March 2020, Nonfiction

Spies by Marc Favreau

Spies: The Secret Showdown Between American and Russia by Marc Favreau. October 1, 2019. Little, Brown and Company, 306 p. ISBN: 9780316545921.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

A thrilling account of the Cold War spies and spycraft that changed the course of history, perfect for readers of Bomb and The Boys Who Challenged Hitler.The Cold War spanned five decades as America and the USSR engaged in a battle of ideologies with global ramifications. Over the course of the war, with the threat of mutually assured nuclear destruction looming, billions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives were devoted to the art and practice of spying, ensuring that the world would never be the same.

Rife with intrigue and filled with fascinating historical figures whose actions shine light on both the past and present, this timely work of narrative nonfiction explores the turbulence of the Cold War through the lens of the men and women who waged it behind closed doors, and helps explain the role secret and clandestine operations have played in America’s history and its national security.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None


Book Trailer


Booklist starred (October 15, 2019 (Vol. 116, No. 4))
Grades 9-12. Though they were allies during WWII, tensions between the USSR and the U.S. quickly grew in its aftermath, driven largely by the development of nuclear weapons. As suspicion and fear grew between the two nations, two organizations dedicated to national security and the harvesting of information sprung up: the CIA in America and the KGB in Russia. Through profiles of spies on all sides of the conflict, acclaimed nonfiction author Favreau (Crash: The Great Depression and the Fall and Rise of America, 2018) unearths the human side of a long, secretive war. In four sections, he highlights key events (the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Space Race) while returning, always, to the players, lingering over the stories of people like George Blake, an uncommonly skilled KGB agent, or Marti Peterson, the CIA’s first female operative in Moscow. Neutral in his observations, Favreau offers up a measured, exquisitely researched slice of history. The text is beautifully sourced, and the back matter includes multiple glossaries, an extensive further reading list, key facts on the KGB and CIA, and brief overviews on espionage in Russia and the U.S. since the end of the Cold War. With chapters that often read like fiction, Favreau skillfully captures the tension of an era that, while it may seem bygone, has sent increasingly clear shockwaves into our world today. Buy for classrooms or for pleasure.

Kirkus Reviews (August 1, 2019)
The facts behind the fantastic lives of spies born from Cold War friction. A $20 million wire-tapping device, microfilm hidden in a pumpkin, crawling through sewers—it reads like fiction, but this isn’t James Bond. It’s the truth about some of the key players in obtaining enemy information (be that proclaimed enemy the USSR or USA). Spanning the period from 1945 to 1985 (dubbed “Year of the Spy”), the book recounts the journeys, goals, and outcomes of several spies—loyal, defected, and double agent—in tandem with the wars and threats to ways of life that produced them. Supported by transcripts of testimony, quotations, and stories that could easily be material for a summer blockbuster, Favreau (Crash, 2018, etc.) ably dissects their individual impetuses for entree into spydom, reasons for deceit, and cause for allegiance. The spies’ personal depths of dedication to creating false identities and the stress of shouldering secrets—or selling them—will inspire even reluctant historians to dig deeper and deeper. A breadth of supporting backmatter, including timelines, key KGB and CIA factoids, and glossaries for both the Cold War and espionage in general, is included, as is a list of suggested further reading for those whose interest has been exceptionally piqued. Ian Fleming couldn’t have dreamt up anything better. (historical notes, timeline, glossary, notes, primary sources, bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

About the Author

Marc Favreau is an executive editor at The New Press. He is the acclaimed author of Crash: The Great Depression and the Fall and Rise of America and co-editor (with Ira Berlin and Steven F. Miller) of Remembering Slavery: African Americans Talk About Their Personal Experiences of Slavery and Emancipation and the editor of A People’s History of World War II: The World’s Most Destructive Conflict, as Told by the People Who Lived Through It, both published by The New Press. He lives in New York City and Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.

Around the Web

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Spies Publisher Page

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