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In 1917, a band of communist revolutionaries stormed the Winter Palace of Tsar Nicholas II—a dramatic and explosive act marking that Vladimir Lenin’s communist revolution was now underway. But Lenin would not be satisfied with overthrowing the tsar. His goal was a global revolt that would topple all Western capitalist regimes — starting with the British Empire.Russian RoulIn 1917, a band of communist revolutionaries stormed the Winter Palace of Tsar Nicholas II—a dramatic and explosive act marking that Vladimir Lenin’s communist revolution was now underway. But Lenin would not be satisfied with overthrowing the tsar. His goal was a global revolt that would topple all Western capitalist regimes — starting with the British Empire.Russian Roulette tells the spectacular and harrowing story of the British spies in revolutionary Russia whose mission was to stop Lenin’s red tide from washing across the free world. They were an eccentric cast of characters, led by Mansfield Cumming, a one-legged, monocle-wearing former sea captain, and included novelist W. Somerset Maugham, beloved children’s author Arthur Ransome, and the dashing, ice-cool Sidney Reilly, the legendary Ace of Spies and a model for Ian Fleming’s James Bond. Cumming’s network would pioneer the field of covert action and would one day become MI6.Living in disguise, constantly switching identities, they infiltrated Soviet commissariats, the Red Army, and Cheka (the feared secret police), and would come within a whisker of assassinating Lenin. As Giles Milton chronicles for the first time, in a sequence of bold exploits that stretched from Moscow to the central Asian city of Tashkent, this unlikely band of agents succeeded in foiling Lenin’s plot for global revolution....

Title : Russian Roulette: A Deadly Game - How British Spies Thwarted Lenin's Global Plot
Author :
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ISBN : 9781444737028
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 378 Pages
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Russian Roulette: A Deadly Game - How British Spies Thwarted Lenin's Global Plot Reviews

  • Max Nemtsov
    2019-03-16 16:24

    Беллетризованные приключения английских шпионов в России примерно в 1916–1920 гг. и основание MI6 от прекрасного популяризатора истории и пересказчика. Занимательно, что эта интрига выводится как часть Большой Игры (ибо серьезная коминтерновская угроза Британской Индии), но не только — в частности, арест Троцкого в Нова-Скотии был побочкой совместной агентурной работы англичан и американцев с фениями и индийскими радикалами в Нью-Йорке. Дальнейшего занимательного еще много: мы, к примеру, теперь точно знаем, зачем Сомерсет Моэм ездил в Россию через Владивосток, добавив себя к списку тех, кто побывал в родном городе и отобедал в ресторане «Гудок».Из прочих знакомых — Артур Рэнсом и Брюс Локхарт. Помимо них и одиозного Сидни Райлли, конечно, много и других британских «солдат невидимого фронта», о которых я раньше не знал. Но общий флер — романтических времен наивного и джентльменского (по крайней мере, с британской стороны) аналогового шпионажа, это завораживает, конечно. Насколько все проще, циничнее и скучнее сейчас. Действия англичан настолько причудливы (в т.ч. и с технической стороны) и успешны, что советская паранойя и шпиономания, проникшая и в литературу, легко объяснима.В общем — бесценно, несмотря на мелкие глупости в топонимике и ономастике.

  • Tim Pendry
    2019-03-13 14:29

    A very readable account of the early espionage operation undertaken by the British Empire within Russia both in collaboration with the Tsarist Government and then against its Soviet successor in the period (roughly) 1916 to 1921. It suggests its own sequel so we may expect more.It is popular history and sometimes too obviously reads like a thriller but Milton is a good historian as well as a good writer. His sources are clear and he has managed to weave a broadly truthful story out of difficult material.There are two problems. The memoirs of some of the participants may be a tad fanciful in places to move books off shelves and an obsessive understandable secrecy of the interwar security community has extended into the modern day. Ridiculously, key MI6 files are still not available.There is another flaw, also designed to move this book along by publishers. Milton has been encouraged perhaps to add thriller elements and has put in place standard issue Cold War motifs to please the Tory crowd in a way that can detract from understanding.For example, he introduces Lenin as villain from the first chapter but in lurid terms - 'a peculiar looking individual ... he had the air of Scandinavian goblin'. This is clearly designed to hook the more excitable reader in the first few pages but it detracts from the seriousness of the book.The book is otherwise excellent. Presented as a series of set pieces because the lack of MI6 files, and the partial reliance on memoirs perhaps, which drives the narrative in this direction, it is undoubtedly an exciting read with many insights for the detached observer.The main takeaway is that we are seeing the first inklings of the ideological Deep State emerging in response to an undoubted (from a British Imperial perspective) threat. We see something of its ruthlessness and intelligence. There is some high functioning sociopathy here.Perhaps more shrouded in mystery than most stories in the book, we see the British involvement in the assassination of Rasputin and Sidney Reilly's freebooting attempt to mount a coup against the new Soviet regime. From a Soviet perspective, the British really were an enemy within plotting to overturn political change much as some Remainer politicians plot (no doubt in cahoots with EU politicians) to overturn Britain's revolution of June 23rd, 2016.Because it is a narrative and not an analytical text, Milton presents a tale of derring do against an 'evil' regime but perhaps does not recognise that the later ruthlessness and brutality of the regime was in part a response to the very real threat presented by British political warfare within it.As so often, there is a call and response with the British 'hawks', led by that dangerous war advocate Churchill, creating the conditions for a credible argument for terror which Dzerzhinsky and the Cheka fulfilled. The British threat was very real because its own Empire was at stake. Similarly, the British clearly had many highly placed agents at the heart of the Soviet State, notably Boris Bazhanov, a key Politburo Secretary, who supplied secret high level reports until he had to flee. There were many others although the system's precise functioning is not laid out.Once again, this gives a context for Stalin's purges. The regime was not being paranoid. It was under threat. The fact that the British worked so hard to unravel it perhaps came to justify functionally Stalin's purging of the system at every level to secure Russia for the next war.Milton rarely puts this side of the story so we have to think for ourselves as we read the narrative and sometimes we do have to read between the lines. Milton is, for example, unable satisfactorily to explain how British agents were able to function and run couriers under constant Cheka pressure.There was an untold infrastructure there that relied entirely on a network of probably middle class sympathisers, many of them young women and traders, able to move more freely in order to courier material and yet we re-emerge non the wiser as to its structure and capability.Similarly with the emergent deep state aspects and lack of accountability (much of which was justified given the imperial aims). There are times when we sense that a new type of Government agent is emerging who makes policy rather than implements policy.We also see early mass use of chemical weapons against the Soviets promoted by Churchill, and interference in the affairs of another State, the licence to kill, independent unaccountable action (as in Reilly's coup attempt) - everything that will become normal by the later Cold War.The book covers two fronts - at the centre of Russian power (St. Petersburg/Petrograd and Moscow) and in Central Asia where the stakes were even higher because communism threatened to create an alliance with Islamism and sweep down into British India.Although managed as part of a total strategy in London (alongside trade and diplomatic relations with Russia), the two fronts were entirely different in basic aims other than the preservation of the Empire. Both were co-ordinated at the Imperial Centre in London. The takeaway from the Central Asian story is that the British Raj had already had a tradition of espionage against Russian incursion, famously described in Kipling's 'Kim' but going back further to Montgomerie's spy and surveying teams that entered Tibet in the 1860s.Naturally, with his eye to the contemporary book market, Milton will imply a 'shock-horror' attitude to Bolshevik alliances with Islam and ideologically it always was absurd, especially as fanatic Muslim tribespeople (the Taliban of their day) would never become communists willingly.However, what we really have is the same brutal clash of empires and world views with everyone using tools to hand much as we saw in Brzezinski's alliance with those same tribespeople seventy years later or FDR's strategic energy alliance with the House of Saud.For the Bolsheviks in their early years of power, it was a war against imperialism and the British Empire's beating heart was an exploitative control over India. The Raj's vulnerability lay in the mobilisation of either India's Muslim or Hindu population or both from within.It ain't rocket science. The British Empire saw communism not only as intrinsically dangerous (actually to the dominance of the empire at home by its trading classes) but as quite capable of doing what Napoleon did in his first onslaught on Europe, motivating through ideology.In this situation, the creation of a London-based secret service offered one key service (the supply of data to assist in standard diplomatic and war policy) with a bit of black ops on the side but the Raj's already well established equivalent was engaged in direct warfare on its frontierI think the reader might be staggered by the sophistication of the British Indian military in its handling of the threat. I leave him or her to ask their own questions about whether the second centre of the Empire was not more functionally advanced in some respects than the homeland.Everything came together when the Trotskyist world revolutionary model came to a shuddering halt in both Poland and Central Asia but with the Soviet regime militarily and politically secure if economically shattered.The British Raj had undermined the Communist-Islamist alliance so effectively (and incidentally built its own radical Islamist links) and the Secret Service was so good at supplying documentation and breaking codes that the Empire was able to get the right trade deal with Soviet Russia in 1921.In effect, the Soviets bought space to lick their wounds and restore trade relations with the Empire (absolutely vital to its own survival) in return for committing to leave India and the rest of the Empire alone. This is the moment when Trotskyism is ready to die and Stalinism ready to be born. This, of course, did not stop the Comintern engaging in proletarian and intellectual subversion or encouraging internally formed communist movements co-ordinated from Moscow but it did stop the emergence of large-scale military formations exploiting discontents directly.The book is clear - the Secret Service both in its long established Raj and new London-based variants made a material contribution to the post-war survival of a shaky and vulnerable post-war Empire and ensured it lasted until the next cataclysm in the 1940s.It is this success that explains why secret operations began to have such a hold on the political imagination, why governments ensured that Parliament was removed from their consideration (until recently) and why the secret services began to help to make policy.A book well worth reading with the caveats about an unsophisticated ideological bias driven by contemporary cultural and media needs. As always there is no black and white - the Empire was served, the people perhaps ambiguously so and the seeds of weeds sown for the future.As for the Soviet Union, it was contained but probably more by its chaotic internal contradictions than by external action. It was exhausted into stability. The legacy of the spies though may have been to give reason for regime paranoia that contributed to many lost lives.

  • Cynthia
    2019-02-17 13:53

    The cold war before it became coldThere’s something fascinating about spies and spy craft. “Russian Roulette” details the genesis of Britain’s Special Intelligence Services (later also referred to as MI6) as it began during the World War I in response to Russia’s Bolshevik movement. At that time Lenin and Trotsky and their cronies were attempting to socialize not just Russia but the entire world. Their first step was to murder the royal family and any citizens who didn’t agree with them. It was a bloodbath.Mansfield George Smith Cumming was the first leader of this soon to be notorious spy network though his name was completely unknown at that time. In fact no one who worked for him knew his name addressing him only as Chief or C. For the protection of his operation and his operatives secrecy was essential. Milton’s writing flows wonderfully as he describes the exploits of these undercover geniuses. Often they landed in foreign places with only the sketchiest of missions…things like, ‘go over there, blend in, find out what’s going on, report back, don’t get caught’. Some of these early spies were the notorious Sidney Reilly, Arthur Ransome, Frederick Bailey and many others. Writer W. Somerset Maugham identified as Agent Somerville even gets a mention for his wartime sleuthing. This is where it all begins. I’m so glad that lots of this early information is finally becoming declassified. It’s interesting to learn about how undercover work began. “Russian Roulette” is a great place to start.This reveiw is based on an advanced readers copy provided by the publisher.

  • Scott
    2019-03-09 16:48

    Giles Milton ("Nathaniel's Nutmeg") writes with the infectious joy of your favorite uncle telling tall tales after a snort or two of good bourbon. With "Russian Roulette," Milton uses some real-life British spies as his Good Guys while Lenin and the Bolsheviks wear Black Hats in several tales of risking life and limb for God and country. Anyone who likes their history footnote-free and full of narrative will enjoy "RR."It may be hard to believe in our cynical world, but at the dawn of the 20th century the concept of espionage was fairly primitive. The concept of "a gentleman does not read another gentleman's mail" still pervaded the halls of government . . . and this was a time when being a gentleman meant something. But Britain found itself dealing with a major new threat once the Bolsheviks tore apart the Russian monarchy and Lenin started his plan for global domination. Lenin, with his hatred of the West and his single-minded determination, actually serves as a viable villain for such a story, as one could imagine James Bond crossing swords with him.Against Lenin, Britain plays such brilliant thinkers as Mansfield Cumming, reclusive nobleman and strategist who leads Britain's spy network, and brave field agents as Sidney Reilly, Arthur Ransome, Paul Dukes, and George Hill, who lived behind enemy lines for years. These agents, often working with a literal price on their heads, provided the British government with vital information of Bolshevik political developments, troop movements, supply chains, and other skullduggery that gave the Brits a vital check against the rampaging Bolsheviks.For the Bolsheviks were looking to topple the western powers of Capitalism at a time those powers were exhausted by World War I. Energized by their successful revolution, the Bolsheviks were primed to make major inroads in their war against the West, most particularly through a campaign into India to oust the British from their valued colonial holdings. The British might say that this would not stand, but the reality was that the British military was not certain it could stop the Bolsheviks through sheer force of arms.Enter the spies. These men and women (the men get more fame in this book, but there is a great book to be written about the women who are in these pages) risk everything to advance Britain's cause. Many of them are caught, and many pay the ultimate price.Milton's book flies by as he is far more interested in story than analysis. But that's fine - not every book of history needs to be heavily footnoted. But Milton has clearly done his research as his story is steeped in intriguing details and revealing anecdotes. It is a little episodic, and except for the final chapter where the spies break the Indian campaign of the Army of God, there are few major incidents were Milton can say, "Look - the spies accomplished this." Much of the spies' successes came in getting the little bits of information back to Britain where they could be analyzed . . . this was a campaign of tiny victories leading to major coups.Highly recommended, but Milton's book is limited in scope and purpose - it would hardly serve as a definitive account of British-Bolshevik antagonism or even British espionage in the early 20th century. But what a read!

  • Barry Hammond
    2019-03-19 17:35

    Interesting factual account of the dealings of British spies against The Soviets during and just after World War I. Some of the material here was only declassified in 2005 so it seems very fresh. Just another reminder that we'll never know the true story of anything that's happening now until years later. The section on the attempted war against British India is especially good. Great stuff! - BH.

  • Stephen Coates
    2019-02-16 11:42

    Forget James Bond, who never uses disguises, announces himself by name, fights thugs for hours without so much as a scratch and kills a score of baddies with a gun fired over his shoulder yet is never hit, Milton recounts a number of remarkable real spies, the earliest spies in what was to become MI6. Starting with some Russian-speaking Brits in Russia at the time of the revolution, the embryonic organisation very quickly became very proficient at gathering valuable information from inside the regime and making harrowing escapes from the embryonic and also very proficient Cheka, predecessor to the NKVD and later KGB. British spies were also active in Tashkent monitoring the building of an army of Indian discontents planning to infiltrate and instigate uprisings in British India, a major risk at the time that most British forces were deployed on the western front.Milton’s account is both fascinating for both bring together the accounts of the spies themselves and the political manoeuvrings of the time from memoirs and recently declassified official documents and presents it in a style which is very readable and thoroughly enjoying.

  • Bret Kinghorn
    2019-03-08 15:32

    Enjoyable read about the birth of the British SIS and their first task of trying to slow, or stop, Lenin and his Communist regime. Interesting to see how early 20th century spies plied their trade and survived. It was also interesting to see the different types of "characters" that were employed to be spies. If you enjoy British, Russian or espionage histories, its a good book for you.

  • David R
    2019-02-24 19:50

    This came on a recommendation from a customer. How I wish I could thank him for this gem. I loved every word of it.

  • Jim
    2019-02-18 13:38

    A century ago, the opening shots of World War One would be heard and a large part of the world was plunged into war. The United States would at first be neutral but that would change in 1917 with America's entry into the conflict.Germany, as it would do nearly thirty years later, would fight a two front war with Western European powers and the US on one side (The Western Front) and Russia on the other side (The Eastern Front.) However, when Russia, racked with increasing civil turmoil, signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany in early 1918 effectively ending the war on the Eastern Front, revolution which had taken shape in Russia first with the overthrow of the Emperor Nicholas II and then with the victory by the Bolsheviks lead by Vladimir Lenin, was in full swing.With his ascension to power, Lenin began to focus on exporting his socialist revolution to the world so that capitalism and capitalistic nations would fall. The English took a dim view of Lenin's plans and thus began an effort to defeat those plans as well as re-establish a government friendly to the west, democracy, and capitalism. Giles Milton's book chronicles this effort with the stories of an eclectic group of British agents and friendly Russians of what would become commonly called the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) or MI6.Russian Roulette: A Deadly Game: How British Spies Thwarted Lenin's Global Plot, is a wonderfully written and fast paced account of the SIS and its work in two primary locations - around Petrograd (today's St. Petersburg) and Moscow in Western Russia and in the mountainous "roof of the world" into which Lenin would pour material and troops for the purpose of enabling Indian revolutionaries to overthrow British rule and embrace socialism as a first step in a socialist revolution. And Milton tells this story as he introduces us to the head of SIS "C" or Captain Sir George Mansfield Smith-Cumming and several key agents including the notable (and to some the notorious) Sidney Reilly, Paul Dukes who became known as the "man of a hundred faces" and the resourceful and ruthless British General Wilfrid Malleson who used secret information given to him to undermine a Russian backed jihad in the harsh hinterlands of Central Asia. Alongside the stories of these and other men, Milton chronicles the development of modern spy techniques and tricks that became mainstream in the years ahead - safe houses, multiple disguises, developing contacts deep within a hostile government, invisible inks, and use of emerging military technology such as the use of British "skimmer" boats along the Finnish-Russian border.The result is a wonderful book that brings to light stories about the development of modern intelligence as well as the attempts to save Russia from a harsh political philosophy that would last for over seventy years and enslave a large portion of central Europe for over fifty years.I liked this book because of its main story line which filled in some history that I had never learned - notably Malleson's efforts to thwart a Soviet-Islamic pact designed to turn India into a socialist state and because it showed me that places in which the West again finds itself, notably Afghanistan, continues to be areas of the world in which clashing worldviews and their respective political philosophies again are facing off against one another.I rate this book a 'magnificent' read.Note: I received a galley copy of this book from the publisher, Bloomsbury Press, via Net Galley in exchange for review. I was not required to write a positive review.Enhanced by Zemanta

  • Andrew Davis
    2019-03-18 18:52

    An interesting account of British Secret Service activities at the end and following the First World War. I have learned two interesting things:- Sidney Reilly organised to kill both Lenin and Trotsky during the meeting of their Central committee. Unfortunately, just before there was an attempt on Lenin’s life and this changed all the security arrangements. Also, a French journalist of Le Monde informed Russians of the attempt, which forced Reilly to run away from Russia.- Lenin was supporting setting up an army of Indians to attack English India and spread revolution outside Russia. British Secret Service under Mansfield Cumming, which released secret correspondence of Bolsheviks to British government, stopped this attempt. As at the time Russians were desperate to get economic cooperation with Britain, they agreed to disband the secret army.Four stars out of five as the book is not based on any original research and relies on other already published sources.BRITISH CHARACTERSFrederick Bailey – an officer serving with the Indian Political Department, crossing Pamir MountainsSteward Blacker – a major, crossing Pamir Mountains.Ernest Boyce – Cumming’s principal agent in MoscowFreddie Browning – A colonel, Cumming’s unofficial deputySir George Buchanan – The British Ambassador to RussiaWilfred Malleson – in charge of Indian and Punjabi troops on the border of India and Turkestan.Mansfield Cumming – In charge of foreign intelligence for Britain. Based in London.Paul Dukes – A courier working with British embassy.Percy Etherton – appointed a British Council in Kashgar, crossing Pamir Mountains.William Gibson – Harry Grunner – British agent working at the border post between Russia and Finland.Lord Hardinge – A British viceroy to IndiaGeorge Hill – a member of Royal Flying Corps. Sent to train Russian pilots. Worked for Cumming.Samuel Hoare – Chief of British spies in RussiaAlfred Knox – a colonel and military attaché at British Embassy.Robert Lockhart – sent to coordinate Cumming’s agents in Russia. A womaniser.Rene Marchand – journalist of Le Figaro, who betrayed a plot against Lenin to DzerzhinskySomerset Maugham – given a mission to deliver money to Kerensky.John Merrett – the British born owner of Petrograd engineering firm. Involved in helping 247 British nationals to escape Russia.George McDonogh – Director of military intelligence at War Office. Unsuccessfully attempted to get Cumming’s team under his command.Sidney Reilly – ex-arms dealer, a womaniser.Arthur Ransome – A journalist with the Daily News. Got to know Radek. Married Evgenia Shelepina, Trotsky’s secretaryOswald Rayner – A member of Hoare’s team. Involved in assassination of Rasputin. Apparently, the third and mortal bullet was fired from his revolver.John Scale – Major, Cumming’s office chief in Stockholm.Frank Stagg – another key member of Cumming’s team.Robert Wilton – correspondent for the Times.Harold Williams – a journalistWilliam Wiseman – a spy working in New York.Oliver Wardrop – British Consul in Moscow. Humourless carrier diplomat.

  • P.e. lolo
    2019-02-26 19:46

    This book is the beginnings of the spy network of Britain that became to be known as MI6. The State or local one is MI5. Mansfield George Smith Cumming was chosen to be the man in charge. He was a Navy Officer who had to retire from active service and was selected by Re Admiral Alexander Belthell who was in charge of naval intelligence. On August 10, 1909 the government decided to establish a foreign and domestic secret service with two separate but connected divisions. The foreign would be charged with gathering military, political and technical intelligence from overseas. To also recruit, train and send them into foreign countries to report any threat that country might pose. He was able to get the network going for the start of WWI and by the time of 1917 there were agents already in Russia with knowledge of an uprising called the Bolsheviks revolution. One of the main spies was a man by the name of Riley. He would later be known as Riley “the ace of spies “. He had already told them months before when it looked like Lennin was going to be in power. He was told to do nothing. The right hand man for Lennin was named Dzerzhinsky, he was a very ruthless man. Then on July 17, 1918 one of the most hideous events happened in the revolution, the Tsar Nicholas II, his wife and all of his children were killed. The Bolshevik press tried to make the killings justified. It should be noted that Lennin was exiled and when he was being brought back into Russia Riley and his team of spies tried to do things to hold up his entry but was finally told to let him pass. This really was the beginning of the end of Russia and all of the countries around it. For after a few months papers were taken and sent to England stating how Lennin wanted total world domination but no one would listen. He first started in India and then central Asia. The India one fell apart by another group of spies from Britain but this would become a lifelong fight for many. Over the years they gathered how many people died or just disappeared. Most of this information was not made public. By the time Stalin came into power there was already a mole inside his office but Riley had to leave for there was a price on his head. In the late 20s Riley went back to Russia helping to get out some of the people that had worked for him. The only one he could not save was himself. This book offers a lot of history of both England and Russia, and takes you up to the rumbles of a new problem in Germany. The same fight Russia has today with Georgia, they were having back in 1918 and 1919. Fighting and trying to force people to follow them that don’t want it. I thought it interesting also that Churchill is mentioned a few times saying that communism is evil but was right there shaking hands with Stalin in WWII. Overall this is a very good book with a lot of information and the author gives the men and women who no one knew about their place in history for the sacrifices that they made. I got this book from net galley.

  • Jennifer Boyce
    2019-03-15 13:44 found this book to be a greatly fascinating and engaging read. I haven't read much on Russia, so this was a fascinating historical read for me.The book tells the history of the Russian Revolution around 1917 and the role that British spies played in thwarting that revolution. The author gives a good amount of background information to the reader before really getting into the particulars of the revolution. This allows a reader who is unfamiliar with Russia's history to get acquainted with the basics before the really important information is tossed at them. Prior to reading this book, I had heard Lenin's name but really didn't have much idea as to who he was and what his importance in global/Russian history was. This book introduced me to Lenin right at the start, allowing me to have a little bit of background information about why he was important up until the revolution before giving me information about his impact in the revolution.The information in this book is completely fascinating. Who doesn't love spy stories? Not only is this a story about spies, but it's a true story about spies and their role in thwarting the Russian Revolution. This book talks about everything the spies had to understand- from secret codes and invisible inks to cool gadgets and firearms. This book would be the perfect read for anyone interested in information on spies.The authors writing style was really quite pleasant. It seems that lately I've been reading non-fiction books where the writing is either extremely academic or just generally confusing to read. This author writes in a style that is easy to understand and enjoyable to read. The author does a fantastic job of writing in a manner that is easy for the general reader to understand but not too easy that the experienced, technical non-fiction reader will get bored with it. I would definitely be interested in reading more works by this author because he writes in such an engaging style, drawing the reader into the text and not letting them go until the end.Overall, I would have to say that this is one of the better nonfiction books that I have read in awhile. The information was fascinating and the author writes in an engaging and informative style. I would highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in spies or Russian history, it is definitely a book that's worth your time.I received this book for review purposes via NetGalley.

  • Barbara Mitchell
    2019-03-09 11:48

    This Bloomsbury Press eBook is rather an odd volume, hard to get into but fascinating all the same. Beginning in 1916 with the conspiracy to murder Rasputin, this part of the book doesn't really seem to belong, but it does straighten out legend from fact about how much it took to kill the priest.The book is more about Lenin's takeover of Russia and his grandiose plots to spread his revolution throughout Afghanistan and the other -stans, as well as India and beyond. He would stir up the various religious groups against the British, which is a little hard to believe when I thought it was common knowledge that Communist Russia was atheist. However, he succeeded to an alarming extent.As I read about Lenin and his plans, I kept thinking about Putin instead. The similarities were a little frightening since Putin was beginning his "invasion" of Ukraine with blatant disregard of what the rest of the world thinks.The major topic of the book though, is the founding of Great Britain's MI6, their version of our CIA. Spycraft was in its infancy at the time but Mansfield George Smith Cumming, the founder of MI6, brought together an outstanding roster of brave, innovative, brilliant men who managed to infiltrate Lenin's government as well as foil his association with the opponents of the Raj.There are interesting little tidbits about the characters and their disguises and ability to evade capture, their love affairs and close calls. Somerset Maugham was one of them, even though he had tuberculosis, and later wrote his Ashenden spy novels as semi-fictional versions of his own experiences. The book portrays Churchill as a hothead who could have horribly botched things for his country. I don't recall anything good about him in this book at all.Even though I learned a lot about spies and their life on the edge, I never got a real sense of just how much danger they were in most of the time. The difficulty in getting information to England, on the other hand, was fully explained, but then I kept thinking the spy whose messages were intercepted would be arrested, but they usually weren't. It also seemed like they were too easily able to fool Lenin.This review is disjointed, I know, and I think that is a direct result of the fact that the book is too. I wanted to like the book but never could work up any enthusiasm for it. Sad.Not recommendedSource: Bloomsbury

  • Zeb Kantrowitz
    2019-03-17 15:49

    Near the end of the First World War, the British government (HMG) created an investigative group called the “Secret Intelligence Service (SIS)” to spy on the Germans. Part of this group was stationed in Russia in order to help the Tsar’s military with information as to German troop movements. Though mostly involved with intercepting wireless (radio) transmissions, a human intelligence network was put in place. When the Provisional Government overthrew the Tsar, the SIS stayed in place to follow what was happening in Petrograd.Much of the information supplied to London was related to the strength of the new government and to keep tabs on the mob of revolutionaries returning from exile. Having worked with both the military and foreign offices (in Russia) they were perfectly placed to keep an ear to the ground. With the Bolshevik October Revolution, it turned out that SIS had many friends in high places, making for a substantial intelligence windfall. But as the Revolution turned into the Red Terror and the Communist International (Comintern) began planning for international revolution, the members of SIS in Russia had to go underground. Espionage now became a dangerous game. While most of the SIS spies started out as gentlemen amateurs, those who survived quickly became adept at living underground as natives under assumed names. Along with intelligence gathering SIS now was in the business of sabotage.Lenin let it be known that the first priority of the Comintern was to ‘set the East ablaze’. He was going to arm the Islamic fundamentalists in Central Asia and Afghanistan to attack India and free it from British Imperialism. The collection of ‘dirty tricks’ that prevented this invasion, and destroyed the “Army of God” is just one of the stories in this eminently readable history.[You will get to meet “C”, who Ian Flemings “M” is based on, and the man known as the “Ace of Spies” the prototype for James Bond. Fleming worked for SIS during WW2 and that’s what made his novels so realistic.]Zeb Kantrowitz

  • Samuel Tyler
    2019-03-11 11:42

    When written well, a book can bring history to life, but as non-fiction it can also send a reader to sleep if it is not written so well. ‘Russian Roulette’ has everything going for it; it is a book about the high tension period of history were British spies infiltrated Russia to try and undermine Lenin and co. Author Giles Milton has obviously got his hands on some pretty dense archive material because this is a book that follows the facts, sometimes down some unnecessary alleyways.‘Russian’ starts off well as we discover that the Brits had a hand in the assassination of Rasputin. We are introduced to some of the main players in the British intelligence services of the time as well as some of the Russian. However, as this is fact and not fiction, Milton is compelled to stick to the truth and that is not always as free flowing as you would like. The book has to leap back and forth amongst characters as new players enter the field. These are real men and women, so you cannot transpose the acts of one onto the other. What this means is that the book spends inordinate amounts of time exploring the background of the people and not getting to the spy elements quickly enough for my liking,This book is written as a piece of light history that should be accessible to all. It is far more readable than an academic textbook, but that does not mean it is any more interesting. Milton is too often distracted in his writing and explores areas that are quite dull. I am a fan of fiction first, but tried ‘Russian’ for something a little different. Although the book is straight forward to read, it is not really engaging enough to bother and I will stick to the made up stuff for now.

  • Barb
    2019-02-22 15:48

    I really like history, but for some reason I wasn’t expecting much from this book. I assumed that it would have a lot of historic facts and dates. Frankly, I assumed it would be pretty boring. Boy was I wrong!!! I loved this book!!!Yes, it does give the history of the founding of the British Intelligence Service (MI6) by Mansfield George Smith Cumming but there is “a lot in the telling”! Mr. Milton explains the political climate in both Britain and Russian at the time and how the Bolshevik revolution changed everything. It shows how if it had not been for the creation of this Intelligence Service, the world could well be a very different place today.In the book, we are introduced to the fledging intelligence organization and the first individuals chosen to begin collecting information. Many and varied were the dangers they faced. But if all this information had been presented just as cold facts and figures the very life of the story would have been missing. While this is a history, it reads a lot like a novel with danger and suspense. How true to life as, in fact, that is how these individuals (spies) lived; in danger and suspense. If you like history even a little bit and if you like adventure and danger, you need to read this book. The fact that what you are reading in this book really did happen is just amazing. You know that there must be more to each agent’s story than the snippet in the book. You have to wonder about all the dangerous, terror filled moments they experienced, the ones we will never know about.Loved the book and highly recommend it. I was provided a free copy of this book for review from Bloomsbury Press and Net Gallery. I was under no obligation to provide a favorable review.

  • JSidelinger
    2019-02-20 16:44

    "Russian Roulette" by historian Giles Milton is a very enjoyable glimpse into the formation of British Foreign Intelligence(which eventually becomes MI6)during the early days of the Russian Revolution. The author asserts that Lenin wanted the demise of Western government, and communism to prevail particularly within the British Empire. Under the leadership of Mansfield Smith-Cumming, a former naval officer with eccentricities, a handpicked group of unique men fluent in Russian secretly insinuate themselves into various parts of Russia to gather intelligence to send back to England at much risk to their own lives. The small core unit of men included author W. Somerset Maugham, George Ransome, Bruce Lockhart, and the man who would later be known as the Ace of Spies, Sidney Reilly.Milton's historical narrative based on personal accounts and newly disclosed material from MI6, details how these men nearly assassinated Lenin and limit impact by the Russian revolutionaries into Central Asia and India. Milton's account of the early beginnings of modern foreign intelligence gathering and its importance is both entertaining and interesting. "Russian Roulette" gives the reader insight into a significant, but clandestine government operation during an epic point in history and how it developed into modern intelligence gathering.

  • Michael Griswold
    2019-02-25 13:53

    Giles Milton in his latest book “Russian Roulette: How British Spies Thwarted Lenin’s Plot for Global Revolution details the formation and functioning of the clandestine British spy network that functioned throughout the downfall of Tsarist Russia and as the Bolsheviks assumed power and imposed their brand of rule on Russian society. Milton takes advantage of straightforward language to draw these fantastic pictures of these eclectic spies including Mansfield Cumming, George Hill and Sydney Riley among others. The depiction of the British spy network is first rate.The problem comes in when we get to Lenin’s plan for global revolution. This plan does not get a proper introduction until the final 30-40 pages and it feels like it was rushed through. I would have liked to have seen Milton set Lenin’s plot for global revolution alongside the activities of the British spy network. As it reads right now, the British spies are operating as Lenin and his supporters attempt to consolidate the revolution within Russia itself. The international aspects of the Bolshevik Revolution are kind of treated as an afterthought.Great description of a spy network, not so much effort on the global revolution part.

  • Tweeting
    2019-03-09 12:50

    I learned a few things. Semen makes serviceable invisible ink, and the British gentleman spies in immediate post-revolutionary Russia sent something of themselves with their communiques. One poor chap had apparently built up a stock of 'ink', and had to be told to get a fresh batch every time he needed to send a message - the stink from his letters was intolerable. Poor wee man. You can picture him resignedly fapping away until he had a plentiful supply, only to be told his efforts weren't appreciated.And while I knew Churchill's judgement wasn't infallible - I'm Australian and we remember Gallipoli - I hadn't realised quite how hotheaded he was. Great man to have on your team if you wanted to win a war against a deranged genocidal dictator, but otherwise you wouldn't put the man in charge of a chook raffle. He'd have used poison gas on the chook and sent an army into Turkey (look, it was the only poultry-related country I could think of) to avenge its death.Enjoyable book. Definitely one to file under 'Stranger than fiction'.

  • Bernie
    2019-03-12 13:40

    This slim easy to read volume is all about the foundations of formalised overseas spying by the British. I heard the author being interviewed on radio and this piqued my interest. It’s an intriguing story about resourceful individuals who in some cases gave their lives. Some of it reads like the old Boys Own adventures. Much of the detail is still classified but through a quirk of history some of the files are now under Indian jurisdiction and accessible.This is certainly a testament to the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction. Livings undercover for months, keeping one step ahead of the Russian secret police are just some of the exploits of these remarkable individuals. The complicated and tenuous courier links to get information back to Britain are astounding. A great way to learn something about the early days of the Soviet union and how permeable the Iron curtain was in those early days.

  • Margaret Sankey
    2019-02-17 11:42

    Using recently (2005) declassified documents and files lurking at the British Library's India Office collection, Milton reconstructs the activities of a deeply eccentric and risk-taking team of MI-6 spies, including Arthur Ransome, Sidney Reilley, inserted into or left behind in Russia as the Revolution took hold. Using forgery, disguises and old-school trade craft (including seducing their landladies and posing as Cheka officers), they infiltrated the inner circle of the Comintern, roamed the steppes around Tashkent to prevent a Bolshevik invasion of British India and stoked Sunni-Shi'ite antagonism in Afghanistan. The subtitle implies far more success than they actually had before the Anglo-Russian trade deal in 1921 put an end to their active interventions, but the period laid the foundation for further development in British intelligence and connections in the region.

  • Ronan O'Driscoll
    2019-02-21 14:28

    Full of interesting anecdotes about the birth of modern British espionage due to the threat from Soviet Russia. Details like Trotsky's internment in Amherst, Nova Scotia (and fomenting of revolution amongst the German POWs there) and the escapades of Sydney Riley, "The Ace of Spies" and Paul Dukes, the "Man of a Hundred Faces". Reads more like The 39 Steps or Biggles than a history book. Biggest revelation for me was how much Lenin (via the ComIntern) had tried to push for the collapse of the British Raj in India and the big role that British Intelligence played in denying him success. Minton brings history to life although is a bit rose-tinted in his views of the Empire and its public school boy spies.

  • Tina
    2019-03-18 16:30

    Fascinating, hair-raising tale of British spycraft in the wake of the Russian Bolshevik revolution. I was interested to learn that the intrigue was centered not only in Moscow and St. Petersburg, but also in Russian Turkestan, where the agents worked tirelessly to prevent the incursion of Communist revolution into India. The spies faced incredible danger, with many failures and some spectacular successes. But the reckless behavior of some (particularly Reilly, Ace of Spies) led to unnecessary deaths. But then, all in all, it was a bloody time period: intense, exciting, and terrifying. Giles Milton knows his stuff and is a good writer.

  • Susan
    2019-02-16 11:33

    Excellent non-fiction! This title is a story that tells about the British spies in Russia just before Lenin's revolution and continues onward. It also entails how the British Secret Service Intelligence Agency was founded. The book show how British spies gathered information to stop Lenin's plot to start a revolution in India. It is easy to read this non-fiction book as in many ways it reads like a novel. I learned so much more about this time in Russia/Soviet Union time period than I ever had before. I cannot praise this book anymore than to say it will astound you!

  • Kieran Evans
    2019-03-11 16:49

    Milton definitely did his research with this book, detailing how British spies infiltrated the Soviet regime from its birth. Yet there was too much trust in the sources that he used and he did not spend enough time to discussing the primary and secondary material. That being said, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read, mainly because it concerns adventure and mystery in a real-life setting. Overall this was very fun and often read as a novel, not as a piece of historical writing; nevertheless, Russian Roulette has taught a lot and shown the perils facing the early spies of the British Empire.

  • Tom
    2019-03-08 19:36

    As you can see, this piece appears to be an exciting and engaging read for anyone interested in the first years of the struggle against Maxist Leninism. Sadly, while the events are demanding and harrowing for the most jaded, the pedantic writing style turns hair-raising, true adventure into the driest tinder! Yawn. The most elderly British MI6 retiree could become more excited than Milton's prose. Skip this's as slow as a Russian troika in a blizzard

  • Wilde Sky
    2019-03-14 11:34

    The adventures of some British spies during the period around the Russian revolution are described in this book.I found this book very interesting in places and tedious in others. Some of the characters / events grabbed my attention, but overall the narrative was confused with multiple characters being introduced / explored in one section.If you are interested Russian history / spying this book is probably worth reading but the style is very much a history text book.

  • Jennifer
    2019-03-01 14:38

    I knew very little about what was happening in Russia at the end of the first World War. It was interesting to learn more about that. Sad, too. I was hoping that this book would have given actual stories from the various spies that were featured, but it focused more on the mechanics of spying by the British on Lenin, and that there were spies, and that they ultimately undermined Lenin's plans for world domination.

  • Gwan
    2019-03-05 13:31

    A bit uneven for me: sometimes the exploits and characters seemed very vivid and exciting, sometimes I was struggling to remember who was who. Whether that's my fault or Milton's, I'm not sure. I've read many of his books and my favourites remain the earlier ones like Big Chief Elizabeth and Nathaniel's Nutmeg, but if you're at all interested in Russian history, or spying, by all means give this a go.

  • Emily Boycott
    2019-03-16 13:42

    One of the first non fiction books I have thoroughly enjoyed, full of excitement and cunning I kept forgetting it wasn't made up!Following the stories of individual spies is fascinating, you get to know each one very well and their part in Russian history is described in detail, nicely in chronological order but also ordered per-spy. Very interesting and riveting read!