The Nuclear Spies

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 29 Oct 2019

Member Reviews

Nuclear Spies: America's Atomic Intelligence Operation Against Hitler and Stalin
by 
Vince Houghton 

4 Stars

Nuclear Spies provides a first rate overview of America’s scientific intelligence operations before and immediately after the Second World War.  Houghton very effectively compares and contrasts America’s very successful intelligence efforts aimed at Germany’s suspected atomic bomb program during the war with the nation’s failed efforts to determine Soviet nuclear capabilities after the war, an effort that left most in the country’s leaders shocked when the Soviet Union successfully detonated an atomic bomb in 1949.  The book is well researched and well written, making it easy to read despite its serious academic approach to the subject.  I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the history of World War II, the Cold War, or American intelligence operations in general.
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This book talks about the early years of the Cold War and the ineffectiveness of spies.  It is written like a textbook.  

I thought this book had a good account of the history of nuclear bombs and espionage.  The author has researched everything very well.  

This book is perfect for fans of history, especially the Cold War and fans of espionage.
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Houghton, the curator and historian of the International Spy Museum, offers up a thorough and captivating history of the Nuclear Age.
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If anyone could write the authoritative account on how American intelligence could predict that Germany would not build an atomic bomb, yet be outfoxed by the Soviet Union in its nuclear research, it would be Vince Houghton, historian at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.   Dr. Houghton has produced a carefully researched, tightly written account of the race to build the atomic bomb.  Dr.  Houghton writes about the heroes--the refugee European scientists who helped us, the reluctant German physicist Werner Heisenberg, and the rogue scientists and spies who hasted the development of the Soviet bomb.  The best character in the book is Moe Berg, the American baseball player, Princeton graduate and language wizzard, who went behind enemy lines to meet Heisenberg.  Dr. Houghton offers an easily readable book which should be on the e=reader or bookshelf of every Cold War junkie.
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If you are looking for a work on the more well known "nuclear" spies like Klaus Fuchs, the Rosenbergs or Harry Gold, then you will be a little disappointed for they are not here.

This tome deals with "scientific intelligence" or more importantly, America's need to know where their rivals stood in the race for atomic weaponry. The main time frame is the 1930s and 1940s, and the period in which the US entered WWII to find the Germans working with nuclear fission and making all sorts of discoveries that would eventually lead to what we know as the Manhattan Project.

So, whilst the US undertook a merry chase across Europe for the fleeing German scientists in their pursuit for atomic knowledge and to put a stop to Hitler detonating an atomic bomb, they gravely underestimated the Soviets own capabilities in doing exactly the same.

Here we find out just why that came about - and one word could quite nicely cover this - assumptions. The US dealt in assumption, speculation and prediction (or guesswork) rather than cold hard facts; and this assumption of the Soviets would continue for over a decade before the US abandoned its naive belief in stereotypes and brought the search for scientific intelligence under one cohesive banner.

Very well researched with lots of history on the fledgling US intelligence network and the atomic weapons program.
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Painstakingly researched and engaging for any amateur fan of espionage. While I can't say twentieth-century history is my area of interest, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of reading this book. While less focus on the war itself would've been appreciated on my end, that's a purely personal critique and I'm sure that the target audience of this book will appreciate the attention to detail.
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Historian and curator of what sounds like a fascinating institution, the International Spy Museum, Vince Houghton dives into two topics that have been tackled many times before but perhaps never as comprehensively. He asks, essentially: how did the Allies do so well in understanding the Nazis' atomic bomb efforts in World War II, yet blunder so badly in predicting when the Soviets might test their first nuclear weapon (in case you don't know, the second took place in 1949 and it left the Americans dumbstruck). Both topics are close to my heart, so I devoured "The Nuclear Spies: America's Atomic Intelligence Operation against Hitler and Stalin" with the speed of a Dan Brown romp. Houghton's organization skills and penmanship are exemplary, and the scholarship on display is first rate. "The Nuclear Spies" is modern history as it should be written.
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As a fan of espionage fiction, it's always enthralling for me to read about the real spies and intelligence efforts conducted by nations as they attempt to out-wit and out-equip one another. This book recounts the tangled signals that plagued the United States's intelligence collection near the end of World War II, as the US raced to produce a nuclear bomb. Houghton does a great job of following the players on both sides of the war, revealing that science and spying make odd bedfellows, since it was the rare American agent who understood enough physics to actually be able to gauge what information was important and what was not, while the Germans had basically dismissed the importance of developing any nuclear weaponry. With the Soviets, the Americans greatly underestimated a nuclear program's success, leading to a multitude of rationales for why the American spying program failed in that mission. While I wouldn't say that the fact here is stranger than fiction, it's certainly equally fascinating.
I was provided a free e-copy of this book by Netgalley.com in exchange for my honest review.
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The author's painstaking research and attention to detail is obvious in the writing of this book.  There were many facts that I only discovered after reading this!
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Interesting background on the race for the nuclear bomb; less detail on the nuclear spies themselves than I would like, but fascinating subject.
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Great read!  Absolutely exhaustively researched, it reads like an espionage thriller, but in which the sleuths make their deductions based not on evidence and cold hard facts, but on assumptions that were borne of cultural differences between the West and the Soviet Union, and assumptions that were borne of an unearned regard for German R&D efforts in the face of that country's massive military spending.  We have a perfect case of giving too much credit to the Germans, and nowhere near enough credit to the Soviets.  Truman himself believed "those Asiatics" (his word for the Soviets) would never be able to produce a nuclear weapon.  It's this same mindset that allowed the West to be taken by surprise when the Soviets became the first to launch a manmade satellite, the first to put a man in space, and the first to photograph the so-called "dark side" of the moon.  An excellent article I recently read suggests that this locked-down mindset continues today through CIA intelligence estimates of the Soviet, and now Russian, nuclear missile threat.  We continue to underestimate what power lies beyond the horizon in the hands of those who would wish to see us most harmed.

Very good book.  Four stars.
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