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PRISONERS, LOVERS & SPIES

THE STORY OF INVISIBLE INK FROM HERODOTUS TO AL-QAEDA

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From parlor trick to weapon of war, invisible ink and other means of hidden writing emerge as one of mankind’s more intriguing inventions in this lively history.Georgia Tech history professor Macrakis (Seduced by Secrets, 2008) surveys 2,000 years of secret messages penned with an improbable variety of substances and methods: lemon juice, various bodily fluids and other liquids that dry invisibly on the page but turn brown when exposed to heat. Gall-nut extract, for instance, a traditional ink used by George Washington’s agents, turns black when brushed with iron sulfate, and cobalt solutions painted on fire screens blossom into brilliant green foliage when warmed. Some modern inks require four different chemical treatments to develop; an invisible ink invented by Linus Pauling shows up only when treated with a specific antibody. Aside from chemical compounds, microdots can cram pages of documents into a tiny spot the size of the period at the end of this sentence, and digital encoding techniques allow messages to be inserted into Internet porn. Macrakis offers lucid explanations of the chemistry and optics underlying the seemingly magical properties of invisible inks, and she even appends recipes that guide readers in making some of the simpler varieties. The heart of her book, though, is the cat-and-mouse game between spies who conceal their reports in plain sight and counterintelligence officials trying to intercept and detect them, a saga she follows from the subterfuges of Mary Queen of Scots to dueling Cold War intelligence agencies. Her chronicle luxuriates in colorful characters—Jesuits plotting to escape from the Tower of London, James Bond–ian playboy-spies and Mata Hari–like femmes fatales—and intricate cloak-and-dagger featuring inks secreted in fake molars and infused into garments. It’s also a story of government surveillance at a level that would make Edward Snowden cringe: During the world wars, Britain and the U.S. opened millions of letters and tested them for invisible messages. Macrakis unearths a wealth of information, including secret documents she mined from East Germany’s Stasi archives, weaving it together with engaging prose that illuminates a seldom-seen aspect of espionage.An engrossing study of unseen writing and the picaresque misadventures of those who employ it.

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Pub Date: March 25, 2014

ISBN: 978-0300179255

Page Count: 392

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2014

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KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON

THE OSAGE MURDERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE FBI

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

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Greed, depravity, and serial murder in 1920s Oklahoma.

During that time, enrolled members of the Osage Indian nation were among the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The rich oil fields beneath their reservation brought millions of dollars into the tribe annually, distributed to tribal members holding "headrights" that could not be bought or sold but only inherited. This vast wealth attracted the attention of unscrupulous whites who found ways to divert it to themselves by marrying Osage women or by having Osage declared legally incompetent so the whites could fleece them through the administration of their estates. For some, however, these deceptive tactics were not enough, and a plague of violent death—by shooting, poison, orchestrated automobile accident, and bombing—began to decimate the Osage in what they came to call the "Reign of Terror." Corrupt and incompetent law enforcement and judicial systems ensured that the perpetrators were never found or punished until the young J. Edgar Hoover saw cracking these cases as a means of burnishing the reputation of the newly professionalized FBI. Bestselling New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, 2010, etc.) follows Special Agent Tom White and his assistants as they track the killers of one extended Osage family through a closed local culture of greed, bigotry, and lies in pursuit of protection for the survivors and justice for the dead. But he doesn't stop there; relying almost entirely on primary and unpublished sources, the author goes on to expose a web of conspiracy and corruption that extended far wider than even the FBI ever suspected. This page-turner surges forward with the pacing of a true-crime thriller, elevated by Grann's crisp and evocative prose and enhanced by dozens of period photographs.

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-53424-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

NIGHT

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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