Friday, May 16, 2014

Top Secret! Spies and Spying by Clive Gifford

In 1821 James Fenimore Cooper wrote the first espionage novel, The Spy. Hardly anyone read it.

Today millions enjoy books featuring spies such as James Bond, Jack Ryan, and teenage agent Alex Rider. Millions are thrilled by TV shows that include 24 and Alias, or films such as the Bourne trilogy, Spy Kids, and the Bond movies.

But thousands of years before American author Cooper dipped his pen into the world of espionage, there were spies. People have always wanted to have one up on the other guy, and from the Biblical Caleb to the Hittite double agents who fooled Pharoah Rameses II, secret agent men (and women) have plied the espionage trade throughout history.

Clive Gifford's Spies and Spying (Oxford University Press/Sandy Creek, 2013) gives this vast subject an intriguing keyhole view from the ancient world to the current world of cyber espionage and robotic drones as small as dragonflies. Within two-page spreads such as The Babington Plot, America's First Spymaster (George Washington), Spying for the South, The Zimmerman Telegraph, The Man Who Never Was, Station X  (Bletchley Park and the Enigma Code), and The Atomic Spies, Giffords provides tantalizing glimpses into the history of spycraft through the ages. Drawings, photographs, and copies of documents dot the pages to give readers a taste of each period in the history of public and private espionage. There is also plenty of attention to the cool devices of spycraft, from skytales to microdots to encoded DNA, ninja tegaki claws and throwing stars to umbrellas which inject ricin or plutonium capsules, secret-compartment rings to robotic dragonfly drones.

An intriguing overview of spying through the ages, Spies and Spying leads curious middle readers into further investigations of this ever-popular subject. Spy Dossiers offers thumbnail sketches of famous good-guy and bad-guy agents. Numerous insets, fact boxes, and sidebars  highlight historic facts and spur curiosity, and the book's appendix offers a much needed glossary of terms ("black bag job," "safehouse," "agent provocateur,") and acronyms (M16, DGSE, SOE, OSS), a list of printed and website resources and a detailed index.

Other books for readers intrigued by espionage include Gifford's SPIES (KINGFISHER KNOWLEDGE), ( Dorling Kindersley's Spy (DK Eyewitness Books), and Spy Science: 40 Secret-Sleuthing, Code-Cracking, Spy-Catching Activities for Kids.

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