A well-written page-turner that demystifies the notoriously foggy “wilderness of mirrors.”



Authoritative history of Britain’s spy services by a veteran who has been writing about “the Great Game” for 50 years.

Thomas (Secrets and Lies: A History of CIA Mind Control and Germ Warfare, 2007, etc.) has a keen sense of historical context and a solid understanding of the renewed urgency of intelligence in the age of global terrorism. His basic argument is that the intelligence services of Britain and other democracies will benefit from greater transparency in their operations, which will reduce fears that the agencies will trample on civil liberties. MI5 (responsible for internal security) and MI6 (the foreign secret service) were founded simultaneously in August 1909, partly via the advocacy of Home Secretary Winston Churchill, in the face of perceived threats from German spies and Irish nationalism. By 1914, MI5 had created a file of 16,000 aliens, 11,000 of them German. By the time World War II began, MI5 and MI6 were clearly vital to Britain’s security. In 1940, Franklin Roosevelt sent William Donovan to receive guidance on founding the OSS (forerunner to the CIA), in exchange for secret wartime assistance. Thomas captures the agencies’ intriguing mixture of formal tradition—caricatured in Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels—and post-1960s flexibility, which included a long-overdue openness to women that culminated in Stella Rimington’s elevation to the directorship of MI5 in 1992, as well as use of new surveillance technologies first embraced by American intelligence organizations. Another strength of this book is its depiction of the complex interplay among MI5, MI6 and the intelligence services of foreign nations, primarily the United States, but also Russia, France, Saudi Arabia and many others. Numerous anecdotes portray these relationships as mixtures of mutual assistance and not-so-secret rivalries. In particular, the 1963 defection of pro-Soviet traitor Kim Philby caused decades of mutual mistrust with the CIA, which only ebbed with the close of the Cold War.

A well-written page-turner that demystifies the notoriously foggy “wilderness of mirrors.”

Pub Date: March 3, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-312-37998-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2009

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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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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