In this collection of 50 documents, Thomas B. Allen briefly details the secrets of spies and behind-the-scenes (often behind enemy lines) that provided pivotal turning points in history, American and otherwise. Many of the documents focused on the Cold War, naturally, and while I felt this volume was too short to give a full history of the circumstances surrounding these documents, it certainly sparked an interest to research further.
Many of the early documents mentioned originated in Elizabethan England and the Revolutionary War. It’s fascinating to recognize how many spies, double agents, and moles tried to double cross Queen Elizabeth I, the singularly most powerful monarch in sixteenth century Europe. Her quests for international expansion and her indomitable military branches, particularly the British Navy, were nearly thwarted by men who attempted to double-cross her. Silly boys, you should have known that you can’t defeat a queen.
Much of the other histories focused on the Cold War, naturally, as this period is considered the height of espionage. However what I found most interesting was not the interaction between the United States and the Soviet Union, but rather the interactions between the Soviet Union and China. Though the U.S. had a strong hand in driving North Korea and South Korea apart, China played a significant role as well. This was one instance that I’d like to look further into, so I might be picking up some histories on Chinese-Soviet relations soon.
My favorite declassified document? The kidnapping plot of Abraham Lincoln (or April Ham Lincon, for whom I am naming my first child). Unbeknownst to me and despite all my research on the Lincoln assassination, turns out the plot to kill the president was initially a kidnapping plot. The others involved dropped out, leaving John Wilkes Booth alone. One man can’t kidnap the president, especially a six-foot five lumberjack of a president, so Booth decided he would shoot him instead. Absolutely fascinating stuff.
Allen’s book piques the interest of readers without bogging them down with unnecessary details. While I wish the book had been just a bit longer, I’d highly recommend it if you’re looking for a starting point on international espionage.