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A Secret Life: The Polish Officer, His Covert Mission, and the Price He Paid to Save His Country [Paperback]

Benjamin Weiser
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

13 April 2005
In August 1972, Ryszard Kuklinski, a highly respected colonel in the Polish Army, embarked on what would become one of the most extraordinary human intelligence operations of the Cold War. Despite the extreme risk to himself and his family, he contacted the American Embassy in Bonn, and arranged a secret meeting. From the very start, he made clear that he deplored the Soviet domination of Poland, and believed his country was on the wrong side of the Cold War. Over the next nine years, Kuklinski rose quickly in the Polish defense ministry, acting as a liaison to Moscow, and helping to prepare for a "hot war" with the West. But he also lived a life of subterfuge--of dead drops, messages written in invisible ink, miniature cameras, and secret transmitters. In 1981, he gave the CIA the secret plans to crush Solidarity. Then, about to be discovered, he made a dangerous escape with his family to the West. He still lives in hiding in America. Kuklinski's story is a harrowing personal drama about one man's decision to betray the Communist leadership in order to save the country he loves, and the intense debate it spurred over whether he was a traitor or a patriot. Through extensive interviews and access to the CIA's secret archive on the case, Benjamin Weiser offers an unprecedented and richly detailed look at this secret history of the Cold War.

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A Secret Life: The Polish Officer, His Covert Mission, and the Price He Paid to Save His Country + Story of a Secret State: My Report to the World (Penguin Paperback Classics)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs,U.S.; New Ed edition (13 April 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586483056
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586483050
  • Product Dimensions: 2.6 x 14 x 20.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 245,381 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"'A compelling and...suspenseful narrative...Weiser's multilayered approach enables him to brighten and humanize the furtive world of espionage...Indeed, the longer Weiser lingers over the subtleties and quirks of Kuklinski's personality, the more intriguing an individual emerges'. Times Literary Supplement"

About the Author

Benjamin Weiser has been a metropolitan reporter for the New York Times since 1997, where he has covered legal issues and terrorism. Before joining the Times, he spent eighteen years as reporter for the Washington Post, where he served on the investigative staff. His journalism has received the George Polk and Livingston awards.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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First Sentence
ONE AUGUST DAY in 1972, a German employee of the U.S. Embassy in Bonn was sorting through the morning mail when an airmail letter caught his eye. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fine Story 11 Feb 2004
Format:Hardcover
This is an eye-opening and riveting read! I heartily recommend it. Sit down, get comfortable,and be prepared to read it straight through.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Polish post war history 8 Feb 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Very interesting story about polish officer working as spy for West and risking all for his country, thoroughlly enjoyed by all memnbers of my family.
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  34 reviews
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars TRULY THRILLING 5 Feb 2004
By J. Darbyshire - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
While spy novelists attempt to spin yarns that ring true, Weiser has spun the truth into a ripping good read. Clandestine meetings, miniature spy cameras, smuggled documents, dead drops, midnight escapes, everything short of murder - though legions of Hollywood agents are no doubt stabbing each other in the back to get the movie rights. Weiser provides a remarkable look behind two curtains: both the iron one that shielded cold-war Poland and the veil of secrecy that normally cloaks the CIA. The author's unprecedented access to the actual messages that passed between spy and handler allows him to bring two fascinating personalities - and the intimate friendship they developed - to life. If you like history, buy it. If you like biography, buy it. If you're a military buff, buy it. And if you like spy novels, buy two.
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reply to Voice from Poland 4 April 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The amazing story of Colonel Kuklinski and his work on behalf of the free world and America, resulted in many laudatory comments, but also an outrageous condemnation from pro-Communist sources. The understanding of this scurrilious attack will be helped by the recollection that our gallant ally, Poland, was abandoned at Yalta to the Soviet occupation, which lasted 46 years. During this time, some Poles were seduced, or bribed, to serve their Soviet masters and their interests. When the general discontent by the majority of the people, led by Solidarity, brought about the downfall of the Communist masters and their stooges, they naturally felt hate for the freedom-seeking patriots.
The kangaroo Communist court sentenced Colonel Kuklinski to death just like they condemned so many patriots, and even the anti-German resistance fighters. To most Poles, Colonel Kuklinski is a hero and the cities of Krakow and Gdansk made him an honorary citizen. The regime henchmen could not reach the colonel but his two sons met with sudden death in suspicious circumstances in America. So he paid the highest price for his efforts on behalf of the free world and Poland.
28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Colonel Kukllinski, a hero or a traitor? 20 Mar 2004
By Artur Halota - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I heard many things about the martial law in Poland, and I read many books on the cold war. I think what Colonel Kuklinski did, was very dangerous and also heroic. In order to look at the martial law, everybody must ask himself/herself, where was Poland at this time? Was it free from foreign domination? Did Poland make indepedent decisions in regards to foreign policy or even internal policy? I think not. If those who think he is a traitor, then they think comunism was a good thing, and they enjoyed life under comunism. Most documents that Kuklinski shipped to Americans were in the Russian language. He did not take any money as some comunist members including Jaruzelski think.
I am one of many, who met Colonel Kuklinski personally. He is a man of a great courage and patriotism. His sacrifice was that he lost his two sons, and did not receive recognition among the Poles. I believe that his sacrifices wiill find recogniztion if we will read this book.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Patriot or Traitor 28 Mar 2004
By Janet Isak Hawley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
A Secret Life will attract numerous audiences but holds special appeal for those who enjoy the mental challenge of wrestling with questions of moral dilemma. Colonel Kuklinski, the subject of the book, lived as a citizen of a country, Poland, during a time when Poland's national interests were subjugated to the interests of another nation. In sharing military intelligence with the American authorities, did Kuklinski act as a patriot whose mission was to protect Poland's freedom or as a traitor to its national security? The author's conclusions are clear from the phrase in the subtitle "the Price He Paid to Save His Country," but his meticulous research allows the reader to appraise the narrative at every step of Kuklinski's journey and to draw one's own conclusion. An absorbing tale that one constantly has to remind oneself is not fiction!
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Founding Father of the Post-Soviet, Polish State! 21 Mar 2005
By Michael J. Kechula - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
"Sometimes it's not enough to do what is right, sometimes one must do what is necessary." Ryszard Kuklinski knew what was right, did what was necessary...and paid a terrible price.

Benjamin Weiser's riveting work A SECRET LIFE, on Polish hero Ryszard Kuklinski, is an enlightening look back into the dark intrigue, personal danger, and moral dilemmas surrounding one military officer's private battles to liberate his country from totalitarianism. Most importantly, this work shatters the left-wing's liberal illusion of "peaceful coexistence" with a communist system whose very raison d' etre is the destruction of freedom, democracy and enslavement of the West.

Kuklinski saw internal conflict to evict the alien system imposed upon his country by the USSR--as opposed to connivance or the wishful thinking of ideological transformation through "gradualism," favored by some of his Polish General Staff contemporaries, who, for lack of courage or personal gain, fully cooperated with their harsh Soviet task masters--as the only realistic option for peace in the face of Poland's likely nuclear annihilation, had war ensued with the United States. He dared to act accordingly, becoming an agent of change feeding top-secret Warsaw Pact military information to the CIA; thereby, tipping the balance of power in favor of liberty, while loosening the demoralizing death-grip of communist rule over Eastern Europe, as a de facto one-man Polish Underground.

When considering the totality of personal sacrifice and enormity of danger faced by Kuklinski, in his nearly solitary and single-handed struggle against radical, state-sponsored evil--who carried a suicide pill to end his life if caught and was sentenced to death, in absentia, by the Polish Military Court--moral giants like Kurt Gerstein and Aleksander Solzhenitsyn come to mind. It saddens me that former communist collaborators or sympathizers, like Aleksander Kwasniewski, were celebrated or elevated to significant post-Soviet leadership positions and societal prominence, while the country remains bitterly divided over Kuklinski, who has yet to be nationally vindicated, though history has already done so.

Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzesinski said it best when he honored him with the words traditionally reserved for decorating Polish soldiers: "Pan sie dobrze Polsce zasluzyl: You have served Poland well." Rest in peace Colonel Kuklinski.
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