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Engineering Communism: How Two Americans Spied for Stalin and Founded the Soviet Silicon Valley First Edition Edition

8 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0300108743
ISBN-10: 0300108745
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Editorial Reviews


"Engineering Communism provides a fascinating look at a virtually unknown facet of Cold War spy lore—the story of two Americans who worked with the Rosenbergs to transfer American military technology to Russia and went on to help found the Soviet computer industry. Highly recommended reading for anyone interested in an age we have quickly
forgotten, in which Americans could become committed Communists and risk everything for the sake of ideology."—Francis Fukuyama (Bernard L. Schwartz Professor of International Political Economy, The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University; Author of "State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century, and "The End of History and the Last Man")

(Francis Fukuyama)

“[An] outstanding book. . . . A valuable addition to the literature on the Soviet spy efforts in the U.S. . . . . Highly recommended."


Book Description

This book tells the almost unbelievable story of American engineers Joel Barr and Alfred Sarant, accomplices in the Rosenberg spy ring, who escaped with stolen military secrets and helped to develop the first advanced weapons systems in the USSR. Rich with astonishing detail, the book describes the spies’ success, integration into Russian society, and Barr’s ultimate return to the US and his family.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; First Edition edition (October 10, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300108745
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300108743
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #648,135 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Marina Tedeschi on September 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover
A wonderfully written, exciting, unbelievable but true story that keeps your attention with new developments on every page. Imagine a defector hunted by the FBI who creates a new life in the Soviet bloc, learns the language, marries, rises to the top in his professional field, and 40 years later returns to the US. What was his life like for the 40 years behind the Iron Curtain? Why did he spy and defect? Imagine a woman who abandons her husband and children for a lover and defects with him, not knowing that she will not be able to return to her kids for decades, and then she reunites with them. This books combines elements of a spy thriller, a historical documentary, and a romantic novel, covering a variety of topics, from the roots of communist ideology among Americans and the history of computer and weapons development, to a spy's personal life that involved a Russian mistress and a Czech wife. This book shows life in Russia during the Cold War from the perspective of American communists. Well-researched and thoroughly documented, I think this book would make a great movie.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Peter Fuhrman on January 5, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book may be one of the most important, if under-appreciated, contributions to Cold War literature. It deserves wide readership. The book breaks vital new ground, thanks to Usdin's talents as a reporter, and provides elemental clarity, thanks to his skill as a writer, to the larger drama of espionage and technological competition between the US and USSR.

Usdin's writing and reporting are both of the highest possible standard.

This compelling story is set first in the mephitic atmosphere of the Brooklyn shtetls of the 1930s, where the bacillus of communist ideology was able to grow, then moving on to the grievance-fueled hothouse of CCNY. When you think of Julius Rosenberg, Greenglass, Sobell, these were men of little talent, who perfectly fit Stalin's description of "useful idiots". But, Barr and Salant -- the two men profiled in Usdin's book -- were clearly of far higher caliber, and so able to do far greater damage to US security. Radars, fire-control mechanisms and proximity fuses aren't as sexy as atomic bombs, but they arguably did more to tilt the balance of terror towards the Soviets during the 1950s.

The two American-born Soviet spies were able, through treachery, to truly alter the course of Cold War history. And yet, as the book discloses, they escaped punishment - not just of the judicial sort, but from within, freed of any guilt for having helped sustain a system that mutilated the lives of so many millions of people.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By J. Ubois on December 4, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Nobel Prize recipient Elias Canetti defined the "concentration" of a secret as the ratio between the number of people who know it, and the number of people it might affect. Canetti noted that modern technical secrets were the most concentrated type of secret because they have the potential to affect everyone, but are known only to a few.

Engineering Communism is about concentrated secrets, and the ties shared secrets create between people who hold them. More particularly, the book is about one of the most successful espionage rings to operate in the U.S., and the U.S.S.R, during the 20th century; how Communism provided meaning, purpose, identity, power, and hope for a small group of people (some still living); and how they managed to continue to Believe once that utopian dream faded for almost everyone else.

One secret I shouldn't keep is that I've known the author for many years, and read early drafts of the book. I was relieved to see it come out so well, as having a secret opinion about the work of a friend can be uncomfortable. There's a video of a talk by the author about the book at

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Tucson Tom on December 16, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
On page 298, Note 51 is extremely important to the debate regarding Soviet agents and moles in the United States.

"In April 1941, ... the KGB had 221 agents in the United States ... " from Mitrokhin, "The Sword and the Shield" [ 107, 128]

[does not include the GRU]

Note 50: 29 of the 2900 Venona decrypted messages record that Soviet agents were aware that FBI agents were monitoring their activities ...

Engineering Communism is not only interesting because of the description of the founding of the USSR's "Silicon Valley", but also because it describes in great detail of the chase as the FBI gradually becomes aware of the extent to which Russian spying is taking place in the United States.

"Engineering Communism" is essential because it ties in with Diana West's book "Betrayal ... " . There are reviewers who deny that there were ANY Soviet agents or moles, but the evidence is only overwhelming. The only issue is what the numbers were.

We only decrypted a very tiny piece of 1% of the Soviet cables. [Remember that this was before the internet, before computers, before long distance telephone. There were only postal mail and telegrams. And it was very difficult for the FBI and police to coordinate their surveillance of enemy activity.]

Also, this book is about how the Soviet MILITARY electronics industry was developed ... the proximity fuse, radar, etc.

This book also shows the weaknesses of the socialist system, in which ideological purity was more important that actual results.

This book is a must read! Interesting AND ties in with other studies of the time period and of the Soviet system.
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