Even though there is little derring-do, this is a delightful account of World War II espionage.

AGENT JACK

THE TRUE STORY OF MI5'S SECRET NAZI HUNTER

Though British Nazi sympathizers never posed a major threat, MI5 took them seriously. This account of its energetic battle makes entertaining reading.

Capably bringing to light a forgotten World War II story, British political correspondent Hutton (Would They Lie to You?: How To Spin Friends and Manipulate People, 2015) begins in the 1920s with his major character, Eric Roberts, a bored bank clerk who had joined a tiny fascist group (Mussolini had many admirers during his early years). While there, he was recruited as a spy by an oddball anti-Bolshevik organization run by a wealthy businessman. Roberts turned out to have a talent for undercover work, and MI5, Britain’s minuscule internal security agency, was happy for assistance from this private intelligence service. Roberts continued to clerk, devoting free time to unpaid spying, at first on communists but then against British Nazi sympathizers. In 1940, finally flush with money, MI5 hired him full-time. A different MI5 department handled German spies; Roberts’ superiors concentrated on their British supporters, which, to their surprise, were not scarce. Even during the war’s darkest days and with prewar fascists behind bars, a scattering of Britons hoped for a Nazi victory. Their efforts revealed a mostly comic-opera incompetence, but MI5 took no chances, setting up a fake fifth-column organization with Roberts (“Agent Jack”) posing as its Nazi agent/leader. A trickle of volunteers signed up and recruited friends. Most varied from useless to wacky, but a number “were capable of inflicting serious harm on the British war effort. Had Roberts not posed as their Gestapo spymaster, they might have approached Germany directly themselves.” Few were arrested, because a trial would have blown Roberts’ cover. After an undistinguished postwar decade, Roberts retired into obscurity. Many MI5 records from WWII were destroyed, and others remain classified. While there are no firsthand participants alive to give evidence, Hutton has done an impressive job assembling transcripts, letters, interviews, and declassified documents into a delicious spy story.

Even though there is little derring-do, this is a delightful account of World War II espionage.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-22176-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Sept. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2019

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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

NIGHT

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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