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Customer Review

on 8 March 2005
If you'll pardon the poor punning, I'm trying to say that if you expect to read about secret bases in extinct volcanoes, you'll be disappointed. However if you want to read some brilliant forensic history in an accessible and sometimes amusing style, you're in for a treat.
On a personal note it's also nice to see that High Wycombe, where I grew up, was number 3 on the Soviet target list. Perhaps the KGB hated the place as much as I do.
The UK government won't release documents. Even on weapons and plans out of date for over 20 years. So a historian has to derive a lot of information from few sources. There is often more information available from Soviet sources, and always more from the US. This has to be skillfully combined with non-classified information.
There's also a fine UK tradition of finding papers in the Public Records Office that appear to have got stuck in the wrong file at some point. Otherwise this book might not have happened.
Hennessey uses the little he can find to produce a brilliant history of the early Cold War, it's a pleasure to read as well as being very informative. A great book to read if you're at all interested in British or Cold War history.
Finally, on a topical (ish) note, he shows how the UK Government were guessing in the dark about Soviet intentions, and had laughably little intelligence to work with. All they really had was observation of Soviet forces. The rest had to be inferred. Compare this with the famous dossier on Iraq. I read 'The Secret State' just after I'd read the dossier and it was pretty clear that the UK and US governments were in exactly the same position. It's instructive to see the limits of intelligence gathering when dealing with a closed, highly repressive society, and how that affects policy.
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