This weekend I had the pleasure of finishing the book Bridge of Spies, an excellent book about Cold War tensions and espionage, so I thought it would be good to do a Bridge of Spies review. For those that don’t know, this is a great book not only about Gary Powers and the U-2 incident, but also about espionage in the US and USSR during the first decade and a half of the Cold War.
For those of you that are interested in espionage, Cold War history, military technology, or what life was like when we all lived under the constant threat of nuclear annihilation, this is the book for you. It is fast-paced, full of details that help give you a feel for the time period and situation, and shines the light of truth on a situation that was wildly misreported as it was first breaking, largely due to geopolitical strains. The book version of Bridge of Spies, at least, tells the truth about the wildly exciting and tense events described in it.
Summary of Bridge of Spies:
I won’t give to in-depth of a summary because I don’t want to spoil it for you. It is a great read that covers most of the spying activity that we know about from the early Cold War.
The book begins by covering Rudolph Abel, also know as Willie Fischer. He was a Soviet spy sent to America in the early Cold War to try and steal American nuclear secrets. Although he did little actually spying, he became a notorious spy that was captured only after being ratted out.
The book then covers Gary Powers and the U-2 program. Powers was a U-2 pilot working for the CIA that was sent to take photographs of sensitive Soviet sites with the U-2. He was eventually shot down, creating a major crisis. Those flights were particularly important for the CIA and defense establishment in general because they would prove or disprove the supposed “Missile Gap.” I’ll let you read the book to find out more about that exciting program.
Additionally, Bridge of Spies covers the diplomacy going on between Eisenhower and Khrushchev, and how the capture of Powers ruined any hope of an end to the Cold War. Eisenhower and Khrushchev had both been working towards an early end of the Cold War and stopping an arms race, but the shoot down of Powers and resulting embarrassment to both sides prevented that.
The book hints that Powers’s shoot down may have been set up by the defense establishment to prevent peace between to the two nations. Little conclusive evidence is shown, but it is still an interesting theory.
Finally, the book covers the prisoner swap. In this section of the book you will find out where the title “Bridge of Spies” comes from. The author, Giles Whittel, covers how diplomats and spies on both sides worked towards a prisoner swap and then finally made it happen one morning in East Germany. That section was the most interesting to me because of the fact that it could have never happened if not for the actions of a few good men.
Because a few people on both sides, including a couple on the Soviet side that risked going to the gulag archipelago for collaborating with Americans, were willing to go out on a limb, we got Gary Powers back and he did not rot for life in a Soviet prison cell. I thought that was highly interesting and inspiring, as it shows the dramatic influence that a few good men can have on life.
Analysis and Review of Bridge of Spies:
I absolutely loved Bridge of Spies. Not only is it an entertaining read, but it is super interesting and informative. I had never really known that the USSR sent professional KGB spies to the US during the Cold War. I thought they only had paid informants. Similarly, I knew little about the U-2 program before reading Bridge of Spies. Now that I have read it, I think I have a much better understanding of Cold War espionage.
I haven’t read many books recently about the Cold War. I have read Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy, and The Red Line, but both of those are about if the Cold War had turned hot. They aren’t about espionage or diplomacy during the real Cold War. So I learned a lot from this book. It was entertaining to read and taught me a lot about a variety of incidents and programs in the late ’50s.
Additionally, the idea that the whole incident was created by the defense establishment to keep the arms race going is terrifying and interesting. Little conclusive evidence was offered, but the idea of that is one that I find very interesting. Right now, in America, we have seen what it is like when a certain elite group wants to prevent things from changing. Back then, the military-industrial complex, according to my reading and understanding of Bridge of Spies, did what it could to prevent society from slipping towards a more peaceful stance, which would mean lower sales and profits for those companies.
Military technology became hugely important for military history and the balance of power during the Cold War. This book showed why and how the US and USSR tried to steal each others technology. I thought that was excellent, as were the profiles of Dwight Eisenhower, JFK, and Khrushchev.
Finally, and on that note, I think it is interesting to remember that none of the events Bridge of Spies would happen today because there is no reason for them to. Yes, there is still espionage and influence operations, as they have been happening in America for all of its history, especially since Russia became the Soviet Union. Diana West describes that espionage well in American Betrayal, and some of it coincides with the spy swaps and events in this book. So, human intelligence still exists, but is much smaller in relevance.
And, more importantly, we no longer need pilots for our intelligence-gathering aircraft. Now, we have satellites and drones. Spy satellites are able to discern minute details of anything on Earth from their orbits high above Earth. Or, we can send the stealthy, highly advanced drones described in Army of None to do reconnaissance. We can send classified, high-tech drones to spy on Iran, Russia, or China when satellites cannot get the job done. U-2 spy planes, the planes of Bridge of Spies, are no longer needed, so their pilots are no longer in danger.
All of that is my long-winded way of saying that nowadays, military technology and intelligence gathering is just as important, if not more so, as it was during the early Cold War period described in this book. However, we now mainly collect that intelligence in different ways, ways that do not put servicemen in danger. As a result, we no longer have to worry about pilots getting shot down. We can just send a drone to do it. I think that contrast is highly interesting.
Read this book if you want to learn more about espionage during the Cold War and how both sides worked to reduce tensions when necessary, even during the darkest days of the Cold War, mainly because they wanted to avoid the nuclear Holocaust described in The End is Always Near. Because of that important goal and the tense atmosphere, Bridge of Spies is an exciting, page-turner of a book.
Therefore, in my opinion, you will really enjoy it if you like reading about military history, Cold War history, espionage, or just exciting books. Even if you like novels, this book will likely appeal to you as it is just as exciting as many novels. I certainly did. I hope you liked my Bridge of Spies review and want to order a copy for yourself!