March 01, 2014

Spies and Memoirs



By Giles Milton (Bloomsbury, $28, May)

It is well known that the Bolsheviks prevailed in their 1917 coup and subsequent Civil War despite being seriously outnumbered, outgunned, and hopelessly surrounded by enemies. What is perhaps less known is that not all the Bolsheviks’ conspiracy theories about “Western imperialist plots” were fabrications.

In fact, thanks to the recent opening of some British national archives, which this book mines to great effect, we are now privy to a slew of counterintelligence operations in Bolshevik Russia by a colorful cast of British operatives. The characters range from the charismatic Sidney Reilly (who came very close to effecting a coup d’état in 1918, but for the loose lips of a French journalist), to the chameleonic Paul Dukes and George Hill, to the notorious Robert Lockhart, Arthur Ransome, W. Somerset Maugham and Frederick Bailey. Some of their stories have been told elsewhere, but this is the first time they have been brought together into a single, interwoven narrative, and it makes for very compelling reading.


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