Gripping tale of a 1920s American radical who ultimately paid a terrible price for his idealism.



Time magazine’s former Moscow correspondent profiles an American who traveled the world gathering intelligence for the Soviet Union, until he was swept up in Stalin’s purges.

Meier (Black Earth: a Journey Through Russia After the Fall, 2003, etc.) unravels an amazing story. The son of a prosperous Russian immigrant, Cy Oggins entered Columbia University in 1917. A brilliant scholar, he was swept up in student opposition to World War I and shared his left-wing peers’ fascination with Russia’s communist revolution. Thanks to J. Edgar Hoover’s obsession with subversion, undercover FBI surveillance, wiretaps and mail intercepts preserve a detailed account of American communism’s turbulent birth, in which Oggins and his wife Nerma played a modest role. Meier reminds us that Lenin’s USSR was equally obsessed with subversion, quickly organizing an elaborate, worldwide system of spies, moles, couriers and assassins. Recruited to this network in 1926, Oggins never spied against the United States. Soviet intelligence assigned him the cover role of a prosperous American scholar studying abroad; his residence served as a safe house for its spies. Oggins later traveled to China and Manchuria to work on various espionage schemes. But faithful service did not save him from Stalin’s paranoia about anyone who had contact with foreigners, which devastated the Soviet intelligence service in the late ’30s. Thousands of loyal agents were summoned to Moscow and executed or dispatched to the Gulag. Arrested in 1939 and sent to an arctic slave-labor camp, Oggins had a damaged leg that saved him from the most grueling jobs; he survived until 1947. Meier tells the painful story of his final years and Nerma’s desperate efforts to secure his release.

Gripping tale of a 1920s American radical who ultimately paid a terrible price for his idealism.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-393-06097-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2008

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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