An often engrossing, well-written tale from the waning days of Cold War espionage.



Double-agent spies navigate geopolitical tumult from the 1960s to the 1980s.

In a vivid, sprawling tale, Economist correspondent Cunningham focuses on the conflicted loyalties of a disaffected, intellectual Czech couple whose misadventures reflect the institutional decline of espionage as the Cold War wound down. The charismatic Karel Koecher (b. 1934) typified an Eastern Bloc lost generation, pursuing his education even as the Soviets tightened control over Czechoslovakia and daily life became “a grotesque amalgamation of rigidity and absurdity.” Following bouts of youthful intransigence, Koecher positioned himself to be recruited by state security, the StB. “In those days and during the decades to come,” writes the author, “the Czechoslovak state had no recognizable moral center. Everything was contingent. Nothing was clear.” In 1965, Koecher and his wife, Hana, moved to the U.S. under academic cover, leveraging contacts like a Columbia University professor who may have been working for the Defense Intelligence Agency. The young spies made progress in America, yet the global tumult of 1968, including the invasion of Czechoslovakia by other Warsaw Pact nations, increased pressure on them. “The StB did not trust Karel, and he did not trust them,” writes Cunningham. As Hana proved adept in the diamond trade, Karel was recruited by the CIA to translate wiretaps from Soviet embassies and diplomats’ homes, looking for more potential assets to flip. Even the KGB was impressed that Karel, “with no diplomatic cover, penetrated the American government, and found a secure spot within the CIA itself.” Yet he was denounced by a rival who “accused Karel of working for the CIA against the Communist Bloc.” Later, the couple was reactivated, as the Soviets “hoped to belatedly catch up to the changes in American politics,” only to be apprehended by the FBI in 1984, charged with espionage, and traded for the dissident Natan Sharansky. Though the narrative pace occasionally lags, Cunningham delivers a capable spy story.

An often engrossing, well-written tale from the waning days of Cold War espionage.

Pub Date: Aug. 23, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5417-0079-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: May 25, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2022

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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 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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A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

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The Harvard historian and Texas native demonstrates what the holiday means to her and to the rest of the nation.

Initially celebrated primarily by Black Texans, Juneteenth refers to June 19, 1865, when a Union general arrived in Galveston to proclaim the end of slavery with the defeat of the Confederacy. If only history were that simple. In her latest, Gordon-Reed, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and numerous other honors, describes how Whites raged and committed violence against celebratory Blacks as racism in Texas and across the country continued to spread through segregation, Jim Crow laws, and separate-but-equal rationalizations. As Gordon-Reed amply shows in this smooth combination of memoir, essay, and history, such racism is by no means a thing of the past, even as Juneteenth has come to be celebrated by all of Texas and throughout the U.S. The Galveston announcement, notes the author, came well after the Emancipation Proclamation but before the ratification of the 13th Amendment. Though Gordon-Reed writes fondly of her native state, especially the strong familial ties and sense of community, she acknowledges her challenges as a woman of color in a state where “the image of Texas has a gender and a race: “Texas is a White man.” The author astutely explores “what that means for everyone who lives in Texas and is not a White man.” With all of its diversity and geographic expanse, Texas also has a singular history—as part of Mexico, as its own republic from 1836 to 1846, and as a place that “has connections to people of African descent that go back centuries.” All of this provides context for the uniqueness of this historical moment, which Gordon-Reed explores with her characteristic rigor and insight.

A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63149-883-1

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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