May 2018

Cold war secrets exposed

By Monte Reel
Review by

A story as well told as Monte Reel’s A Brotherhood of Spies is an irresistible call to binge-reading.

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BookPage Top Pick in Nonfiction, May 2018

The Cold War between the U.S. and Russia was at its iciest from the early 1950s until well into the 1960s. Neither side knew a great deal about the other’s military capabilities and even less about any grand designs for world supremacy. The information the two superpowers did possess came mostly from spies, diplomats, gossip and news reports. Although securing reliable intelligence was clearly in the Pentagon’s interest, its chief focus was on improving its weaponry. However, the nascent Central Intelligence Agency was interested in experimental aerial reconnaissance projects.

Into this jurisdictional minefield entered four inordinately talented civilians who took it upon themselves to build and test technology that might reveal what was actually happening in Russia: Edwin Land, the inventor of the first Polaroid camera and a genius in the field of optics; Kelly Johnson, an engineer who zeroed in on designing lightweight, high-flying aircraft that could photograph the Russian landscape while, ideally, evading radar detection; Richard Bissell, a Connecticut blue blood the CIA assigned to oversee and facilitate the hush-hush project; and Francis Gary Powers, one of the daredevil pilots selected to test the new spy plane, which they called the U-2. Powers would later be shot down over the Soviet Union in the U-2, sparking even more saber-rattling.

Among the more colorful characters traipsing through this wide-ranging narrative are the bulldoggish General Curtis LeMay, J. Edgar Hoover, the influential and socially well-connected columnists Joseph and Stewart Alsop, the surprisingly restrained and canny Nikita Khrushchev, John F. Kennedy and Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, who regarded Powers as a coward and traitor because he didn’t kill himself before being captured by the KGB.

A story as well told as Monte Reel’s A Brotherhood of Spies is an irresistible call to binge-reading.


This article was originally published in the May 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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A Brotherhood of Spies

A Brotherhood of Spies

By Monte Reel
ISBN 9780385540209

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