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The Secret Twenties: British Intelligence, the Russians and the Jazz Age Hardcover – 7 Sep 2017
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'We think of the Cold War being after the Second World War, but this is like the first freeze... Fascinating stuff' --Robert Elms, BBC Radio London
'A welcome and fascinating study of a pivotal yet under-explored aspect of history. Using previously unseen files, Phillips illuminates the growing role of espionage as suspicions grew about the threat from the new Soviet state -- all set against the glamour of 1920s London. It is an intoxicating combination' --Martin Pearce, author of Spymaster
About the Author
Timothy Phillips is the author of Beslan: The Tragedy of School No. 1 (Granta 2008). He grew up in Northern Ireland and now lives in London. He holds a doctorate in Russian from Oxford University and has written and spoken widely on British and Russian history.
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Reading The Secret Twenties you join the dots of the little bits you know about the 1920s - literature, music and events - and emerge with a colourful picture of who lived then, and how they saw the world.
To produce the book M15 files have been culled, particularly those of the 1920s. The various tales are related with verve and at a brisk pace. The author is a very good raconteur. Unfortunately, he makes inferences that are not merited by the evidence. The case studies, including one concerning a cousin of Churchill, are fascinating. Another involves a founder member of the British Communist Party. There are many other nuggets.
It is a very enjoyable read bit it is not always fair. Phillips is at times far too critical of the intelligence services that do an incredibly difficult job in dangerous situations. They are almost always under resourced. Surprisingly he dislikes experts. A strange view he shares with a well- known Tory politician. He goes as far as suggesting they are not to be trusted. Success he claims is largely luck. Nonsense though no one in the Service would deny that chance can and has been very valuable. His analogy to panning for gold is false., This is much easier.
He claims that in the 1920s paranoia was rife in M15 owing to its deficiencies. Suspicion reigned about Bolshevik ideolgy. True and it was fully justified. That ideolgy was, as the archives reveal, like a poison gas invading western societies. He clearly hasn't read the recently released Lenin letters. Read Labour and the Gulag by Udy, a recently released and brilliant expose of what was going on in Britain and in the Labour Party.. For example, the Soviet were planning sabotage of our major industrial centres with local backing.
Running through this account is bias and naivety. His objection to the intelligence bodies retaining data indefinitely shows a lack of understanding of history and the true nature of intelligence gathering. Every intelligence service does this. How one may ask do you decide a file is no longer needed?
A very disappointing book that is good on stories but very weak on analysis. The author's historical knowledge is also at times lacking.