The little-known story of a spy on the atom-bomb project in World War II who had top security clearance. American born, Soviet trained, he was never even suspected until after his information was in Soviet hands and he was safe in the USSR.
... vividly described with fascinating twists and turns. Hagedorn has clearly devoured a mountain of research, so it’s disappointing when, writing about the discovery of nuclear fission, the author credits 'two German physicists in Berlin in late 1938.' In fact, although the experiments were run by the German scientists, the revolutionary interpretation that the atom was being split was made by an Austrian Jewish woman who had fled to Sweden. Lise Meitner should have been correctly credited, especially given that one of Hagedorn’s most important sources was a scientist colleague of Koval’s, Arnold Kramish. Kramish wrote a book about another atomic spy, this one for the Allies, who used Meitner to get information about what her colleagues were doing in Germany since they stayed in touch through letters. This lapse makes the reader question the accuracy of other assertions throughout the book. It’s a good adventure story, well told, but how reliable is the research that underpins it when such an error is included? ... What is certain is that Koval successfully passed on information that shortened the time the Soviets needed to make their own atomic bomb. Equally clear is how anti-Semitism ran through both the United States and its rival, and how that hatred affected scientists on both sides. The story of how Koval’s involvement was ultimately revealed is compelling, but the even more gripping narrative is how and why he became a spy in the first place. Hagedorn navigates her way through the many layers of deceptions, telling a story worthy of John Le Carre.
... compelling ... Throughout this narrative, readers should expect many unanswered questions since key information on Koval remains inaccessible. Nevertheless, Hagedorn’s well-researched account employs a host of primary and secondary sources to convincingly connect the dots between Koval, the Soviet spy network, and the creation of the atomic bomb.
Hagedorn effectively tells how Koval returned to the Soviet Union in 1948 to live quietly and eventually receive posthumous recognition. This expertly researched, psychologically thrilling history makes good use of available primary sources, such as FBI reports, letters, and interviews, as well as secondary literature ... Engaging narrative nonfiction that will thrill readers who are drawn to works by Ben Macintyre and Kate Moore.