Category Archives: Coldwar

Review of ” Stealing the Future: An East German Spy Thriller (East Berlin Series Book 1)” by Max Hertzberg

A fascinating alternative history of the two Germanys as well as a gripping thriller.

Max Hertzberg has come up with a fascinating alternative history of 1989 and after for Germany. It’s 1993, the Wall is open, however East Germany hasn’t been subsumed into West Germany. It has decided to stay independent and run the country via a grassroots participatory democracy, resulting in decentralising most decision making to neighbourhood committees in which everyone participates. However, all is not well in the new GDR as dark forces are trying to destabilise it.

The story revolves around Martin Grobe, a former dissident and now part of the Republicschutz, a post 9th Nov 1989 counter-espionage service which has responsibility for monitoring attempts to undermine the new East Germany. He is investigating the murder of prominent politician at a mine in West Silesia, a region looking to join West Germany.

The author certainly knows Berlin and East Germany well and captures the period in great detail even down to way the 1980s era S-Bahn train doors operate. However, what brings the story alive are the characters struggling to keep alive their dream of freedom, justice and equality in the face of corruption, West German pressure for unification and the dark forces that enforced the old regime.

Whilst some may see this book as some sort of left wing fairy tale I found the book stimulating and vastly different from standard spy thriller fare with its parallel exploration of political self-determination and de-centralisation of power.

Further books in the series are planned and I for one will be keen to follow how Grobe and the “new” East Germany fares further into the 1990s.

This book is currently free (as of Jan 2016) on Smashreads, link here…

I received this book for free from the author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


Review of Stalin’s Englishman: The Lives of Guy Burgess by Andrew Lownie

Intriguing, chilling, and colourful insight into the most famous Cold War espionage case.

Guy Burgess has often been thought as the least damaging of the Cambridge spies, however Andrew Lownie’s book argues strongly against this view.

Burgess himself is a complex person, charming and repulsive in equal measure, he was the consummate networker. Despite being drunk and openly gay at work when such activity was illegal the fact he wasn’t fired or found out earlier is astounding.

Lownie details Burgess’s formative years which goes some way to explain his decision to spy for the Soviets. The book is accessible, enjoyable and informative, however I did find some aspects difficult to follow, particularly keeping track of the seemingly endless list of Burgess’s lovers.

I recommend watching this excerpt of a rare TV interview with him when he was in Moscow which is mentioned in the book.…

I find the Cambridge 5 case fascinating in that the “old boy network” of MI6 just couldn’t comprehend that that one of their own (i.e of their class & upbringing) would spy for another country, which led them being able to continue for so long.

A fascinating read for anyone interested in espionage, the cold war and political motivation.

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review of Exposure by Helen Dunmore

Another great novel from Helen Dunmore.

Exposure is set at the heart of the Cold War in November, 1960. Simon and Lily Carrington live in North London. Simon works at the Admiralty, keeps his head down and has a relatively ordinary life. However, this is turned upside down when he is accused of espionage.

As with any Dunmore novel this is more about the people than the action and personal secrets are revealed as Lily and Simon’s life descends into a nightmare.

There’s some great characterisation here especially around Lily who emigrated to Britain as a Jewish refugee just before the start of World War 2. In addition the sinister and menacing pair of Giles Holloway and Julian Clowdes add a gripping layer of psychological drama to the whole proceedings.

The Giles Holloway character appears loosely based on Guy Burgess, one of the Cambridge 5 and Julian Clowdes has echoes of Kim Philby too.

An excellent gripping novel with great attention to period detail too.

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review of ” Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator” by Oleg V. Khlevniuk, Nora Seligman Favorov (Translation)

An excellent scholarly yet easy to read Stalin biography.

Oleg V. Khlevniuk has dug deep into the Russian archives to create this relatively concise by most biographical standards yet authoritative account of Stalin’s life.

Whilst I was familiar with Stalin’s wartime role I was less familiar with his rise and the circumstances of his death. The author cleverly uses the dictators last days to bind a wide ranging account to a common point of reference and uses the circumstances of his death to effectively show how he became so dominant.

Several standard Stalin histories are questioned and undermined by the lack of firm evidence that Khlevniuk has found in the archives as well as questioning the reliability of some of eyewitness accounts those histories have been based on.

An excellent easy to read biography of the man who by most accounts killed more people than Hitler.

Review of ” The Incidental Spy” by Libby Fischer Hellmann

A fascinating fast paced historical thriller.

Set in the 1940s this short story (180 pages) portrays a strong woman beset by tragedy and circumstance and forced to spy on the atom bomb research project that she works for.

The lead character of Lena shines throughout and Libby FIscher Hellman appears has done her research well capturing the paranoia and claustrophobia of the period.

I really enjoyed this and will be looking out for further of this author’s books.

Review of ” Aftermath – The Makers of the Post-War World” by Richard M Crowder

A scholarly but accessible history of the diplomatic conflicts that began when the guns fell silent in 1945

Often books on diplomatic history can seem quite dry but this one moves along at quite a pace and at less than 400 pages not too lengthy either.

Crowder writes in an easy to read style and adds depth and personality to the characters involved. There’s some excellent pen portraits of some the great leaders of the period such as Ernest Bevin, Truman and Stalin. ( I never knew that Stalin was prone to doodling wolf’s heads during his conferences!)

The book covers the immediate post war period including the formation of the United Nations, NATO, the IMF and the Marshall Plan and is certainly a good primer for anyone studying that period.

Published on the 70th anniversary of the events it highlights how those events of 70 years ago still shape and influence so much of the world we live in today.

Review of ” Strangers on a Bridge” by James B. Donovan

An interesting 1960s account of the Rudolf Abel spy case and subsequent exchange.

Rudolf Abel was a KGB agent who lived undercover in New York between 1948 and 1957. This account is written by the lawyer who defended and does suffer from the fact it was written in the 1960s and the security concerns of the time prevent it from being a full account.

That being said it provides great insight into the tradecraft used by Abel and his associates as well as the resulting court case, negotiations over an exchange with the shot down U2 pilot Gary Powers, and the actual exchange itself. I found the most interesting part of the book when the author has to travel to Berlin and gives an eyewitness account of a divided city at the height of Cold War tensions.

If you are interested in Cold War espionage then this is must read. I enjoyed the book and am looking forward to the new Tom Hanks film based on this account.

Link to movie trailer here:×3…