'It reads like fiction, but it is, astonishingly, history' The Times
In 1917, an eccentric band of British spies is smuggled into newly-Soviet Russia. Their goal? To defeat Lenin's plan to destroy British India and bring down the democracies of the West.
These extraordinary spies, led by Mansfield Cumming, proved brilliantly successful. They found a wholly new way to deal with enemies, one that relied on espionage and dirty tricks rather than warfare. They were the unsung founders of today's modern, highly professional secret services. They were also the inspiration for fictional heroes to follow, from James Bond to Jason Bourne.
In 1918, Lenin announced that the Bolshevik victory in Russia heralded the beginning of worldwide revolution. so why did his claim fail to bear fruit? Prolific historian Milton (The Boy Who Went to War) credits British spies in this impressive account of skullduggery carried out by colorful figures amid the chaos of revolutionary Russia. Well before the revolution, British intelligence was operating in Petrograd, tasked with keeping the crumbling Russian army in the war against Germany. A British agent probably fired the fatal shot in the 1916 murder of Rasputin, the charismatic monk who exerted a baleful influence over the Czar's family and was widely accused of sabotaging the war effort. After the revolution, British spies successfully gathered information, engaged in sabotage, encouraged and financed the regime's opponents, and plotted an unsuccessful coup. Those who survived often wrote self-serving memoirs, and one who didn't inspired a BBC TV series: Reilly, Ace of Spies. While brilliant spycraft frustrated a Soviet-led invasion of India, Morton fails to make his case that it thwarted world revolution, but readers will not regret picking up this entertaining history of spectacular, often nasty derring-do by real-life secret agents. Maps, 8p. b&w insert.
Giles Milton is on top form here. A riveting narrative history of one of the great turning points in history. He has skilfully updated Hopkirk's classic central Asian masterpiece and put all the other parts of the espionage and empire jigsaw together to make for a compelling read. Top notch. Well done.