Fans of Alan Furst and similar authors will find this true-espionage story fascinating.

AN IMPECCABLE SPY

RICHARD SORGE, STALIN’S MASTER AGENT

The life of a master secret agent who, unique among modern spies, infiltrated the highest echelons of both the German and Japanese governments during World War II.

Journalist and historian Matthews (Stalin’s Children: Three Generations of Love, War, and Survival, 2008) might be suspected of irony with his title, taken from an observation by the traitor Kim Philby, for though John le Carré considered Richard Sorge (1895-1944) “the spy to end spies,” he was sometimes dangerously undisciplined. He praised Stalin in a room full of Nazis, got drunk in a Tokyo bar and called Hitler “a fucking criminal,” and, while working in the German Embassy in Japan, loudly predicted that Germany would lose World War II. Born in the frontier town of Baku but raised in Germany, he served in the trenches on the Eastern Front, where he was converted to communism. Good with languages and charismatic, he became a spy for the Soviet Union, working in China and then Japan. His reports to his Soviet spymasters were not always believed, though they were accurate and full of dire warning. The spy ring that he put together in Tokyo had access to the highest levels of both Japanese and German intelligence. One key question centered on whether Japan would join with Germany to attack the Soviet Union; Japan concentrated its efforts on controlling Southeast Asia instead, as Sorge predicted, which allowed Stalin to free up thousands of tanks and planes and many divisions of troops to fight against the Germans. Eventually, Sorge slipped up and was imprisoned and executed. Matthews dismisses the long-held conspiracy theory that Sorge and the Soviets knew of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor before it happened. As he writes, although the Soviets benefited greatly from the work of Sorge, whom he calls “brave, brilliant, and relentless,” Sorge was in danger of being forgotten in the post-Stalin era until he was “rehabilitated” under Khrushchev and elevated to the “official pantheon of Soviet saints."

Fans of Alan Furst and similar authors will find this true-espionage story fascinating.

Pub Date: Dec. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4088-5778-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

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No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.

FRONT ROW AT THE TRUMP SHOW

The chief White House and Washington correspondent for ABC provides a ringside seat to a disaster-ridden Oval Office.

It is Karl to whom we owe the current popularity of a learned Latin term. Questioning chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, he followed up a perhaps inadvertently honest response on the matter of Ukrainian intervention in the electoral campaign by saying, “What you just described is a quid pro quo.” Mulvaney’s reply: “Get over it.” Karl, who has been covering Trump for decades and knows which buttons to push and which to avoid, is not inclined to get over it: He rightly points out that a reporter today “faces a president who seems to have no appreciation or understanding of the First Amendment and the role of a free press in American democracy.” Yet even against a bellicose, untruthful leader, he adds, the press “is not the opposition party.” The author, who keeps his eye on the subject and not in the mirror, writes of Trump’s ability to stage situations, as when he once called Trump out, at an event, for misrepresenting poll results and Trump waited until the camera was off before exploding, “Fucking nasty guy!”—then finished up the interview as if nothing had happened. Trump and his inner circle are also, by Karl’s account, masters of timing, matching negative news such as the revelation that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election with distractions away from Trump—in this case, by pushing hard on the WikiLeaks emails from the Democratic campaign, news of which arrived at the same time. That isn’t to say that they manage people or the nation well; one of the more damning stories in a book full of them concerns former Homeland Security head Kirstjen Nielsen, cut off at the knees even while trying to do Trump’s bidding.

No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4562-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

SO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT RACE

Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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