SHhhh. Read this book.

Written By: sherridaley - • •

The Spy and the Traitor: the Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War

I swear to God that I did not choose to read “The Spy and the Traitor” because of all the current news about possible Russian spying.  I’m simply a sheep to the New York Times Book Review Section, and I like books based on true stories.  For example, if you haven’t read “A Very English Scandal” or my review of it, please do.  I am going to see the movie as soon as I can, mostly because I like Hugh Grant. I’m shallow.

So I get “The Spy and the Traitor”, and it’s quite a long book with an introduction, a 12-page index, three pages of footnotes, and a bibliography. It is, frankly, intimidating, and it does not help that the characters and place names have way too many consonants and syllables. Almost all of them end with a Y, and there seems to be no way to remember who’s who and where’s anything, especially when there are dozens of people and places to keep track of. It helped that the main character’s name is Oleg.  That I could remember.

The very first paragraph coaxed me in, and in no time, I was hooked. So much I did not know about the KGB, Stalin, and Russian privilege.  So much I didn’t want to know about man’s propensity to betray his fellow man and the power of propaganda. But like the proverbial expression about how we have to slow down to look at an accident on the highway, I had to read this book.

It’s about patriotism, passion, and commitment – and it’s about fear and secrecy.  I was constantly amazed at the lives of the double agents, what they risked and why. Safe houses, alibis, aliases, code names, and acronyms.  How do they remember everything? Especially when they drink mind-staggering amounts of fine wine, brandy, vodka, and bourbon with madly expensive lunches and dinners.

I had to keep reminding myself that this was real.  It seemed so silly sometimes, the notes passed, the secret signs like holding a Safeway bag in front of a bakery or a piece of trash lodged near the base of a tree, the intricate escape plans which required a family of four to curl up in the trunk of a car. Like a bad gangster movie, except it’s real.

Macintyre really did his homework. That he could put together this much information impressed me more than the fact that he molded it into an exceptionally readable book.

Exceptionally readable.  Read it.


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