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Who were the three men the American and Soviet superpowers exchanged at Berlin's Glienicke Bridge and Checkpoint Charlie in the first and most legendary prisoner exchange between East and West? Bridge of Spies vividly traces their paths to that exchange on February 10, 1962, when their fate helped to define the conflicts and lethal undercurrents of the most dangerous years Who were the three men the American and Soviet superpowers exchanged at Berlin's Glienicke Bridge and Checkpoint Charlie in the first and most legendary prisoner exchange between East and West? Bridge of Spies vividly traces their paths to that exchange on February 10, 1962, when their fate helped to define the conflicts and lethal undercurrents of the most dangerous years of the Cold War. Bridge of Spies is the true story of three extraordinary characters – William Fisher, alias Rudolf Abel, a British born KGB agent arrested by the FBI in New York City and jailed as a Soviet superspy for trying to steal America’s most precious nuclear secrets; Gary Powers, the American U-2 pilot who was captured when his plane was shot down while flying a reconnaissance mission over the closed cities of central Russia; and Frederic Pryor, a young American graduate student in Berlin mistakenly identified as a spy, arrested and held without charge by the Stasi, East Germany’s secret police.    By weaving the three strands of this story together for the first time, Giles Whittell masterfully portrays the intense political tensions and nuclear brinkmanship that brought the United States and Soviet Union so close to a hot war in the early 1960s. He reveals the dramatic lives of men drawn into the nadir of the Cold War by duty and curiosity, and the tragicomedy of errors that eventually induced Khrushchev to send missiles to Castro. Two of his subjects — the spy and the pilot — were the original seekers of weapons of mass destruction. The third, an intellectual, fluent in German, unencumbered by dependents, and researching a Ph.D. thesis on the foreign trade system of the Soviet bloc, seemed to the Stasi precisely the sort of person the CIA should have been recruiting. He was not. In over his head in the world capital of spying, he was wrongly charged with espionage and thus came to the Agency’s notice by a more roundabout route. The three men were rescued against daunting odds by fate and by their families, and then all but forgotten. Yet they laid bare the pathological mistrust that fueled the arms race for the next 30 years.   Drawing on new interviews conducted in the United States, Europe and Russia with key players in the exchange and the events leading to it, among them Frederic Pryor himself and the man who shot down Gary Powers, Bridge of Spies captures a time when the fate of the world really did depend on coded messages on microdots and brave young men in pressure suits. The exchange that frigid day at two of the most sensitive points along the Iron Curtain represented the first step back from where the superpowers had stood since the building of the Berlin Wall the previous summer – on the brink of World War III.


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Who were the three men the American and Soviet superpowers exchanged at Berlin's Glienicke Bridge and Checkpoint Charlie in the first and most legendary prisoner exchange between East and West? Bridge of Spies vividly traces their paths to that exchange on February 10, 1962, when their fate helped to define the conflicts and lethal undercurrents of the most dangerous years Who were the three men the American and Soviet superpowers exchanged at Berlin's Glienicke Bridge and Checkpoint Charlie in the first and most legendary prisoner exchange between East and West? Bridge of Spies vividly traces their paths to that exchange on February 10, 1962, when their fate helped to define the conflicts and lethal undercurrents of the most dangerous years of the Cold War. Bridge of Spies is the true story of three extraordinary characters – William Fisher, alias Rudolf Abel, a British born KGB agent arrested by the FBI in New York City and jailed as a Soviet superspy for trying to steal America’s most precious nuclear secrets; Gary Powers, the American U-2 pilot who was captured when his plane was shot down while flying a reconnaissance mission over the closed cities of central Russia; and Frederic Pryor, a young American graduate student in Berlin mistakenly identified as a spy, arrested and held without charge by the Stasi, East Germany’s secret police.    By weaving the three strands of this story together for the first time, Giles Whittell masterfully portrays the intense political tensions and nuclear brinkmanship that brought the United States and Soviet Union so close to a hot war in the early 1960s. He reveals the dramatic lives of men drawn into the nadir of the Cold War by duty and curiosity, and the tragicomedy of errors that eventually induced Khrushchev to send missiles to Castro. Two of his subjects — the spy and the pilot — were the original seekers of weapons of mass destruction. The third, an intellectual, fluent in German, unencumbered by dependents, and researching a Ph.D. thesis on the foreign trade system of the Soviet bloc, seemed to the Stasi precisely the sort of person the CIA should have been recruiting. He was not. In over his head in the world capital of spying, he was wrongly charged with espionage and thus came to the Agency’s notice by a more roundabout route. The three men were rescued against daunting odds by fate and by their families, and then all but forgotten. Yet they laid bare the pathological mistrust that fueled the arms race for the next 30 years.   Drawing on new interviews conducted in the United States, Europe and Russia with key players in the exchange and the events leading to it, among them Frederic Pryor himself and the man who shot down Gary Powers, Bridge of Spies captures a time when the fate of the world really did depend on coded messages on microdots and brave young men in pressure suits. The exchange that frigid day at two of the most sensitive points along the Iron Curtain represented the first step back from where the superpowers had stood since the building of the Berlin Wall the previous summer – on the brink of World War III.

30 review for Bridge of Spies: A True Story of the Cold War

  1. 5 out of 5

    Bettie

    Description: Bridge of Spies is the true story of three extraordinary characters – William Fisher, alias Rudolf Abel, a British born KGB agent arrested by the FBI in New York City and jailed as a Soviet superspy for trying to steal America’s most precious nuclear secrets; Gary Powers, the American U-2 pilot who was captured when his plane was shot down while flying a reconnaissance mission over the closed cities of central Russia; and Frederic Pryor, a young American graduate student in Berlin m Description: Bridge of Spies is the true story of three extraordinary characters – William Fisher, alias Rudolf Abel, a British born KGB agent arrested by the FBI in New York City and jailed as a Soviet superspy for trying to steal America’s most precious nuclear secrets; Gary Powers, the American U-2 pilot who was captured when his plane was shot down while flying a reconnaissance mission over the closed cities of central Russia; and Frederic Pryor, a young American graduate student in Berlin mistakenly identified as a spy, arrested and held without charge by the Stasi, East Germany’s secret police.

  2. 4 out of 5

    David

    This is the way history ought to be written! This incredibly researched book reads like a novel. The characters and events are combined to produce a moving history of the Cold War. As many have written in their review, I grew up during this time period, but was unaware of the fine details of the U-2 story. I highly recommend this book. You will captured by lives of these fascinating characters and educated about a time period that nearly brought the world to nuclear war. Don't miss this one. I o This is the way history ought to be written! This incredibly researched book reads like a novel. The characters and events are combined to produce a moving history of the Cold War. As many have written in their review, I grew up during this time period, but was unaware of the fine details of the U-2 story. I highly recommend this book. You will captured by lives of these fascinating characters and educated about a time period that nearly brought the world to nuclear war. Don't miss this one. I only wish I had bought the book in hard cover. It's a keeper. (Minor point: Book should have come with some maps.)

  3. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    An incredible mix of unique history during the height of the Cold War. Bridge of Spies is a mix of personal lives, strategic intelligence programs, spies, and diplomats culminating in a nail biting spy swap in the spy capital of the Cold War world, Berlin. Bridge of Spies provides unique insight into the American U-2 program, Soviet 'illegals' operations within the US and the economic spying that took place out of embassies. Giles Whittell does a fabulous job of blending both personal and nation An incredible mix of unique history during the height of the Cold War. Bridge of Spies is a mix of personal lives, strategic intelligence programs, spies, and diplomats culminating in a nail biting spy swap in the spy capital of the Cold War world, Berlin. Bridge of Spies provides unique insight into the American U-2 program, Soviet 'illegals' operations within the US and the economic spying that took place out of embassies. Giles Whittell does a fabulous job of blending both personal and national stories stories into a single narrative that is exciting to read. Bridge of Spies is now one of my all time favorites.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    This is a very detailed look into what lead up to one of the most well known exchange of "spies" during the Cold War. Though Gary Powers worked for the CIA he was in reality anything but a spy. A U-2 pilot for sure, a spy not even close. Fisher, the man exchanged for Powers, was actually a spy. What is in question with Fisher is what, if any real information he transmitted back to his handlers in the almost 10 years he spent in America. I strongly suggest this book for anyone interested in this This is a very detailed look into what lead up to one of the most well known exchange of "spies" during the Cold War. Though Gary Powers worked for the CIA he was in reality anything but a spy. A U-2 pilot for sure, a spy not even close. Fisher, the man exchanged for Powers, was actually a spy. What is in question with Fisher is what, if any real information he transmitted back to his handlers in the almost 10 years he spent in America. I strongly suggest this book for anyone interested in this era and those interested in the story of the spy swap. Very well written and extremely well researched.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Barry Mitchell

    If you are looking for the book that mirrors the eponymous movie, this is not the book. The title you seek is "Stangers on a Bridge" by James Dinovan, the lawyer portrayed by Tom Hanks. This book is a product of exhaustive research written in a manner that sways between dry technical prose and awkward attempts to turn a phrase. I trudged halfway through it and finally gave up. If you are looking for the book that mirrors the eponymous movie, this is not the book. The title you seek is "Stangers on a Bridge" by James Dinovan, the lawyer portrayed by Tom Hanks. This book is a product of exhaustive research written in a manner that sways between dry technical prose and awkward attempts to turn a phrase. I trudged halfway through it and finally gave up.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Eric_W

    I've been reading several books about the U-2 incident, Francis Gary Powers, and the incident's effect on U.S. policy. Fallout from the debacle was considerable. Khrushchev was eager to spend less on the military. He wanted to bring the fruits of capitalism, washing machines, etc. to the USSR, and they would not be able to if military spending continued apace. The Summit with Eisenhower was coming up, and he and Eisenhower (who had his own suspicions and pressure from the "military-industrial co I've been reading several books about the U-2 incident, Francis Gary Powers, and the incident's effect on U.S. policy. Fallout from the debacle was considerable. Khrushchev was eager to spend less on the military. He wanted to bring the fruits of capitalism, washing machines, etc. to the USSR, and they would not be able to if military spending continued apace. The Summit with Eisenhower was coming up, and he and Eisenhower (who had his own suspicions and pressure from the "military-industrial complex" he was to warn about) both wanted to cool things down. When Power's plane was shot down, the Russian's suspected the flight was a deliberate provocation to prevent the Summit. Indeed, after that the pressure on Khrushchev increased. Kennedy had been elected on a bogus missile gap charge, and he was also anxious to prove he "had balls." So it's not unreasonable to suggest that the Berlin Wall and moving missiles to Cuba were a direct result of pressure on Khrushchev to be tougher on the U.S. I just had to read this book after seeing Tom Hank's brilliant performance in the eponymous movie (a must-watch.) The movie focuses primarily on the role of James Donovan, Abel/Fischer's, lawyer, while Whittell's excellent book looks at events from the perspectives of other participants: Powers' wife, his relatives, espionage in the fifties and sixties, the technology of the U-2, and Vogel, the East German lawyer, who played a key role in getting not just Powers exchanged but also Fred Pryor, a PhD economics student who got caught up in East Berlin just as the wall was going up. A depressing feature of the book is the information that defense in both countries had an interest in keeping the Cold War alive since they profited from it greatly. The book also points out the need for accurate intelligence to help make informed decisions, although here, that intelligence was made available by the U-2, but its use was thwarted by the incident because of pressures from the military. The technology has changed dramatically since then, more importantly, we no longer need pilots for our intelligence-gathering aircraft. Satellites, drones, and cyber warfare are far more important. Spy satellites are able to discern minute details of anything on Earth from their orbits high above Earth. Whether all that raw information is processed and used properly and without undue influence is another matter. A fascinating, page-turner of a book.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Shainna

    This would have been a lot better if it hadn't been disjointed and made me question the logic behind its structuring. It was also really, really aggravating that the author flip flopped with the names/aliases of the Russian spy seemingly without rhyme or reason. People would be mentioned in great detail for a section and then not mentioned for great lengths of time only to suddenly be key players and only referred to by their last name, prompting the question of "who??" and flipping pages back t This would have been a lot better if it hadn't been disjointed and made me question the logic behind its structuring. It was also really, really aggravating that the author flip flopped with the names/aliases of the Russian spy seemingly without rhyme or reason. People would be mentioned in great detail for a section and then not mentioned for great lengths of time only to suddenly be key players and only referred to by their last name, prompting the question of "who??" and flipping pages back to the list of people in the front.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Winter Sophia Rose

    Fascinating, Insightful & Mesmerizing! A Powerful Read! I Loved It!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Michael Burnam-Fink

    Bridge of Spies is a thrilling true story of espionage and super-power diplomacy at one of the tensest moments of the Cold War, centered around a prisoner exchange in Berlin in 1962. Willie Fisher, alias Rudolf Abel, was a Soviet spy in the finest traditions of the Bolshevik 'illegals' (named in comparison to legals, who had diplomatic cover as 'cultural attaches' or similar). His mission was to rebuild a spy ring to match the immense A-bomb theft of Klaus Fuchs and the Rosenbergs. Fisher was und Bridge of Spies is a thrilling true story of espionage and super-power diplomacy at one of the tensest moments of the Cold War, centered around a prisoner exchange in Berlin in 1962. Willie Fisher, alias Rudolf Abel, was a Soviet spy in the finest traditions of the Bolshevik 'illegals' (named in comparison to legals, who had diplomatic cover as 'cultural attaches' or similar). His mission was to rebuild a spy ring to match the immense A-bomb theft of Klaus Fuchs and the Rosenbergs. Fisher was undercover for years, but it unclear what, if anything he managed to uncover, before a drunken and incompetent subordinate defected to the West rather than face recall to Moscow. Undone by the weakest link in a human chain, Fisher was sentenced to decades in prison. Meanwhile, America was pursuing its own patented brand of espionage. The U-2 flew at an altitude of 70,000 feet, above the range of anti-aircraft guns and interceptors. Aerial photos provided detailed evidence of the weapons backing Khrushchev's bellicose 'we will bury you' rhetoric, or rather, a detailed absence of evidence. In the late 1950s, everything pointed to an immense American advantage in bombers, bombs, and even rockets, with the Russian ICBM program a handful of balky liquid fueled rockets. The overflights enraged Khrushchev, but the CIA's voracious appetite for intelligence lead them to schedule one last overflight on May 1, 1960. This flight put Gary Powers in range of an S-75 Dvina SAM, and the shootdown killed hopes for disarmament and detente. The two spies were sentenced to years in prison. Mostly through the entrepreneurial efforts of Power's father, and Fisher's defense lawyer Donovan, were the two sides able to broker a swap, throwing in a US PhD student who's thesis on East German economic was also declared to be espionage. Giles keeps it fast, interesting, and manages to capture the spirit of the era.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Edoardo Albert

    Although they share titles, this is not the book of Steven Spielberg's film despite the fact that they both deal with the same incident: the first spy exchange of the Cold War. On 10 February 1962, Rudolf Abel (as he gave his name) was exchanged for Francis Gary Powers, the two men walking past each other across the Glienicke Bridge on the outskirts of West Berlin as men on either side of the River Havel watched the silent passage through telescopic sights. Spielberg's film concentrates very much Although they share titles, this is not the book of Steven Spielberg's film despite the fact that they both deal with the same incident: the first spy exchange of the Cold War. On 10 February 1962, Rudolf Abel (as he gave his name) was exchanged for Francis Gary Powers, the two men walking past each other across the Glienicke Bridge on the outskirts of West Berlin as men on either side of the River Havel watched the silent passage through telescopic sights. Spielberg's film concentrates very much on the relationship between Rudolf Abel and the lawyer, James Donovan, who defended him when he was brought to trial on espionage charges - and then the unlikely turn that saw the same James Donovan charged with negotiating the exchange of Abel for Gary Powers, the U2 pilot shot down on 1 May 1960 (plus another American, Frederic Pryor, a student who unwittingly got caught up on the wrong side of the newly-built Berlin Wall and who became a pawn in international power politics). Whittell's book is much more wide ranging, spending as much time on Gary Powers as Rudolf Abel, while devoting only a couple of pages to Donovan and the trial. More than fifty years later, it's salutary to remember just how dangerous the world was then, with two superpowers in ideological confrontation, each armed with nuclear weapons. It's tempting to see our own times of Islamist terrorism as uniquely bad but really there's no comparison. During the Cold War, a misstep or a misunderstanding could have unleashed nuclear hell upon us all. Today's terrorists are reduced to driving a car at pedestrians. So this book is an excellent corrective and a fine and exciting piece of historical writing, bringing together spying, spy planes and high-tension international politics. If you've seen Spielberg's film, it's well worth reading for a broader and deeper understanding of what went on and why.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sistermagpie

    Good, straightforward telling of the famous Cold War spy exchange and the unlikely events that led up to it. It's funny reading this kind of thing after a lot of WWII spying stories--in that era there's so often something clearly at stake. In this time period the "Master Soviet Spy" is basically just hanging out in Brooklyn and painting. Still, it's great hearing about all the people involved, since everyone seems to be putting on fronts upon fronts. With the movie coming out I did find myself wo Good, straightforward telling of the famous Cold War spy exchange and the unlikely events that led up to it. It's funny reading this kind of thing after a lot of WWII spying stories--in that era there's so often something clearly at stake. In this time period the "Master Soviet Spy" is basically just hanging out in Brooklyn and painting. Still, it's great hearing about all the people involved, since everyone seems to be putting on fronts upon fronts. With the movie coming out I did find myself wondering how to turn it into a movie and it wouldn't be easy. Seems like it might be better to just do a play or something with the lawyers interacting with the family, because it's really a lot of crazy backstory that happens to lead up to one highly charged walk over a bridge.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    I picked this one up because I really enjoyed the Tom Hanks movie. I was surprised to find out that the movie only really covers the last 1/10 or so of the book. There was so much detail and background information leading up to the events of the final negotiation, and it was all incredibly interesting. I was born towards the tail end of the Cold War, so it was fascinating to learn more about how that period in history began. There was some language in the book, and one page that was inappropriat I picked this one up because I really enjoyed the Tom Hanks movie. I was surprised to find out that the movie only really covers the last 1/10 or so of the book. There was so much detail and background information leading up to the events of the final negotiation, and it was all incredibly interesting. I was born towards the tail end of the Cold War, so it was fascinating to learn more about how that period in history began. There was some language in the book, and one page that was inappropriate and should have been left out. Ignoring those two things, this was an interesting book.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sara Kreps

    While I don't mind some extraneous information in the books I read/listen to, that seemed to be almost all this book was. The author never met a rabbit tail he didn't follow. Listening to it, the book was nine hours plus long, only about twenty minutes of those involving the title event. By the end, I just wanted it to be done. While I don't mind some extraneous information in the books I read/listen to, that seemed to be almost all this book was. The author never met a rabbit tail he didn't follow. Listening to it, the book was nine hours plus long, only about twenty minutes of those involving the title event. By the end, I just wanted it to be done.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Snicketts

    This book was a gift , so I did my best to get through it. It's not my genre at all. It seems like a very thorough piece of research, but the pace is so slow. It was atmospheric and read like a piece of investigative journalism in places, but I didn't even make it to the incident before I put it down. I haven't been inclined to pick it up again in months, so I'm calling it. This book was a gift , so I did my best to get through it. It's not my genre at all. It seems like a very thorough piece of research, but the pace is so slow. It was atmospheric and read like a piece of investigative journalism in places, but I didn't even make it to the incident before I put it down. I haven't been inclined to pick it up again in months, so I'm calling it.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Wes F

    This book gives much more background on Gary Powers' and the U2 flights over the Soviet Union. I listened to this audiobook, borrowed from our US library. This book gives much more background on Gary Powers' and the U2 flights over the Soviet Union. I listened to this audiobook, borrowed from our US library.

  16. 5 out of 5

    David Canford

    Although non-fiction, this reads almost like a thriller. Based around a spy swap, most of it deals with Gary Powers and U-2 fights over Russia. I found it really fascinating reading and also enlightening. The author’s case is that many in the USA at the time claimed that there was a missile gap and that Russia had a vast quantity of ICBMs. President Eisenhower knew from U2 flights over Russia that this was almost certainly not the case. Khrushchev was keen to offer disarmament as the arms race w Although non-fiction, this reads almost like a thriller. Based around a spy swap, most of it deals with Gary Powers and U-2 fights over Russia. I found it really fascinating reading and also enlightening. The author’s case is that many in the USA at the time claimed that there was a missile gap and that Russia had a vast quantity of ICBMs. President Eisenhower knew from U2 flights over Russia that this was almost certainly not the case. Khrushchev was keen to offer disarmament as the arms race was a great burden on the Russian economy, but that opportunity was lost when Powers was shot down just before a planned summit and the US refused to apologise for overflying Russia. Under intense political pressure at home, Khrushchev was forced to drop his proposal for disarmament, leading to both sides building thousands of ICBMs. Such an outcome suited the military industrial complex and you can’t help wondering if Power’s last flight ( sub-par plane, less than usual lack of secrecy, route chosen, etc) was perhaps planned to result in failure. However, it could be claimed that ultimately the cost of the arms race bankrupted the Soviet Union and led to its collapse. Some have complained that the book is nothing like the movie. Well, it’s the movie which is nothing like the book, and personally I prefer the latter.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jon Koebrick

    A very well written history of the U2 plane, Francis Gary Powers and the swap of a Soviet spy and an innocent economist academic related thereto. The book provided a revealing insight into Eisenhower and Khrushchev who wanted disarmament but fell into an arms race.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    So glad I've read this book, thorough research and so much information after the fall of the USSR and somewhat better openness for historical research. When Power's U-2 plane was shot down over the USSR, we were living in West Germany. We lived there when the Berlin Wall was built - and when the Soviets exchanged Powers and Prior for their agent Fisher (aka Abel). In fact, my father was there for the exchange, representing the CIA's Office of Security. Obviously he couldn't talk about it at the ti So glad I've read this book, thorough research and so much information after the fall of the USSR and somewhat better openness for historical research. When Power's U-2 plane was shot down over the USSR, we were living in West Germany. We lived there when the Berlin Wall was built - and when the Soviets exchanged Powers and Prior for their agent Fisher (aka Abel). In fact, my father was there for the exchange, representing the CIA's Office of Security. Obviously he couldn't talk about it at the time. We didn't even know he worked for the CIA until we moved back to the US. It's very fascinating to know the details of this historical time. In particular, the details of the struggle between Eisenhower and Kruschev, and suggestions that the U-2 mission may have been compromised by Americans, in order to sabotage potential de-escalation of the arms race, are quite intriguing. Ike's warnings about the military-industrial complex is doubly chilling in the light of this possibility.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Myla

    Interesting, got a little bogged down with details in the middle. As always very impressed with the time and effort of the research. Never saw the movie, have a feeling Tom Hanks would be a more entertaining option.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mike Worley

    4 stars, excellent true spy thriller.

  21. 5 out of 5

    MARY GRACE

    Very interesting. Lots of names and history that were a bit difficult to follow, but overall a good read in my opinion.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Joe

    There are some interesting facts in this book about spying during the Cold War. What seems to be apparent is that the supposed "experts" in foreign relations in both the US and USSR governments advised the exactly wrong movements and postures in order to end the Cold War. Very interesting information about the Eisenhower White House as well. There are some interesting facts in this book about spying during the Cold War. What seems to be apparent is that the supposed "experts" in foreign relations in both the US and USSR governments advised the exactly wrong movements and postures in order to end the Cold War. Very interesting information about the Eisenhower White House as well.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Gerry

    This is a remarkable tale; at times it seems unreal, at other times it is unbelievable but all along it is perfectly true. Three men are involved and they are dragged into the Cold War, two of them through a sense of duty, one almost purely by accident. And they all suffer the same fate - imprisonment. They did not know each other but once a deal was brokered to free them they all came together, two on the Glienicke Bridge and one at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin on 10 February 1962. Then suddenl This is a remarkable tale; at times it seems unreal, at other times it is unbelievable but all along it is perfectly true. Three men are involved and they are dragged into the Cold War, two of them through a sense of duty, one almost purely by accident. And they all suffer the same fate - imprisonment. They did not know each other but once a deal was brokered to free them they all came together, two on the Glienicke Bridge and one at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin on 10 February 1962. Then suddenly they were all free men, free to return to their own countries and resume a life that they once had lived. William Fisher, the first of the supposed spies in the book, was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne to German parents but he moved with them to Russia when he was 18 years old. And once he had sworn, 'I would rather perish than betray the secrets entrusted to me ... With every heartbeat, with every day that passes, I swear to serve the Party, the homeland and the Soviet People', he was undisputedly a spy. He had so many aliases that it was difficult to keep up with him but when he was sent to America to recruit Soviet spies he was more often than not known as Rudolph Abel or Agent Mark. His role in the States appeared to have been a bumbling one, even though at his trial he was spoken of as 'a threat to the free world and to civilisation itself'. The author sums him up by suggesting that he was more like 'the Forrest Gump of the Soviet foreign intelligence service'. When he was finally unmasked and arrested he had not passed any secrets to the Russians for he had not possessed any, nor did he seem to have enhanced the Russian spy network in the United States, although he had plenty of money provided to do so. Be that as it may he ended up with a 30-year jail sentence. The second spy was Gary Powers, a pilot who was chosen to fly the U-2 spy planes over Russia and film all the military installations. He operated from a base in Turkey and regularly flew the U-2 at 70,000 feet, knowing that if anything happened it was unlikely that he would escape alive; he was, however, very well paid for the task. On his last flight a Soviet missile, fortunately for him, did not achieve a direct hit but exploded in the vicinity of the tail of the plane and he ended up in free fall. Miraculously he managed to escape and his parachute that eventually opened closer to the ground got him safely down. Once arrested, he, too, was charged with spying and he received a lengthy jail sentence. The third member of the eventual swap was Frederic Pryor who was caught up in the partition of East and West Germany through his attachment to an East German girlfriend, who as the barbed wire was going up prior to the building of the Berlin wall fled to the west. Pryor was going to flee also but, unaware that she had already left, he visited her flat to say a final goodbye. He was picked up there and his activities doing research as an economist prompted the east Germans to arrest him as a spy, so he too ended up in jail. The credit for the eventual exchange must go to Powers' father who wrote to Abel (Fisher) suggesting that it could be possible to do a deal with the Soviets to exchange imprisoned spies. At first there was no response but eventually the authorities got interested and a deal was set up. It was not as simple as that for there was plenty of international wrangling along the way with both Eisenhower and Khrushchev getting heavily involved. But eventually the three men were reunited with their families but not before they seemed to have been a last-minute hitch that very nearly scuppered the whole deal. With meticulous research, with plenty of background on the Cold War and the arms race and with later interviews with many of the parties involved Giles Whittell tells the story in a dramatic way that makes for sensational reading. The book is, indeed, difficult to put down once begun.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Patrick

    This was an interesting book about the cold war, focussing on an exchange of prisoners between the US and USSR in 1962. The exchange involved two Americans, Francis Powers, the pilot from a U2 spy plane shot down over Russia, and Frederic Pryor, and American student who was not involved in spying but was unfortunate enough to cross into East Germany a few days after the Berlin Wall went up and be arrested by the Stasi, and Rudolf Abel, a Russian spy living in New York City and trolling for deta This was an interesting book about the cold war, focussing on an exchange of prisoners between the US and USSR in 1962. The exchange involved two Americans, Francis Powers, the pilot from a U2 spy plane shot down over Russia, and Frederic Pryor, and American student who was not involved in spying but was unfortunate enough to cross into East Germany a few days after the Berlin Wall went up and be arrested by the Stasi, and Rudolf Abel, a Russian spy living in New York City and trolling for details about the US nuclear program, who was captured by the FBI. The story of the how the deal was brokered is amazing considering the animosity the two superpowers had for each other, especially after a failed conference in Paris where Kruschev, originally planning on proposing a nuclear disarmament treaty with the US, instead took a very aggressive tone due to the uncovering of the U2 spy plane missions. The figures involved put a lot on the line to have these political prisoners brought home. What was just as interesting about the book to me was the overall view of the Cold War at the time, 1950's-early 60's. I was born in 1981 and was pretty young when the Cold War ended in 1989-90. I can remember being enemies with Russia but never had to practice crawling under my desk at school. However, it seems much of the Cold War has been swept under the rug of history. At least I don't hear much about it anymore which is strange considering it was our major political-military motivation for the second half of the 20th century. The book does a good job going back and talking about the early years of the Cold War, the motivations and fears that spurred both sides. Perhaps the biggest fear on both sides was that of nuclear attack, and that idea plays a central role in the book. The main reason for the U2 spy plane program was to spy on the USSR's nuclear capabilities. Mr Whittel does a good job explaining all the sides of the story and how the major players arrived at their decisions. He has done exhaustive research and interviewed all the characters from the narrative that are still alive. All in all the author has done a good job putting the downing of the U2 spy plane in its larger historical context. The incident was responsible for a re-hardening of positions on both sides just as it seemed Eisenhower and Kruschev might be able to broker some sort of lasting peace. However, he also explains how even after both sides took hard line approaches, they were still able to broker the prisoner exchange that let three people be returned to their homes.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Translator Monkey

    From my blog that features pictures and links and whatnot. https://readlikedoc.wordpress.com/201... Pretty good book. Doc hasn’t seen the moving picture of the same name, with that Tom Hanks fella from “Big” and a handful of other pictures, but when I cracked this book open, I was expecting the Hanks character to have a hell of a bigger role, assuming the movie previews were any indication. Man, was I wrong. And that don’t matter a lick, I just thought it was worth tossing out there. “Bridge of Sp From my blog that features pictures and links and whatnot. https://readlikedoc.wordpress.com/201... Pretty good book. Doc hasn’t seen the moving picture of the same name, with that Tom Hanks fella from “Big” and a handful of other pictures, but when I cracked this book open, I was expecting the Hanks character to have a hell of a bigger role, assuming the movie previews were any indication. Man, was I wrong. And that don’t matter a lick, I just thought it was worth tossing out there. “Bridge of Spies” is an excellent read about the events leading up to the first event that’s come to be known as “spy-swaps” between the US and the Soviet Union. Drawing heavily on the author’s personal interviews with some of the main players 50 years ago, as well as letters and memoirs of those no longer with us, the book walks us step-by-step through the circumstances that found the three men accused of espionage to begin with and who would become part of this swap meet. The Hanks character, James Donovan, doesn’t really make much of an appearance until the final chapter. The character we already know the most about, probably because of the amount of chatter he created this side of the Iron Curtain at the time of his capture, was Frances Gary Powers. Powers was a former Air Force pilot who signed on with the CIA to fly the Lockheed’s new U-2 high altitude photo reconnaissance plane under the aegis of collecting weather data. The only weather he was collecting was “weather” or not (heh heh) the Soviets had the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles Khrushchev was trying to frighten the West with at the time. Our analysts at the time surmised that, based on the Soviet leader’s statements and other information deduced, the Reds had probably targeted the US with anywhere from 200 to 400 missiles capable of flying that far to deliver destruction. Hindsight being a funny little thing, as it turns out, Khrushchev only had 4 such missiles. But it’s for purposes of collecting that ground truth that our U-2 pilots were asked to penetrate Soviet airspace and put their lives at risk. Powers did just that, and for a number of reasons or as the result of curious circumstances, his U-2 was brought down in pieces. Whittell provides an outstanding retelling of Powers’s struggle to free himself from the U-2, which without its wings turned out to be as aerodynamic as a dumpster. Eventually he does free himself, where he is shortly met by friendly Russians whose eyes must have popped when they discover he’s an American. Shortly after his recovery, and being relieved of his handgun, he is whisked away by the Soviet authorities. In short order, Khrushchev uses him deftly as a pawn in his chess match with Eisenhower, who shortly after Powers was shot down, believes (along with almost everyone else in Washington) that the pilot had died in the crash. No pilot (so the line of thought went) could survive a fall from 70,000+ feet. Even so, had the pilot survived, the unwritten rule was that he would make use of the pin dipped in a deadly amount of curare, thus avoiding pesky interrogations and ungainly torture. And of course, to preclude any embarrassment to the US. Funny thing about unwritten rules, though – if they ain’t written down, they’re tough to know about, and even tougher to enforce. Another player traveled through the book with about twelve names, the most famous of which was Rudolph Abel. Abel, born Willie Fisher, was a Soviet intelligence officer who, by all accounts (and it goes without saying, very much so in Whittell’s eyes), was as sloppy a spy as they come. Tom Hanks, who operates under the name James Donovan, elects to be Abel’s lawyer when he is arrested and charged with conspiracy. Donovan is an insurance lawyer at this point, but it would appear that he’s got some serious Washington DC connections. He’s not the greatest lawyer, but it can be argued that he kept Abel’s neck out of a noose when his espionage activities started to come to light. Because he was working for the USSR, and because this book is written primarily in English, Abel is the least sympathetic character in the book, just ahead of Ike. The third of our choirboys is actually the least likely to have been an actual spy. Frederic Pryor had the poor fortune to be in Berlin when the first barbed wire genesis of the Berlin Wall appeared; stopped at the border, his car was found to be loaded with his economics notes – surely, as damning a block of evidence as you can find. As Whittell explains in the book, it’s not so much that Pryor was spying, as reading books (and taking notes from them) that he wasn’t given permission to access. He wasn’t prevented from it – they were simply available on a bookshelf that he wasn’t told he could use. As a result, he found himself a guest of the Stasi (East Germany’s State Security) in a cell where he began wasting away, wondering what the hell just happened. Of all the people in this Cold War cocktail, it’s actually Powers’s cantankerous father, Oliver, who came up with the idea of swapping Abel for Powers – in fact, he wrote directly to Abel, asking what he would think of such an arrangement. The CIA felt peeved that Abel was being contacted out of the blue by the parent of a high-profile prisoner in the Soviet Union, and possibly a little out of sorts that they hadn’t thought of it first. Donovan, meanwhile, as Abel’s lawyer, caught wind of the letter, and tried to move things in that direction – not so much because he felt that what had happened to Powers was a travesty of justice, but (according to Whittell) had political aspirations, and felt this might be his foot in the door. In two shakes of a year and a half, the exchange is happening. Pryor was fortunate enough to be thrown in, since it would be considered a valuable and easy way to show that the US views East Germany as a legitimate government by negotiating with them at this level. Still, as an also-ran, Pryor suffered the indignity of being moved through Checkpoint Charlie, and not on Berlin’s Glienecke Bridge. Pity for him, because he never got to meet Tom Hanks. Doc’s one of them folks who likes facts to be facts in his non-fiction. Something happens in real life, and it’s being documented in a book that purports to be non-fiction, you’d sort of expect it to either be left out if it ain’t all that important, or to be rendered with some level of accuracy if it’s deemed worthy of inclusion. In his Epilogue, Whittell talks about what happened to each of the main characters in this tale. I came to a screeching halt when I read that Powers died in a helicopter accident in 1975 – he actually died in 1977. How can such a rudimentary fact be erroneously written down? Wish I knew. And stuff like that tends to call other details into question. But I’m going to give Whittell the benefit of the doubt. He deftly juggles three storylines and a broad cast of characters not seen since the likes of ‘War and Peace’. I’ll spot him this one. But if I find out that Powers never actually did get released, Whittell’s going to have some serious damned explaining to do. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the dog’s breakfast and 10 being dinner at the Ritz, Doc gives this gripping read a solid B+.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Justin Tapp

    Although the Tom Hanks/Stephen Spielberg movie was apparently not based on this specific book, the book (2010) deals largely with the same event in history. It is a very engaging, well-researched work giving the reader a window into a specific period of the Cold War that young American readers can scarcely fathom now. It is an in-depth biography of U2 pilot Gary Powers, Soviet spy Rudolf Abel aka William Fisher, and Frederic Pryor, a wayward future American economist at the wrong place (Germany) Although the Tom Hanks/Stephen Spielberg movie was apparently not based on this specific book, the book (2010) deals largely with the same event in history. It is a very engaging, well-researched work giving the reader a window into a specific period of the Cold War that young American readers can scarcely fathom now. It is an in-depth biography of U2 pilot Gary Powers, Soviet spy Rudolf Abel aka William Fisher, and Frederic Pryor, a wayward future American economist at the wrong place (Germany) at the wrong time. (There is much less about Pryor in the book, and it's less interesting.) Whittell tells the tale of how their paths crossed in a Berlin prisoner exchange. Powers was once a college track star somewhere in Kentucky, a small-town mountain boy whose family couldn't fathom the work he was doing as an ace pilot, the risks he was taking, and the income he was earning. His wife, Barbara, perhaps gets unfairly detailed scrutiny in this book. She hated the secrecy and the distance and became one of the few spouses allowed to accompany pilots abroad, mainly because she refused to say "no." At one point, she agreed to take a job in Greece and may have been some Colonel's lover, but ended up being able to accompany Powers to his base in Turkey. She seemed suspicious for having a broken leg in a press conference after Powers was shot down and became an international sensation; she broke it water skiing with him in Turkey. Their relationship was apparently intense but not able to suffer long absences. Whittell details the dangerously thin technology of the U2 planes, how its pressure suit was designed at an underwear plant, how a large number of things can and did go fatally wrong in U2 flights, and more. Pilots were pushed to physical limits, being forced to wait on a tarmac in unberable temperatures, unable to eat or drink for up to 12 hours at a time while having to fight passing out from extreme G-forces in midair. The U2 program was a darling of the CIA and a military-industrial complex convinced (wrongly) the US had fallen behind the USSR in nuclear missile production. For other books detailing this period, I recommend any biography of Eisenhower, Stephen Kinzer's The Brothers, and James Carroll's House of War. Kruschev used to be enraged at every U2 flight reported, Soviet forces were determined to shoot one down. Kruschev and Eisenhower were finally about to engage in crucial negotiations when Eisenhower ordered one last U2 flight over Kazakhstan, just to be certain something wasn't hidden from view that the Pentagon was unaware of. It was the most bold flight yet, made from Pakistan, and it had its problems even before takeoff. That was the tragic flight of Powers that derailed the US-USSR summit and sparked an international crisis. Fisher was a fascinating and very good spy who is not that formally educated, nor a product of the British class system, who was loyal to the Soviet Union his parents took him to as a child. As a German born in England to parents who migrated to Russia, he was fluent in all three languages and learned to operate radios in the Soviet military. He was successfully sent to America to join a network of Soviet illegal immigrants. The details of their lives and communication is interesting. While McCarthyism and the "Red Scare" is largely seen in retrospect as fictional, Whittell shows that indeed the efforts and penetration of Soviet spies into the US was real and complicated. From ship yards to nuclear tests at Los Alamos, the network was strong and sophisticated; and relied on American and Canadian sympathizers and recruits. Once Stalin was dead and Kruschev denounced him by revealing some of his atrocities to the world, it became harder to work and recruit in America. But the unraveling came from Soviets who struggled with alcoholism, domestic problems, homesickness, etc. Fisher's undoing came from one of his troubled counterparts, Reino Hayhanen. Hayhanen had accidentally lost a hollowed-out coin containing a microphoto of code numbers, which at some point was discovered on accident by a newspaper boy who dropped it and had the sense to turn it into a police officer. A red scare investigation ensued. As Hayhanen continued to cause problems, Fisher got him recalled to Moscow. Hayhanen instead turned himself in as a KGB spy in Paris in 1957, and a hollowed-out coin he presented as proof eventually got back to the FBI to connect the dots and Fisher's cover was blown. Powers should have been an American hero for his bravery and for following orders. Instead, he was treated as a traitor. He survived being shot down only to have his country mistakenly read radar evidence suggesting he had not been. The NSA had recorded the Soviet suicide fighter pilot ordered to take down the U2 at all costs, and mistakenly read the radar signature for Powers. They accused him of lying about his flight path. He was also considered a traitor for not having taken a cyanide pill, but Whittell reveals there was no such pill on the plane and Powers training did not include any instructions to take a cyanide pill, if anything he was trained to stay alive. The CIA had told Powers to tell them everything he knew if captured, he was just following orders. (Powers did not know much about the mission, his job was basically to fly where told and make sure the camera was turned on.) But Powers became a political football that JFK inherited, and he also expressed a desire to prosecute Powers. Power's family traveled to Moscow for the show trial. After conviction, Powers lived in prison and was treated fairly decently; Whittell recounts Powers' accounts of prison life. It was apparently Powers' father who suggested the Powers-Fisher swap in 1962. Even though the public did not forgive Powers, some politicians along with CIA Director Allen Dulles later praised Powers and he remained on as a test pilot of the SR-71 Blackbird on CIA salary. He and Barbara would divorce. Powers died piloting a helicopter in 1975. This book was a fascinating look at the Cold War. James Carroll and others have chronicled the self-serving interests and paranoia of the "military-industrial complex" that drove us to the 1960 U2 crisis. This book shows somewhat early days and chronicles the spy drama that unfolded in the US alongside it. If Powers had not been shot down and the Eisenhower-Kruschev summit had gone ahead, history might be different.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    Bridge of Spies is a fascinating look at the U2 flights over the Soviet Union in the 60s and mainly the story of Francis Gary Powers who flew one of those planes. The U2 aircraft was a flimsy affair and ostensibly a weather tracking craft. It was really a spy plane. Powers was one of a number of pilot/spies and was trained to fly higher than the plane was really equipped to do. Also, his flight suit was not as well crafted as it should have been for the plane or the altitude. The truth was none Bridge of Spies is a fascinating look at the U2 flights over the Soviet Union in the 60s and mainly the story of Francis Gary Powers who flew one of those planes. The U2 aircraft was a flimsy affair and ostensibly a weather tracking craft. It was really a spy plane. Powers was one of a number of pilot/spies and was trained to fly higher than the plane was really equipped to do. Also, his flight suit was not as well crafted as it should have been for the plane or the altitude. The truth was none of these pilots were supposed to survive should anything happen to the plane or should the Russians shoot them down. While the pilots may have guessed they were in such a situation, they were never told. Once Powers craft was brought down by an indirect hit, he was able to escape the plane and was held as a prisoner by the Russians. His story and the exchange of a Russian spy for Powers and an innocent American graduate student in Berlin on Berlin's Glienicke Bridge in 1962 is the center of this book.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Chuck

    This book and subsequent movie is the story behind the trade of spies and alleged spies that were traded between Russia and the United States on a bridge connecting East and West Berlin in 1962. Most of the individuals are names long lost to history except for Gary Powers who was the U2 spy plane pilot that was shot down over Russia several years earlier. The book at times was tedious but has great detail about Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy and insight to the fledgling CIA. This book reads l This book and subsequent movie is the story behind the trade of spies and alleged spies that were traded between Russia and the United States on a bridge connecting East and West Berlin in 1962. Most of the individuals are names long lost to history except for Gary Powers who was the U2 spy plane pilot that was shot down over Russia several years earlier. The book at times was tedious but has great detail about Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy and insight to the fledgling CIA. This book reads like an espionage mystery, but is insightful to those of us that lived through the cold war, the massive nuclear arms race, the Bay of Pigs, Khrushchev and all that other melodrama of the sixties.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Maria

    William Fisher was a KGB agent who was caught in New York, Gary Powers was an American U-2 pilot shot down over Russia and Frederic Pryor was an American grad student detained in East Berlin. This is the story of their lives, the brinkmanship of the Cold War and how they came to be exchange for each other in the early 1960s. Why I started this book: Tom Hanks made this into a movie... and I wanted to the read the book first. Why I finished it: This was kind of mess... lots of build up; the last c William Fisher was a KGB agent who was caught in New York, Gary Powers was an American U-2 pilot shot down over Russia and Frederic Pryor was an American grad student detained in East Berlin. This is the story of their lives, the brinkmanship of the Cold War and how they came to be exchange for each other in the early 1960s. Why I started this book: Tom Hanks made this into a movie... and I wanted to the read the book first. Why I finished it: This was kind of mess... lots of build up; the last chapter was the real meat of the story. I hope the movie is better.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    I read this in preparation for seeing the movie with Tom Hanks. Parts of it were interesting, but I'm not intrigued by the Cold War or spy stuff, so a lot of it was slow going for me. Plus, based on the trailer, it seems like only about two chapters are going to come into play in the movie. I only recommend it for people who are really fascinated by the Cold War and incidents that took place during it. I read this in preparation for seeing the movie with Tom Hanks. Parts of it were interesting, but I'm not intrigued by the Cold War or spy stuff, so a lot of it was slow going for me. Plus, based on the trailer, it seems like only about two chapters are going to come into play in the movie. I only recommend it for people who are really fascinated by the Cold War and incidents that took place during it.

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