The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal

Written by David E. Hoffman



In the interest of full disclosure, I picked this book up for two reasons.

Reason #1: I snagged a DVD of The Americans at the library, and was in an 80’s spy phase.  Yes, it is possible to go there.  Go watch that show and tell me you don’t get there too!

Reason #2:  My grandfather was an electrical engineer who worked on military radar systems during the Cold War.  He headed a team during Vietnam that designed radar components for F-4 Phantoms.  I watched the start of the Gulf War with him and vividly remember him muttering, “Huh.  That shit actually works.”

So yeah.  Reason #2 is probably the real reason I picked this book.

In the last few years, I’ve noticed that non-fiction writers are finally telling a story instead of relating connected facts that lead to a conclusion.  This book would be fascinating even if was written in that dry, textbook vein.  But it wasn’t.  This book read like the best Tom Clancy novel.  I figured out how it ended partway through, and I still stayed up until 2am to finish it.

Written with recently declassified, top-secret material, The Billion Dollar Spy is the story of first spy the CIA recruited in Moscow during the Cold War.  This man, Adolf Tolkachev, was a high level engineer who worked with radar.  He passes top-secret information to the U.S. at great risk to himself and his family.

Hoffman tells the story in an utterly compelling way.  The book is tight and suspenseful.  You feel the sense of paranoia and fear that permeated the Moscow streets in the late 70’s.  He paints a picture of the men and women involved that make you feel like you really know them.  You feel your breath catch at a hint of danger.  Throughout the book, you understand that, though it reads like a spy novel, this very dangerous game was real.  Hoffman somehow tells a story that never lets you forget that it is reality.  And it is all more gripping and frightening because of that.

Not a non-fiction fan?  This might still be a bit textbook-y for you.  There’s a lot of detail on spycraft and military technology in this book.  But if spy novels, adventure novels, or tightly drawn character studies are your thing, take a chance on this book.