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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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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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