to me by allegations that Shore’s supposedly-true book (below) had the same plot as this earlier novel by Hall.  Shore apparently denied having even heard of the earlier book. In truth, the only element which the two plots have in common is that both involve a planned assassination of the then General Secretary of the CPSU, Mikhail Gorbachev, while on a visit to the DDR.  The accusation of plot plagiarism made against Shore is thus without any foundation.  Within a few pages of starting Hall’s book, I realized this was writing of altogether better quality than Shore’s, and also of most other writers of espionage fiction.  Hall often jump cuts from one scene to another, as Sartre did in Nausea, which means the reader has to pay attention. Much is implied rather than expressed, so that attention needs to be close. This is writing of great skill and care, which is no doubt why Hall’s books seem to have been forgotten.
  • Tom Shore [2018]: Pilgrim Spy: My secret war against Putin, the KGB and the Stasi. UK: Coronet.  This is well-written and fast-paced, and was exciting to read.  It purports to be a factual memoir by a British special forces agent in the DDR in the late Summer and Autumn of 1989, who allegedly foiled a dastardly plan by revanchist Russians in league with the Red Army Faction to assassinate Mikhail Gorbachev in Berlin on 7 October 1989. The plot hinges on the resolution of several subtle, nested epistemic modal questions – eg, What did A know about B’s knowledge of C’s affiliation?   If the story is to be believed, this undercover agent was also – himself, personally – responsible for the success of the Monday evening Lutheran Church gatherings in Leipzig that helped to defeat the SED Government of the DDR, because he was able to ask a western radio network to advertize the event.  Whether true or false, this account is immensely condescending.  There are several reasons why I find the story most unlikely to be true. First, surely the book would need official security service clearance for publication. It does not appear to have been submitted for approval.  If it had been, would we not now be hearing about an official investigation of rogue or treacherous SIS officers?  Secondly, there is almost no deep description of the Monday evening gatherings. These were momentous events, both in terms of the fall of communism in the DDR and in terms of peaceful regime change anywhere at any time.  How many people attended each week? What was said or sung at these events? What was the mood like? How did the mood change from week to week? Did people know each other?  Were there obvious informers or Stasi agents present?  Did participants leave together and straight away? Someone who was present at these events, as the author claims he was, would surely have more to say on them. The lack of such deep, textured description, like a non-barking dog, is a strong indication that this book is a work of fiction.  Finally, the author says almost nothing about what he did, and how he ate and lived, between these weekly meetings.  A small point that arose because I was reading the book on 5 October 2018:  5 October 1989 was a Thursday, not a Friday.
  • Ben Macintyre [2018]: The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War. UK: Viking.  A great account, well-written as this writer’s books always are, of the case of KGB Colonel Oleg Gordievsky, who spied for Britain and then defected. One disappointment:  Macintyre asserts without sufficient consideration that Roger Hollis was not a Soviet agent, which is the line taken by the authorized MI5 historian, Christopher Andrew.   Firstly, Macintyre quotes Gordievsky quoting a senior KGB official as having dismissed the claim that Hollis was an agent of the KGB (p. 138 of Kindle edition).  Interesting but irrelevant if Hollis had worked for the GRU.  Also, we would expect names of high-level foreign agents to be tightly held, so one senior person not knowing if Hollis was an agent means nothing.  Moreover, the two agencies were rivals and were explicitly prohibited by Stalin from collaborating. Secondly, Macintyre says that the Soviet spy code-named Elli was identified as Leo Long.  As Long did not work for MI5 and Elli did, Long could not have been Elli.  Because not all documents have been released, we still don’t know the full story about Hollis nor, if he was not a Soviet agent, then who was the GRU’s senior spy in Britain at the time.  Given this ignorance, it is disappointing that a writer of Macintyre’s calibre should just accept the incomplete and much contested authorized line. For a critique of Andrew, see Paul Monk’s article in Quadrant (April 2010). For more on Hollis, see here.
  • Robert Hutton [2018]: Agent Jack: The True Story of MI5’s Secret Nazi Hunter. UK: W&N.  The true story behind Anthony Quinn’s fictional account, cited below.  Well-written, well-paced and extremely interesting.  In order to determine if the Nazis had created a secret network of 5th columnists in wartime Britain, MI5 created one, led by an inspired agent, Eric Roberts.  It just goes to show that if you want to get the credit for fixing something, you may first have to break it yourself.  Who knew Britain had harboured so many would-be Gauleiter, including most energetically, Marita Perigoe, the daughter of the popular antipodean composer, May Brahe.  It is interesting that Roger Hollis opposed this activity and managed to prevent a similar false network to attract left-wing sumpathizers being created in Britain after WW II.
  • Simon Mawer [2018]: Prague Spring. UK: Little, Brown. A thriller centred on Prague in a few days in August 1968 (so not spring at all), before and during the Warsaw Pact invasion.  It was nice to see a mention of the brave Milada Horáková.  I liked the story about the characters initially in Prague rather more than the escapades of the two hitchhiking students.  With the latter story, it felt that the author was really writing about his younger, more naive self, and, truthfully, that self did not interest me. But then, I have never found Bildungsromane much worth reading.  One factual error:  The Czech character Lenka Konečková, daughter of a fictional character, Lukáš Vadinsky, tried and executed with Rudolf Slánsky, writes an article for a student newspaper in which she names some of those executed (Chapter 33). The names listed include London, the former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. But Artur London was not executed. It is not clear if this is an error by the author or by the character (ie, the author knows the truth about London, but the character does not).  Although it may have been the case that people in Czechoslovakia did not initially know the fate of the accused in the Slánsky trials, this would surely have been known to a politically-active family member such as Ms Konečková by this time in 1968.
  • Henry Porter [2018]: Firefly. UK:  Quercus. A gripping and empathetic thriller set on the Syrian refugee trail to Europe that runs via Greece and the Balkans.  The book is also a superb ethnography of life as a contemporary refugee and life as an anti-terrorist agent among refugees. The way we live now, it seems.
  • Charles Cumming [2018]: The Man Between. UK: HarperCollins. Another pacy spy thriller from Cumming.  The writing is good, although filmic, but not as gripping as Scott’s.  One has to wonder if stories are hard to come by when the main character, Kit Carradine, is a successful writer of spy fiction with almost identical initials to the author’s, who gets caught up in an actual spy mission.  Fomo, pomo or projection?  A quibble:  Would a security agency debrief a much-sought and well-known informant in an apartment in central London where she could be seen from the street?  One stylistic bug which a good editor should fix are long, discursive sentences with repeated changes of focus which frequent the book.  Do books still have editors, I wonder?
  • Manda Scott [2018]: A Treachery of Spies. UK: Bantam. A modern-day French murder mystery that reaches back to treachery and double-crossing in the French resistance and the SOE in WWII.  Riveting, although occasionally implausible: How convenient that the central resistance action was captured on cinefilm?
  • S C Brown [2017]: Initiation: A Spy Story. A well-written thriller set mostly in wartime France, playing on what we know about the sympathies of the leadership of the Abwehr, German military intelligence, and drawing on the moral dilemmas faced by ordinary French citizens. Includes that long-standing problem of espionage: how to transmit a true message to your enemy, and have them believe it?
  • Anthony Quinn [2018]: Our Friends in Berlin. UK: Jonathan Cape.  An easy, well-written thriller set in wartime Britain amongst a circle of would-be German agents.  Lots of single, double and triple bluffing. I liked the subtle allusion to J. Alfred Prufrock and the hook for a sequel involving an upper-class English Soviet spy.
  • Jeremy Duns [2018]:  Agent of Influence: Antony Terry and the Shaping of Cold War Fact and Fiction.  Skerry Publishing.  A brief account of the life and times of an influential British journalist who may have also been employed by MI6, as part of a concerted effort to place foreign intelligence staff into foreign correspondent positions with British newspapers.
  • Claire Harman [2001]: Fanny Burney: A Biography. USA: Alfred A. Knopf. A fine biography of the writer, aka Madame d’Arblay.  The last part of the book, after Madame d’Arblay’s return to Britain from her entrapment for a decade in France, felt rushed, as if the author was keen to finish.  One quibble: Harman repeats the claim that Mrs Clara Bolton was Benjamin Disraeli’s mistress.  As far as I can tell, the only evidence for this claim is a statement made by Disraeli’s lawyer, Philip Rose, after Disraeli’s death five decades after the alleged affair (and four decades after Mrs Bolton’s own death).  The letters between Mrs Bolton and Mr Disraeli don’t seem to support this claim.  Imagined affairs appear to have been a common trope in biographers’ lives of prominent Georgians and Victorians.
  • Craig Brown [2017]: Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret.  UK: Fourth Estate.   What a sad life she had.  Was it Clive James who said that celebrity is a mask that gradually eats away the face of the person wearing it?
  • John Menadue [1999]: Things You Learn Along the Way. Australia: David Lovell Publishing. An insightful account of a life, by someone who worked at the pinnacle of political, media and government power – with Gough Whitlam, Rupert Murdoch and Malcolm Fraser. As Australian ambassador to Japan (1977-1980), Menadue got to know the brothers Tony Glynn (1926-1994) and Paul Glynn (1928- ), long-serving Australian Catholic Marist priests working in Japan.  Some personal interest, as they are cousins of cousins-in-law of mine.

Continue reading ‘Recent Reading 15’

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.
  • Hayden Eastwood [2018]: Like Sodium in Water: A Memoir of Home and Heartache. South Africa: Jonathan Ball.  A well-written but very sad memoir of growing up in Harare, Zimbabwe following Independence, by a member of the family mentioned here.
  • David Margolick [2018]: The Promise and the Dream: The Untold Story of Martin Luther King, Jr. And Robert F. Kennedy.  USA: Rosetta Books.
  • Naveed Jamali and Ellis Henican [2015]:  How to Catch a Russian Spy.  USA:  Simon & Schuster.
  • Geoffrey Robertson [2018]: Rather His Own Man: In Court with Tyrants, Tarts and Troublemakers. UK: Biteback Publishing.  Is there anyone Robertson does not know, from Malcolm Turnbull to Prince Charles to Julian Assange?
  • Edward Wilson [2018]:  South Atlantic Requiem. UK:  Arcadia Books.  The latest in the Catesby espionage series, as always very well-written and dancing recklessly across the border between fact and fiction.
  • Philip Toynbee [1954]: Friends Apart, A Memoir of Esmond Romilly & Jasper Ridley in the Thirties. UK: Sidgwick and Jackson Ltd.
  • Roland Philipps [2018]: A Spy Named Orphan: The Enigma of Donald Maclean.  UK:  Vintage.
  • James Comey [2018]:  A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership.  USA: Macmillan.  Superbly structured and well-written.  Engrossing.  Bam’s best choice for head of the FBI. Would make a very good AG.
  • Pat Sloan (Editor) [1938]: John Cornford: A Memoir. UK: Jonathan Cape.
  • James McNeish [2008]:  The Sixth Man: The Extraordinary Life of Paddy Costello.  UK: Quartet Books.  Many have argued that Costello was a Soviet agent, not least MI5 in an international campaign which ended his New Zealand diplomatic career and made it difficult for him to secure other posts.  But the person running the anti-Communist division of MI5 and then MI5 itself at the time himself later came under suspicion – very plausibly – of being a Soviet agent, so the case against Costello, to my mind, is not at all decisive. The MI5 campaign against Costello may well have been a diversive smokescreen from chasing genuine Soviet agents.
  • Charlotte Bingham [2018]: MI5 and Me: A Coronet among the Spooks. UK:  Bloomsbury Publishing. An amusing memoir of working for MI5 as a secretary.
  • William D Cohan [2008]: The Last Tycoons: The Secret History of Lazard Frères & Co. USA:  Penguin.
  • Timothy Garton Ash [2015]: The File: A Personal History.  UK:  Atlantic Books.
  • Richard Davenport-Hines [2018]: Enemies Within: Communists, the Cambridge Spies and the Making of Modern Britain.  UK: William Collins. An attempt to position the Cambridge spy ring in the context of its culture and time.
  • Fyodor M. Burlatsky [1992]: Khrushchev and the First Russian Spring. USA:  Charles Scribner’s Sons. A fascinating inside account of the reformist thinking and actions of Nikita Khrushchev and Yuri Andropov in the 1950s and 1960s.
  • William Taubman [2017]: Gorbachev: His Life and Times.  USA:  Simon and Schuster.
  • Tom Mangold [1993]: Cold Warrior:  The True Story of the West’s Spyhunt Nightmare. USA:  Simon and Schuster.
  • Jefferson Morley [2017]: The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton. USA:  Macmillan. Oddly, Morley mentions Teddy Kollek knowing both Angleton and Philby, but not that Kollek was a guest at Philby’s wedding to Litzi Friedmann in Vienna in 1934.
  • Robert Graves [1960]: Goodbye to All That. UK: Penguin.
  • Richard Pipes [2015]: Alexander Yakovlev: The Man whose Ideas delivered Russia from Communism.  USA:  Northern Illinois University Press.
  • Charles Hamblin [2017]:  Linguistics and the Parts of the Mind.  (Written ca. 1968. Posthumous edition prepared by Phillip Staines) UK:  Cambridge Scholars Publishing.  Remarkably prescient of Belief-Desire-Intention models of autonomous agency.
  • Masha Gessen [2012]: The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. USA:  Granta Books.
  • Masha Gessen [2017]: The Future is History:  How Totalitarianism reclaimed Russia. USA:  Granta Books.
  • Daniel Ellsberg [2017]: The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear Planner.  USA: Bloomsbury Publishing.
  • Jacques Pauw [2017]: The President’s Keepers: Those Keeping Zuma in Power and out of Prison.  South Africa: Tafelberg.
  • Anne Goldgar [2008]: Tulipmania: Money, Honor, and Knowledge in the Dutch Golden Age.  USA:  University of Chicago Press.  Why would I be reading this in this time of ICOs, I wonder?
  • Artur London [1970]: The Confession.  UK: Morrow.  A famous account by one of the defendants in the Slansky Trial in Czechoslovakia in 1951.
  • Hubert Ripka [1950]: Czechoslovakia Enslaved: The Story of the Communist Coup d’Etat. London: Victor Gollancz.
  • D J Taylor [2010]: Bright Young People:  The Rise and Fall of a Generation, 1918-1940.  UK: Vintage.
  • Edith Olivier [1989]:  Edith Olivier: From Her Journals, 1924-1948. Edited by Penelope Middleboe. UK:  Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
  • Philip Mirowski and Edward Nik-Khah [2017]: The Knowledge we have lost in Information: The History of Information in Modern Economics.  USA:  Oxford University Press.
  • James McNeish [2003]: Dance of the Peacocks: New Zealanders in Exile in the Time of Hitler and Mao Tse-Tung.  UK: Vintage.
  • Francis Wheen [1992]:  Tom Driberg:  His Life and Indiscretions.  UK:  Pan.  This book is riveting reading, spoilt by its too-strong sympathy for its subject.
  • Sheila Fitzpatrick [2017, 4th edition]:  The Russian Revolution.  UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Oliver J Lodge [1916]: Raymond, or Life and Death: With Examples of the Evidence. USA:  George H Doran Company.
  • Launcelot Cranmer-Byng [1947]: The Vision of Asia. UK: John Murray.
  • Sam Dastyari [2017]:  One Halal of a Story.  Australia:  Melbourne University Press.
  • Hilary Rodham Clinton [2017]:  What Happened.  USA: Simon and Schuster.  Indeed!
  • David Burke [2009]: The Spy who came in from the Co-op: Melita Norwood and the Ending of Cold War Espionage. UK:  Boydell Press.
  • Alan Vaughan [1974]: Patterns of Prophecy.  USA:  HarperCollins.
  • Tom Bower [1996]: The Perfect English Spy: Sir Dick White and the Secret War, 1935-90.  UK: Mandarin.
  • Jenny Hocking [2016]: The Dismissal Dossier: Everything you were never meant to know about November 1975 (Updated Edition). Australia: Melbourne University Press.  Sadly, even after this account, I feel we do not yet know all the duplicity around the events of 11 November 1975.
  • Anna Thomasson [2015]: A Curious Friendship: The Story of a Bluestocking and a Bright Young Thing.  UK:  Macmillan.  A wonderful account of the December-May friendship of Edith Olivier (1872-1948), later a writer, and artist Rex Whistler (1905-1944), who first met in 1924.  Given their ages at the time of meeting, it would be more accurate to describe this as an August-March friendship.
  • Evelyn Waugh [1964]: A Little Learning: the First Volume of an Autobiography.  UK:  Chapman and Hall.
  • Edith Olivier [1945]:  Four Victorian Ladies of Wiltshire.  UK:  Faber and Faber.
  • Edith Olivier [1938]:  Without Knowing Mr Walkley.  UK:  Faber and Faber.
  • William Sturgis Bigelow [1908]: Buddhism and Immortality.
  • Garry Wills [2014]:  Making Make-Believe Real.  USA:  Yale University Press.
  • Garry Wills [2017]: The Kennedy Imprisonment: A Meditation on Power. USA:  Open Road Media.

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.
  • Giles Udy [2017]: Labour and the Gulag:  Russia and the Seduction of the British Left. UK:  Biteback Publishing.
  • David J Garrow [2017]: Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama.  USA:  William Collins.
  • Yanis Varoufakis [2017]: Adults In The Room: My Battle With Europe’s Deep Establishment. UK: Vintage Digital.
  • Nick Bilton [2017]: American Kingpin: Catching the Billion-Dollar Baron of the Dark Web. USA:  Virgin Digital.
  • Michael Howard [1996]:  Strategic Deception in the Second World War.  USA:  WW Norton.
  • Andrew St. George [1995]: History of Norton Rose. UK:  Granta Editions.   This is a history of the English law firm Norton Rose, written for the 200th anniversary of its founding in 1794.   The firm grew in the 19th century alongside the railways, acting as a conveyancing firm for the land purchases needed for new railway lines at the same time as lobbying MPs to legislate for the routes of these lines desired by its clients.  Its growth was helped by the life-long friendship between young Mr Philip Rose and Benjamin Disraeli.  One error in the book:  St. Geoge seems to have conflated two of Disraeli’s confidants and alleged mistresses:  Clara Bolton (nee Clarissa Marion Verbeke, 1804-1839), polyglot wife of George Buckley Bolton (the Disraeli family doctor) and Henrietta, Lady Sykes (c. 1801-1846), wife of Sir Francis Sykes (1799-1843), third Baronet of Basildon.  Mrs Bolton was also a confidant of Alexander d’Arblay (1794-1837), only son of Fanny Burney and a grandson of Charles Burney.
  • Peter Godfrey-Smith [2017]:  Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life.  UK:  William Collins.  This is a fascinating and well-written account of the intelligence of cephalopodes, drawing on the author’s underwater interactions with them.  The only major blunder in the book is the author’s mistaken view that the only or even the main form of human thinking is verbal.  This belief shows the fallacies possible when generalizing from introspection, and perhaps only a philosopher could believe something so obviously false.  Most mathematicians, architects, musicians and visual artists; most engineers, craftsman, surgeons, and machinery operators; and most sportsmen and women, dancers and actors, spend most of their time thinking without using any words, in my experience.
  • Philip Pilkington [2016]: The Reformation in Economics:  A Deconstruction and Reconstruction of Economic Theory.  UK:  Palgrave Macmillan.
  • John Le Carre [2017]: A Legacy of Spies.  UK:  Penguin.
  • Roy Hattersley [2017]: The Catholics: The Church and its People in Britain and Ireland, from  the Reformation to the Present.  UK:  Chatto and  Windus.
  • Don Aitken [2005]:  What was it all for?  The Reshaping of Australia. Australia: Allen and Unwin.
  • Don Aitken [2016]:  The Second Chair.  Australia:  Danbee Books.
  • Mark Singer [2016]: Trump and Me.  USA:  Penguin.
  • Ian Hacking [2014]: Why is there Philosophy of Mathematics at all?  UK:  CUP.
  • David Talbot [2015]: The Devil’s Chessboard:  Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government.  USA:  William Collins.
  • Edward Jay Epstein [2013]:  Sixty Versions of the Kennedy Assassination: A Primer on Conspiracy Theories.  EJE Publications.

Honesty of intention

Some people I have encountered in this life have impressed me with their integrity-of-pupose, the coherence, sincerity and compellingness of their objectives and mission.  Sometimes these objectives have been political, as in the case of Don Day and Bill Mansfield.  In other cases, they have been spiritual or religious, as in the case of Jes Albert Moeller. In some cases, they are both, which seems to have been the case for Vaclav Havel.   In my experience, this human attribute is rare.  And I have never seen or heard anyone else talk of it, until now.  In Judith Wright’s autobiography, she speaks (page 234) of her partner and later husband Jack McKinney meeting her father:

That my father was grieved by my relationship with Jack is undeniable but, once they met, he gave in to Jack’s obvious honesty of intention and the needs of my own that Jack was filling. . . . “

Judith Wright [1999]: Half a Lifetime.  Edited by Patricia Clarke. Melbourne, Australia: Text Publishing.
The photo shows Judith Wright McKinney, Jack McKinney (inset) and their daughter Meredith McKinney.

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.
  • David Wootton [2015]: The Invention of Science:  A New History of the Scientific Revolution. UK:  Penguin.
  • Joseph Wechsberg [1969]:  The Voices. USA:  Doubleday.
  • Karl Marton [2016]:  True Believer:  Stalin’s Last American Spy. Simon & Schuster.
  • David Coltart [2016]: The Struggle Continues. Zimbabwe: Jacana Media.
  • Yudhijit Bhattacharjee [2016]:  The Spy who couldn’t Spell:  A Dyslexic Traitor, an Unbreakable Code, and the FBI’s Hunt for America’s Stolen Secrets. USA:  Berkley.
  • Barrie Cassidy [2016]:  The Party Thieves: The Real Story of the 2010 Election.  Australia:  Melbourne University Publishing.
  • Martin Pearce [2016]:  Spymaster:  The Life of Britain’s Most Decorated Cold War Spy and Head of MI6, Sir Maurice Oldfield. Transworld Digital.
  • Andrew P Street [2016]:  The Curious Story of Malcolm Turnbull, the Incredible Shrinking Man in the Top Hat. Australia: Allen & Unwin.
  • Graham Freudenberg [1977]:  A Certain Grandeur:  Gough Whitlam’s Life in Politics.  Australia:Macmillan.
  • Tom Bower [1995]:  The Perfect English Spy:  Sir Dick White and the Secret War, 1935-90. UK: William Heinemann.
  • David Bohm [2013]:  On Dialogue. UK: Routledge
  • Ben Kiernan [1986]:  Burchett: Reporting the Other Side of the World. UK:  Quartet Books.
  • Wilfred Burchett [1969]:  Passport: An Autobiography.  Australia:  Thomas Nelson.
  • Robert Harris [2016]:  Conclave.  Cornerstone Digital.
  • C. A. E. Moberly [1911]:  Dulce Domun. George Moberly, His Family and Friends.  UK: John Murray.
  • Lucille Iremonger [1957]:  The Ghosts of Versailles:  Miss Moberly and Miss Jourdain and their Adventure.  UK:  Faber & Faber.
  • Christopher Hollis [1958]: Along the Road to Frome. UK:  George G. Harrap.
  • Ed Balls [2016]:  Speaking Out: Lessons in Life and Politics. Cornerstone Digital.
  • Thomas Rid [2016]:  Rise of the Machines: The Lost History of Cybernetics.  UK: Scribe.
  • Joshua Rubenstein [2016]:  The Last Days of Stalin. USA:  Yale University Press.
  • Randolph Vigne [1997]:  Liberals and Apartheid: A History of the Liberal Party of South Africa, 1953-68. UK:  Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Frank Dikotter [2016]: The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History, 1862-1976.  UK:  Bloomsbury Publishing.
  • Lafcadio Hearn [1904]:  Japan: An Attempt at Interpretation.  NY, USA: Macmillan.
  • C. B. George [2015]:  The Death of Rex Nhongo. Riverrun.
  • Hannes Wessels [2010]:  PK van der Byl:  African Statesman. South Africa: 30 Degrees South Publishers.
  • Alexander Nehamas [2016]:  On Friendship. USA:  Basic Books.
  • Larry Tye [016]:  Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon.  USA:  Random House.
  • Charles Cumming [2016]: A Divided Spy. USA:  HarperCollins.
  • Joseph Mazur [2016]:  Fluke.  Oneworld Publications.

Caning John Pilger

Wilfred Burchett (1911-1983) was a brave and intrepid Australian journalist who mainly reported from the other side in the Cold War. He was the first western reporter to visit Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was dropped on the city, something he did without permission from the US Occupation authorities, and was thus able to counter attempted US military lies and disinformation about what we now know was radiation poisoning; he did this most dramatically at a US military press conference in Japan immediately after his visit to the city.  For many years in the 1950s and 1960s, conservative Australian Governments unjustly refused to renew Burchett’s Australian passport, something only remedied by the incoming Labor administration of Gough Whitlam on 6 December 1972, four days after Labor’s election win. That Burchett may possibly have self-censored his writing for his Socialist Bloc hosts (or worse, been their dupe) does not diminish the wrong he suffered at the hands of petty conservative Australian governments.
Another Australian journo, John Pilger, wrote a preface to a collection on articles about Burchett, edited by Ben Kiernen in 1986. On the second page of his preface, Pilger quotes from Burchett’s autiobiography, and then commits a schoolboy howler. “Soon afterwards [Pilger writes, page x], Wilfred went ‘on the road with a swag’ and in Queensland was adopted by a group of cane-cutters . . . ”
No, Mr Pilger, no! Although Burchett is careful not to name the location of the sugarcane farm he worked on, he says (page 62) it is on an arm of the Clarence River, upstream from a sugar-mill whose chimney effusions he could smell and possibly also see, on a large island bisected by a canal with horse-drawn barges transporting bundles of cut cane. The mill would be the one at Harwood (still in operation today, thanks to former state MP, Don Day), and the island most likely Palmers Island. Other large islands upstream of the Harwood Mill would be Harwood Island itself or Chatsworth Island, but these are not bisected by canals.  But all of these, including the entire mouth of the Clarence River are in New South Wales, Mr Pilger, not Queensland.
Burchett is briefly mentioned as a social acquaintance of Guy Burgess in Moscow in the 1950s in the recent biography of Burgess by Andrew Lownie, reviewed here.
Wilfred Burchett [1969]: Passport: An Autobiography. Melbourne, Australia: Nelson.
Ben Kiernan (Editor) [1986]: Burchett Reporting the Other Side of the World 1939-1983. London, UK: Quartet.

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.

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. Was Pollock mis-remembering the year they met, or deliberately lying about meeting Douglas? In either case, the date of Douglas’s death is surely something Lownie could have checked, rather than repeating Pollock’s statement without critical commentary.
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?
Andrew Lownie [2015]: Stalin’s Englishman: The Lives of Guy Burgess. London, UK: Hodder & Stoughton.

Recent Reading 11

The latest in a sequence of lists of recently-read books.
Francis King [1970]:  A Domestic Animal. Faber Finds, 2014.  A well-written account of unrequited love that becomes an obsession.  Both the plot and the dialogue are, at times, unbelievable, although the obsession and the emotions it provokes in holder and object are very credible.
Continue reading ‘Recent Reading 11’