A lively biography of an opportunist, traitor, and patriot.



A Hollywood mover and shaker takes center stage in a brisk tale of spies and counterspies.

Russian-born Boris Morros (1891-1963) arrived in the U.S. in 1922, determined to hone his musical background into a career in his adopted home. By the 1930s, despite the exigencies of the Great Depression, he rose to become the musical director of Paramount Studios, socializing with movie moguls—most of whom, like him, were Jewish émigrés—and Hollywood royalty. Gill (American History and Culture; Univ. of Amsterdam; Harlem: The Four Hundred Year History From Dutch Village to Capital of Black America, 2011) creates a well-rounded portrait of a man who was an unlikely spy and, later, an FBI counterspy. Morros, writes the author, “was ideologically uncommitted, constitutionally discreet, addicted to fame and money, and oblivious to the distinction between truth and fiction,” traits that enabled him to survive purges, betrayals, and precarious Soviet politics. In midcentury, Gill discovered, the U.S. was “thoroughly penetrated by foreign spies.” Although America had a handful of agents in the Soviet Union, Soviet spies “infiltrated virtually every federal agency,” including the White House; in addition, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow “contained 120 hidden Soviet microphones.” Morros was tasked with providing cover jobs for Soviet agents, in Hollywood or with business associates elsewhere. Although he later portrayed himself as a frightened victim, in fact he bargained with his handlers to seek protection for family members still in the Soviet Union. Finally, when he realized that many relatives had been killed by the secret police, Morros resolved to get revenge. In July 1947, he called the FBI. During a week of questioning, he revealed his life story to the agency that had been on his trail since the mid-1930s. Hoping to avoid execution as a traitor, Morros found, to his relief, that the agency instead invited him to switch sides. “When do I start?” he answered. In a narrative that reads like an espionage thriller, Gill follows his subject’s peripatetic travels and interactions with malevolent, powerful—and sometimes bumbling—characters.

A lively biography of an opportunist, traitor, and patriot.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4197-4009-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Abrams

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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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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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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