A thrilling, well-researched tale of espionage that has all the spycraft hallmarks of a blockbuster movie.




The story of Ukrainian Bogdan Stashinsky’s rise from an agricultural student to a KGB assassin who defected to the West in 1961.

Stashinsky’s career as a member of the Soviet secret police did not have an auspicious beginning. As an aspiring university student during the postwar Soviet occupation of Ukraine, he had family ties to the nationalist underground and was sympathetic to anti-Soviet groups. Local Soviet officials knew this well and blackmailed Stashinsky by giving him an ultimatum: betray his loyalties or watch the Soviets persistently harass and potentially assassinate his family members. He chose to collaborate with his occupiers. However, Stashinsky was quickly outed and shunned by his family; with nowhere else to turn, he accepted an offer to join the MGB, a precursor to the KGB. So began his rise as a professional assassin. With gusto and verve, Plokhy (Ukrainian History/Harvard Univ.; The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine, 2015, etc.) details Stashinsky’s intelligence work in East Germany, where he eventually received assignments to assassinate dissident journalist Lev Rebet and Stepan Bandera, leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. To complete the deed, he was given a novel device that shot untraceable poison directly into the face of his victims. However, Stashinsky was a reluctant assassin and was eager for reassignment to the West. Upon being recalled to Moscow with his wife—and much KGB meddling with their personal affairs—he decided to make a daring escape and defect to West Germany. Ironically, Stashinsky had to prove that he had killed Rebet and Bandera in order to save himself, though that was easier said than done. More than just the story of Stashinsky’s involvement with the KGB, the book wonderfully details the entire intelligence milieu of postwar Germany, Russia, and much of Eastern Europe, including the paranoid atmosphere created by the legions of secret police that had taken hold throughout the region.

A thrilling, well-researched tale of espionage that has all the spycraft hallmarks of a blockbuster movie.

Pub Date: Dec. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-465-03590-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

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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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.


An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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