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The Spy Who Changed History: The Untold Story of How the Soviet Union Won the Race for America's Top Secrets

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On the trail of Soviet infiltrator Agent Bleriot, Svetlana Lokhova takes the reader on a thrilling journey through Stalin's most audacious intelligence operation. On a sunny September day in 1931, a Soviet spy walked down the gangplank of the luxury transatlantic liner SS Europa and into New York. Attracting no attention, Stanislav Shumovsky had completed his journey from On the trail of Soviet infiltrator Agent Bleriot, Svetlana Lokhova takes the reader on a thrilling journey through Stalin's most audacious intelligence operation. On a sunny September day in 1931, a Soviet spy walked down the gangplank of the luxury transatlantic liner SS Europa and into New York. Attracting no attention, Stanislav Shumovsky had completed his journey from Moscow to enrol at a top American university. He was concealed in a group of 65 Soviet students heading to prestigious academic institutions. But he was after far more than an excellent education. Recognising Russia was 100 years behind the encircling capitalist powers, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin had sent Shumovsky on a mission to acquire America's vital secrets to help close the USSR's yawning technology gap. The road to victory began in the classrooms and laboratories of MIT - Shumovsky's destination soon became the unwitting finishing school for elite Russian spies. The USSR first transformed itself into a military powerhouse able to confront and defeat Nazi Germany. Then in an extraordinary feat that astonished the West, in 1947 American ingenuity and innovation exfiltrated by Shumovsky made it possible to build and unveil the most advanced strategic bomber in the world. Following his lead, other MIT-trained Soviet spies helped acquire the secrets of the Manhattan Project. By 1949, Stalin's fleet of TU-4s, now equipped with atomic bombs could devastate the US on his command. Appropriately codenamed BLERIOT, Shumovsky was an aviation spy. Shumovsky's espionage was so successful that the USSR acquired every US aviation secret from his network of agents in factories and at top secret military research institutes. In this thrilling history, Svetlana Lokhova takes the reader on a journey through Stalin's most audacious intelligence operation. She pieces together every aspect of Shumovsky's life and character using information derived from American and Russian archives, exposing how even Shirley Temple and Franklin D. Roosevelt unwittingly advanced his schemes.


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On the trail of Soviet infiltrator Agent Bleriot, Svetlana Lokhova takes the reader on a thrilling journey through Stalin's most audacious intelligence operation. On a sunny September day in 1931, a Soviet spy walked down the gangplank of the luxury transatlantic liner SS Europa and into New York. Attracting no attention, Stanislav Shumovsky had completed his journey from On the trail of Soviet infiltrator Agent Bleriot, Svetlana Lokhova takes the reader on a thrilling journey through Stalin's most audacious intelligence operation. On a sunny September day in 1931, a Soviet spy walked down the gangplank of the luxury transatlantic liner SS Europa and into New York. Attracting no attention, Stanislav Shumovsky had completed his journey from Moscow to enrol at a top American university. He was concealed in a group of 65 Soviet students heading to prestigious academic institutions. But he was after far more than an excellent education. Recognising Russia was 100 years behind the encircling capitalist powers, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin had sent Shumovsky on a mission to acquire America's vital secrets to help close the USSR's yawning technology gap. The road to victory began in the classrooms and laboratories of MIT - Shumovsky's destination soon became the unwitting finishing school for elite Russian spies. The USSR first transformed itself into a military powerhouse able to confront and defeat Nazi Germany. Then in an extraordinary feat that astonished the West, in 1947 American ingenuity and innovation exfiltrated by Shumovsky made it possible to build and unveil the most advanced strategic bomber in the world. Following his lead, other MIT-trained Soviet spies helped acquire the secrets of the Manhattan Project. By 1949, Stalin's fleet of TU-4s, now equipped with atomic bombs could devastate the US on his command. Appropriately codenamed BLERIOT, Shumovsky was an aviation spy. Shumovsky's espionage was so successful that the USSR acquired every US aviation secret from his network of agents in factories and at top secret military research institutes. In this thrilling history, Svetlana Lokhova takes the reader on a journey through Stalin's most audacious intelligence operation. She pieces together every aspect of Shumovsky's life and character using information derived from American and Russian archives, exposing how even Shirley Temple and Franklin D. Roosevelt unwittingly advanced his schemes.

30 review for The Spy Who Changed History: The Untold Story of How the Soviet Union Won the Race for America's Top Secrets

  1. 5 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    In 1931, Joseph Stalin announced ‘we are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must catch up in ten years. Either we do it or they will crush us’ This is one of those books whose title does it a bit of a disservice as it’s a far broader and richer story than one of Soviet spies infiltrating the US. In fact, one of the questions I found myself asking was whether sending a cohort of Russian student engineers openly to study in US universities where they have access to, and In 1931, Joseph Stalin announced ‘we are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must catch up in ten years. Either we do it or they will crush us’ This is one of those books whose title does it a bit of a disservice as it’s a far broader and richer story than one of Soviet spies infiltrating the US. In fact, one of the questions I found myself asking was whether sending a cohort of Russian student engineers openly to study in US universities where they have access to, and contribute to, ongoing research projects which are in the public domain even counts as spying? That’s not to say that Stanislav Shumovsky, the ostensible subject of this book, doesn’t also set up an intelligence network in the US (many of whom were Jews worried about the increasing anti-Semitism of 1930s USA) but the story which ends in 1945 is far richer and more complex than merely one of espionage. Set against a sweeping history of how Russia drew itself out of the ‘dark ages’ under the tsars where less than 30% of the population was literate, a status to which they were held by deliberate tsarist policies such as imposing taxes on village schools that sought to teach children and adults to read and write (the tsars feared that education and literacy would cause the population to question the status quo and overthrow the autocracy), this places Stalin’s Five-Year Plans within the context of preparing the nation for the predicted invasion by Nazi Germany. Sending Russians to study in the US wasn’t to destroy the US system of government (the Soviets believed that capitalism would implode all by itself) but to strengthen the position of the USSR in the upcoming war. It’s fascinating to read how this first-generation of Soviet intellectuals and engineers found their feet in American institutions such as MIT and Harvard; even more fascinating to read about WW2 through Russian eyes with a technology focus. Set against Hitler’s aim to dismantle the USSR and exterminate the Slav population, ‘surrender was never on Stalin’s agenda’. And after Pearl Harbour, the uneasy alliance between Russia and the US led to more complicated negotiations as America reluctantly extended credit lines to the USSR ($11 billion, in comparison with the $31 billion sent to the UK) as the 25 million Russian casualties kept the Eastern Front open and the Third Reich occupied. Even the infiltration of the Manhattan Project (America’s secret development of the atom bomb) was driven more by fear of Hitler’s German who, in 1941, were generally believed to be ahead of the Americans and likely to use the weapon against Russia first – however much things changed after the war. Based on newly-released archives in Russia, this is a fascinating story that allows us to look at well-known events with fresh eyes. Many thanks to HarperCollins for an ARC via NetGalley.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    This story should be riveting and when it gets closer to the war it is, but I found myself spacing out in much the way I did with high school history textbooks. By the end, you're happy that the Americans have left themselves open to espionage because without that, the Germans might have forced a Soviet surrender, and at the same time, you're looking at the carelessness of the U.S. government when it came to profit and thinking, "we are soooo f#cked."

  3. 5 out of 5

    Greer Andjanetta

    A book written by a Russian to glorify Russia and its greatest leader, Josef Stalin. Throughout the book the author praises the great work done by a group of Russian spies who accepted American hospitality, education and support and then stole as many technological secrets as they could and fled back to Russia, making fools of the Americans who helped and befriended them. The complicity of MIT in their schemes has changed my opinion of that university. All this duplicity took place many years A book written by a Russian to glorify Russia and its greatest leader, Josef Stalin. Throughout the book the author praises the great work done by a group of Russian spies who accepted American hospitality, education and support and then stole as many technological secrets as they could and fled back to Russia, making fools of the Americans who helped and befriended them. The complicity of MIT in their schemes has changed my opinion of that university. All this duplicity took place many years agop but .... "Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose".

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ryan La Fleur

    On October 31 2018, the Justice Department of the United States issued charges against two Chinese nationals for being intelligence operatives for the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) and attempting to steal the design for a US jet engine. The two had been attempting to hack into the company computer system and steal a joint US/French jet design for a commercial engine similar to one the Chinese were developing. The Chinese had been conducting this operation for over five years. Not only On October 31 2018, the Justice Department of the United States issued charges against two Chinese nationals for being intelligence operatives for the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) and attempting to steal the design for a US jet engine. The two had been attempting to hack into the company computer system and steal a joint US/French jet design for a commercial engine similar to one the Chinese were developing. The Chinese had been conducting this operation for over five years. Not only did they attempt to hack the system remotely, they also convinced two Chinese nationals that worked for the company to install malware on the company systems to assist in the attempts. At the time I was reading The Spy Who Changed History and promised a review in a week or so. This is that review. A bit late but I needed to finish the book and I hope you’ll think the wait was worth it. The reading of the book definitely was. The activities of the MSS highlight the precarious and desirous position that American knowledge, industrial secrets, and ingenuity still hold as the pinnacle of intellectual know-how. Today the Chinese, among likely many others, risk intellectual resources and manpower as well as potential real jail time in order to gain an advantage over the US and other countries. For the Soviets, after the horror of the First World War and the shocking self inflicted damage of their own civil war, the stakes must have seemed even higher. They felt exposed and vulnerable with no allies, let alone friends, in sight. It would be in this context that a group of Soviet scientist would risk not just their own safety but what they believed was the safety of their homeland in an attempt - not in their eyes to level the playing field - to bring themselves up to parity with the rest of the world. As Svetlana Lokhova points out in her book and mentions when lecturing on this topic, Stalin himself felt the Soviets to be 100 years behind the rest of the modern world. If they failed to catch up, and catch up quickly, they faced being wiped out when the next war they knew was imminent commenced. To these ends, a remarkable and a remarkably unremarkable man was sent to gather not just the industrial secrets but the industry itself that would save the Soviet Union. Stanislav Shumovsky was sent with a small group of Soviet scientists and engineers in 1931 to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to get advanced degrees. Stan, as he was known, was a hero of the Soviet civil war and a brilliant aviation engineer and scientist in his own right. In the following years he would not only garner a degree from the prestigious university but also contacts which he would utilize to gain the clandestine knowledge his country needed in order to survive. In the process Shumovsky truly won the race for America's top secrets. He also won the opening battles of the cold war and in the process developed the process by which the Soviet Union wound spend the next several decades mining the west for the information they needed. Shumovskys story is fascinating, spanning the formative years of Soviet espionage through the hard fought intelligence battles of World War 2 to his culminating triumph of the Cold war; the development of both atomic weapons and the means to deliver them. However it is not just Shumovskys story. Although he plays an exceedingly large role in this missive, the story belongs to all the spies, agents, collaborators, and Soviet patriots. All these people risked their very lives sometimes, if not jail time or at least public and diplomatic embarrassment. This is probably the primary, albeit small, issue I have with the book overall and with how Svetlana Lokhova has portrayed the overall story. This book is about more than just the singular achievements of Stanislav Shumovsky. Although I can see from a marketing perspective how focusing on a singular element of the story makes for easier comprehension. I grant also that Stanislav Shumovsky was primary in developing the system the Soviet Union used for decades. As well written as this book is and as engaging as Ms. Lokhova makes the story, it occasionally comes off as jarring when the story strays from Shumovsky as we are geared to expect this to be his story. The only other issue I had with the book was its handling of the passage of time. With a story this complex and detailed and covering not only the nearly 20 years Shumovsky was active but also providing us back story going back another roughly 20 years, keeping proper flow is difficult. Occasionally during short passages Ms. Lokhova jumps back and forth in the timeline. This makes it difficult to keep track of where in the overall timeline a particular passage is happening or to what other event it relates. I do, however, expect very high standards in the storytelling when I read histories and historical analysis and am holding up Ms. Lokhova to the likes of Ben Macintyre. I must admit she comes very close to the mark. With this latest revelation of espionage by the Chinese MSS, the ongoing interference in elections by the Russians, and the Saudi operations in Turkey; it would be excessive to reiterate the words of George Santayana about remembering the past. As I mentioned in my review of The Spy Net: The Greatest Intelligence Operations of the First World War, those of us who study history and unfortunately Americans in particular suffer from what Professor Christopher Andrews of Cambridge University calls H.A.D.S. or Historical Attention Deficit Syndrome. As a student of Professor Andrews, the freshman literary and historical outing of Ms. Lokhova admirably helps us remember. I look forward to seeing more work from her.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    The Spy Who Changed History focuses on Stanislov Shumovsky (Stan) who went by the code name BLERIOT during his time in the United States. Stan was part of a cadre of Soviet Spies who came to the United States to study at top institutions for the purposes of stealing scientific secrets in the 1930’s before the Cold War was even thought of. His work would lead to the development of many Soviet airplanes and set the stage for gathering the secrets for the Atom Bomb. Of the many spies sent by the The Spy Who Changed History focuses on Stanislov Shumovsky (Stan) who went by the code name BLERIOT during his time in the United States. Stan was part of a cadre of Soviet Spies who came to the United States to study at top institutions for the purposes of stealing scientific secrets in the 1930’s before the Cold War was even thought of. His work would lead to the development of many Soviet airplanes and set the stage for gathering the secrets for the Atom Bomb. Of the many spies sent by the soviets Stan would prove to be the most effective with sources all over the United States. The book focuses on more than just Stan but also those who came over and were around him giving a through look at the efforts of Soviet Intelligence in its early days where there were as many missteps as successes. It is a sharp contrast to the spies read about during the Cold War era and presents a great look at the Soviet government during the early days of intelligence gathering. For those interested in Russian history of the Soviet era this is a great addition to the historiography.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mjhabib21

    The Spy Who Changed History by Svetlana Lokhova is a biography about Stanislav Shumovsky who was a Soviet spy and intellect who is credited with stealing the American atomic bomb secrets as well as many other secret operations. He also was one of the earliest communist party members and fought in the Russian Civil War in the early 1900’s. This book not only provides interesting information on Shumovskys life but also about Russian Communism and the different world figures during this time. The The Spy Who Changed History by Svetlana Lokhova is a biography about Stanislav Shumovsky who was a Soviet spy and intellect who is credited with stealing the American atomic bomb secrets as well as many other secret operations. He also was one of the earliest communist party members and fought in the Russian Civil War in the early 1900’s. This book not only provides interesting information on Shumovskys life but also about Russian Communism and the different world figures during this time. The main story though is how Shumovsky along with other Russian spies infiltrated into United States universities and labs to uncover scientific secrets crucial for Soviet Russia’s survival as a nation. The book does get very informative at times which can make some parts a bit boring, but Soviet history is a very tedious subject, and by knowing about the circumstances the country is in it becomes easier to understand the story. I liked some of the images, but on some pages there were really long informative footnotes about times in history that I thought were unnecessary. That was what I liked least about the book. One of the major themes in the book is how the Soviets were constantly at a technological disadvantage as compared to the Americans. This created issues for Stalin and leaders to come, issues that Shumovsky set out to solve. Shumovsky was a very good student and also a very good pilot. In fact, one of my favorite parts of the book was when he and his father watched one of the first flight ever in his home town of Kharkov when he was eight. This moment in the book symbolizes the hopes and dreams of young boys during this time to be innovators and explorers. He was in the heart of many different violent conflicts as a youth in Romanov Russia, and his hardships helped me further understand what kind of struggle the Russian people were in under a monarch. By utilizing these two skills he was able to train other spies to learn about the United States atomic bombs and how they were dropped from a plane. Stanislav Shumovsky was one of the most notable spies in Soviet history, but the book is not filled with daring missions like in an action movie. Although with only a few other partners, whom he trained, he was able to completely beat the FBI’s counterintelligence efforts. Instead he used his skills as a student and scientist to get an MIT education which helped him become a trustworthy individual in the United States. In the book he was described as a pionier for the “Scientist Spy”. Shumovsky also was described as hiding in plain sight which made him one of the best Russian intelligence officers. Before his life in intelligence he was a soldier in the Red Army during the Russian civil war. His knowledge of war tactics made him seem like a useful asset to the US. Soviet Spy operations and tactics have been known to be closely guarded secrets, but this book uncovers them and the people behind them. This recurring theme of catching up to the United States in the book helped me understand why there was so much espionage going on during this time, and what the Soviets were actually looking for. Much of the book focuses on Stalin's ideas for the Soviet Union, and intelligence is how he achieved a lot of them. This biography is not only about the interesting life of a spy, but also of a whole nation and its struggles. If you are interested in history, military, or science this book is probably a good fit for you.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Doris Raines

    I LIKE THIS BOOK.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kasey

    Thank you for the opportunity to review this book as a giveaway recipient. I am excited to read it and will update my thoughts on this book soon!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Lucy Meeker

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Rawnsley

  11. 4 out of 5

    mike henderson

  12. 4 out of 5

    Immanuel

  13. 4 out of 5

    MR D J HOUGHTON

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ross Craig

  15. 4 out of 5

    Cyber

  16. 4 out of 5

    Floris Oliemans

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jacinta

  18. 4 out of 5

    Susan

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sangram Takmoge

  20. 4 out of 5

    Richard

  21. 5 out of 5

    David

  22. 5 out of 5

    Charles

  23. 4 out of 5

    Matt Haynes

  24. 5 out of 5

    Tom

  25. 4 out of 5

    Rania Benromdhane

  26. 5 out of 5

    Carol

  27. 4 out of 5

    Victoria

  28. 5 out of 5

    Luiz Otávio Fonseca

  29. 4 out of 5

    AnnaG

  30. 4 out of 5

    Paul Graham

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