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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a great movie this book would make, September 21, 2005
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This review is from: Engineering Communism: How Two Americans Spied for Stalin and Founded the Soviet Silicon Valley (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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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An exceptional and important book, supremely well-written and well-reported, January 5, 2007
By 
Peter Fuhrman (Los Angeles, CA, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Engineering Communism: How Two Americans Spied for Stalin and Founded the Soviet Silicon Valley (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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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Food for thought, and a good read, December 4, 2005
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This review is from: Engineering Communism: How Two Americans Spied for Stalin and Founded the Soviet Silicon Valley (Hardcover)
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book is an absolute must read!!, December 16, 2013
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This review is from: Engineering Communism: How Two Americans Spied for Stalin and Founded the Soviet Silicon Valley (Hardcover)
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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5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous Story Very Well Told, June 9, 2014
By 
H. Campbell (houston, texas) - See all my reviews
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Mr. Usdin deserves high praise for this compelling story. The tale of two diehard communist Americans who defected to the USSR and founded the Soviet computer industry goes way beyond mere espionage or even technological innovation. It weaves in the narrative of their personal idiosyncracies, including their clandestine affairs, their passion for music and their determination to help build a socialist utopia. In an age where consideration of money and financial aggrandizement are all too common features of the American personality, the sometimes naive affection for communist ideology of these two men seems alien and bizarre. As another reviewer has commented, their story begs for Hollywood of the smaller screen to come a'callin'.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Story No One Else Has Ever Captured, May 15, 2014
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The book is an amazing history...told in two parts. The first provides great insight into the growth of socialism and communism in the US during the 1930's--answering a "why" that is baffling from a distance of 80 years. The first part also lays bare the comings and goings of the group of individuals who coordinated with Julius Rosenberg in sending defense secrets to the Soviets during WWII. The second part involves the lives of the two protagonists after they fled the US ahead of being accused of espionage. Live in the Soviet bloc and the in Moscow was a trial for them, but their natural talents and a nose for survival allowed them to prosper in an environment that is starkly described.

The author had the advantage of becoming a confidant of one of these men late in their lives and has a gift for retelling the story. A very enjoyable read.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A case against or for centrally planned tech clusters?, July 2, 2009
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This review is from: Engineering Communism: How Two Americans Spied for Stalin and Founded the Soviet Silicon Valley (Hardcover)
I really recommend this book. It tells a great story of how two Americans that gave up the American dream and ended up founding what was later known as the Soviet Silicon Valley, a cluster that played a crucial importance, developing the first computers and other electronic equipment for the military industrial aerospace complex of the Soviet establishment. All in all, I think these man were true social entrepreneurs with a clear vision of the future. This is a great book, for anyone trying to understand why going private is a better option than depending on someone else' will (in this case the Soviet government) to push things up. I wonder what would have been their lives, had they stayed in the US, and established an IT corporation back in the 40's instead of having gone to work to the USSR...
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Engineering Communism: How Two Americans Spied for Stalin and Founded the Soviet Silicon Valley
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