An intricate, mesmerizing portrayal of the KGB-CIA spy culture.

THE BILLION DOLLAR SPY

A TRUE STORY OF COLD WAR ESPIONAGE AND BETRAYAL

A thoroughly researched excavation of an astoundingly important (and sadly sacrificed) spy for the CIA during the low point of the 1970s.

The winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his previous book, The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy (2009), Washington Post contributing editor Hoffman has strong credentials to tell the unheralded story of Adolf Tolkachev (1927-1986), a radar engineer who offered invaluable information on the state of arms technology in the Soviet Union until he was snagged by the KGB in 1985 and executed soon after. The CIA was scrambling to make a connection in the Soviet Union after the loss of the extremely productive spy Oleg Penkovsky for clandestine acquisition of technology for the West in the 1960s, though the agency was hampered by the “long shadow” cast by ultraparanoid chief of Moscow counterintelligence James Angleton, who believed the KGB was employing a “vast ‘master plan’ of deception,” and thus he trusted no one. Once he left in 1975, a younger generation of more enterprising officers trained in Berlin and other Eastern Bloc cities—e.g., Burton Gerber, who advocated for rigorous sifting of genuine sources from phony ones. Consequently, when a Russian engineer at Moscow’s Scientific Research Institute for Radio Engineering repeatedly approached American diplomats with his declared access to the development of a “look-down, shoot-down” radar system, they finally paid attention. Given the code name CKSPHERE, Tolkachev was motivated to photograph reams of priceless documents out of deep resentment of the “impassable, hypocritical demagoguery” of the Soviet state. Inspired by the famous defector Viktor Belenko and dissident physicist Andrei Sakharov, Tolkachev also wanted money—the “six figures” that Belenko reportedly got, as well as rock albums for his teenage son, all of which would push him to take too many risks. Hoffman ably navigates the many strands of this complex espionage story.

An intricate, mesmerizing portrayal of the KGB-CIA spy culture.

Pub Date: July 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53760-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: March 28, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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