I Need Your Advice, Please

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I Need Your Advice, Please

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juny 20, 2007, 1:34pm

I am a university English teacher, and I thought the subject of spies would make a great topic for my freshman seminar. The course replaces conventional Freshman Comp, but students will be researching and writing about their topic all semester. What got me interested in this was a documentary I just saw, made by the Rosenbergs' granddaughter: Heir to an Execution. I also just rented Breach, a film about Robert Hanssen. I will probably show both of these films in class (and maybe a third one), but I'm a bit stuck on readings for the course, as I am not regularly a reader of spy books.

So--I'm asking for your suggestions of nonfiction books or novels about spies that would appeal to the average 18 year-old. I think they might prefer something set in relatively recent times, and I'd like to stick with American spies; but along with the documentary, a good book on the Rosenbergs might also be good. One thought I had is to consider the U.S. government's paranoia about spies, but the closest I can come in my own reading is When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka and Harbor by Lorraine Adams. Can anyone help with suggestions?

Thanks in advance.

juny 26, 2007, 2:13am

My interest in spy fiction is mostly those set in the Cold War, so I'm afraid I can't really offer much help with something more contemporary.

If you do end up hitting the Cold War, I'd recommend Charles McCarry's The Miernik Dossier. While I still love John Le Carre better, McCarry's debut novel should be an "easy" (but not dumbed-down) read for your students, written as it is in a rather interesting epistolary structure.

Also, while you were looking for book suggestions, I'd like to recommend the British show Spooks. You may or may not decide to show it to your students (though I think they'll love it), but I always grab the opportunity to recommend that series to anyone!

juny 26, 2007, 4:59am

A very controversial book (I've not read it) Spy catcher is possibly worth looking at - should give plenty of opportunities for discussion at any rate - or The spy catcher trial which is about the controversy.

Le Carre is always the author, but they are UK based, coldwar time, or the later novels not really spy related.

juny 29, 2007, 9:00am

How about "Flawed patriot, the rise and fall of CIA legend Bill Harvey"? Or for a more contemporary take, and an alternate type of espionage, Ghost plane

Editat: juny 30, 2007, 1:21am

Cariola - I would recommend three

Body of Secrets by James Bamford - More Digital Spying than human spying - it's an look at the National Security Agency in the last 50 years. I found it to be a quick read - and quite creepy.

Bureau and the Mole by David Vise - I saw you mentioned Breach - well Bureau and the Mole is the best book I found on the Robert Hanssen case.

Spy Handler by Victor Cherkashin - Pretty recent book from Cherkashin - who was the KGB agent who recruited Ames & Hanssen - and it's a pretty fascinating look from the other side of the espionage lens.

Hope that helps

juny 30, 2007, 4:50am

And check out this link as well, Cariola!

jul. 4, 2007, 11:52am

Thank you, everyone. Great suggestions!

jul. 4, 2007, 7:10pm

I just listened to a podcast discussion of the movie Breach by former FBI agent David Major, who knew Robert Hanssen well. You can listen to the podcast at:


A non-fiction book currently a hot topic in the Washington intelligence community is Spy Wars by Tennent H. (Pete) Bagley. The subject is the defection of KGB officer Yuri Nosenko and whether he was a bona fide defector. Bagley believes he was/is not. It is a fascinating behind the scenes look at one of the most controversial events in counterintelligence history.

There are some excellent books on the Rosenbergs. The one I found most illuminating was The Rosenberg File by Michael Radosh and Joyce Milton.

Wilderness of Mirrors by David Martin recounts the controversy surrounding CIA counterintelligence chief James Angleton and is considered a classic.

I have read Spycatcher. It comes from the same camp as Spy Wars and should be approached with caution.

ag. 8, 2007, 3:25pm

You may want to try Great True Spy Stories: 39 True Accounts from Greek Antiquity to the Cold War by Allen Dulles. It's got enough variety from different eras that they're sure to find one story that's appealing.

abr. 27, 2008, 12:42am

I highly recommend Operation Solo by John Barron. It tells the story of two little-known but very important Americans who spied against CPUSA, the USSR, China and Cuba during some well-known events during the Cold War. A fascinating read, all true (I worked with some of the people discussed in the book), and it gives a behind-the-scenes look at our history. It's also not as dense with detail as many other good espionage books, and is likely to hold young readers' interest to the end.

If you're reading about the Rosenbergs, you will definitely want to look at The Sword and the Shield by Vasili Mitrokhin and Christopher Andrew. Col. Mitrokhin was a KGB archivist who, angered at what the KGB had done to his beloved Russia, struck back by copying onto fragments of paper details from the KGB's most secret files as he was preparing those files for transfer from the KGB's former headquarters at the Lubyanka in Moscow to their new suburban HQ at Yasenovo (sp?). Those fragments, smuggled out of KGB HQ over many years and eventually given to the West, were reconstituted by Col. Mitrokhin before his death and form the core of this long, dense and fascinating book. Included are bits about the Rosenbergs, who appear to have been quite guilty indeed. The book was published in the UK as The Mitrokhin Archive.