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The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America - The Stalin Era Hardcover – December 22, 1998

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 402 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (December 22, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679457240
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679457244
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.4 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #483,317 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The Haunted Wood fills in a valuable part of cold war history: the Soviet Union's attempts to spy on the United States from the time of FDR's New Deal, through the Second World War, and into the 1950s. Allen Weinstein (author of a highly regarded history of the Hiss-Chambers case, Perjury) and Alexander Vassiliev (a KGB agent turned journalist) show that among the Americans caught in the Soviet orbit were many top government officials, including a Congressman from New York and a close advisor to President Roosevelt, as well as an American ambassador's daughter. Most of these early spies were leftists driven by ideology--as opposed to money, which seems to have motivated many of the later cold war traitors, such as Aldrich Ames. (The Congressman, interestingly, is an exception--he demanded so much compensation that the Soviets gave him the code name "Crook.") The greatest windfall for the U.S.S.R. during this period was the acquisition of atomic secrets, with contributions from agents like Ted Hall, Klaus Fuchs, and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (the authors do not believe, however, that the scientist Robert Oppenheimer was a Soviet spook). Yet there were also notable failures, many brought on by Stalin's insatiable appetite for purges; defections by Chambers and Elizabeth Bentley also dealt several mortal blows. By the end of the 1940s, the Soviet spy ring in the United States was in serious breakdown. Weinstein and Vassiliev make use of both American sources and Soviet archives to deliver what will surely be an authoritative account for many years--or at least until more top-secret archives on both sides of the Atlantic become declassified. And don't expect that to happen anytime soon. --John J. Miller

From Publishers Weekly

Like Yale University Press's The Secret World of American Communism and The Soviet World of American Communism, by Harvey Klehr et al., this account of the "golden age" of Soviet spying, 1933-1945, draws heavily on recently declassified Russian archives, but turns those documents into a narrative history. Historian Weinstein (Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case) and retired KGB agent Vassiliev offer new background for such controversial Cold War figures as Alger Hiss, Whittaker Chambers and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Unlike recent spies (such as Aldrich Ames), Stalin-era turncoats were motivated primarily by ideology. Many harbored the naive belief that the U.S.S.R. was an oppression-free utopia, while others saw the Soviet Union as the only credible bulwark against European fascism. Some spies even mixed ideology with emotion, such as the daughter of the U.S. ambassador to Germany who carried on a love affair with her Russian handler. Soviet espionage's most dazzling success was the theft of atomic secrets from the Manhattan Project, a coup that enabled the U.S.S.R. to accelerate its own nuclear program. Ironically, by the 1950s, when America became obsessed with the "Red menace," Soviet espionage had been decimated by the high-level defections of Chambers and Elizabeth Bentley. The authors write as historians, not polemicists, eschewing both cheap moralism and apologetics. Although the narrative occasionally bogs down in profuse detail, it is also packed with plenty of intriguing characters and cloak-and-dagger tales of secrecy, subversion and betrayal. This is an important contribution to the history of the Cold War.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

The virtues of the book are its authenticity, objectivity and accuracy.
Richard B. Schwartz
For the GRU to use the Latin alphabet just for the name strongly suggests that the GRU had never before heard of Hiss and wanted to be sure to get the name right.
John Lowenthal
A, "must read" for anyone who is interested in Soviet spying in the US in the 30's & 40's.
Martin Prince

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

56 of 61 people found the following review helpful By Stephen M. St Onge on February 7, 1999
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
My original review:
For reasons still unclear, President Franklin Roosevelt had a mental block about Communism. He just couldn't believe that the Soviet Union would spy on his administration. In the late thirties, his political enemies insisted on pointing out reasons to believe that the Soviets had in fact penetrated the govt. Thus began a long running political controversy.
By the seventies, this should have been settled. Weinstein's previous book, PERJURY, and Robert Lamphere's THE FBI/KGB WAR: A SPECIAL AGENT'S STORY had established beyond reasonable doubt that large numbers of USAmericans had been Soviet spies, particularly those exposed by ex-spies such as Whittaker Chambers and Elizabeth Bentley.
If you are new to the story, THE HAUNTED WOOD is probably the best introduction to the tale of Soviet espionage in the Stalin era. If you're one of the ones with unreasonable doubts, it will crush your last pretenses, because the KGB let Weinstein and Vassiliev look at some of their files, confirming the identities of numerous agents. But if you're one of those who has previously looked into this subject, there won't be much new. Worth reading, but no bombshells.
Afterword, 2002:
I've come to appreciate this volume more with time. There is valuable information here that I didn't notice on my first reading. And, as I said before, it is the best introduction to the subject of espionage against the United States by the former Soviet Union (and I still LOVE typing 'former Soviet Union.' ...)
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By D. S. Thurlow TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 26, 2006
Format: Paperback
Authors Weinstein and Vassiliev were in the relatively unique position, in writing "The Haunted Wood", of having access to the Soviet as well as the American side of the story. They took advantage of a brief period of access to Soviet espionage achives after the breakup of the Soviet Union. What emerges is an exhaustive study of the penetration by Soviet spies of the U.S. government in the 1930's and 1940's.

The Soviets were materially aided in their espionage efforts by an admiration of Soviet communism shared by some Americans. This admiration looks badly misguided in retrospect, but apparently seemed very rational in the context of the 1929 Stock Market Crash and the subsequent Great Depression and rise of Fascism. This admiration produced a generation of American (and British) traitors who gave away information on American foreign policy, military and industrial secrets.

Some of the names are familiar: Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs, among others. Less familiar may be the names and operating methods of their Soviet handlers, who worked not just against American counterintelligence but also against the increasing paranoia of the Soviet Government they served. Despite the continuing delivery of invaluable information, Josef Stalin repeatedly purged Soviet intelligence. The disruption caused by the purges almost certainly kept the Soviets from acquiring even more information than they did.

"The Haunted Wood" is written primarily for an audience already fascinated by the topic of espionage. The average reader may find long stretches of dry and sometimes repetitive reading. This book is highly recommended for those studying the history of espionage.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By melinda on June 14, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I bought this book with high expectations after reading Sam Tanenhaus' wonderful biography of Whittaker Chambers, expecting to get the full story on Soviet espionage in America in the 30s and 40s, since the latter book, of necessity, could not give the complete picture of Soviet espionage. I found The Haunted Wood, however, to be a mild disappointment. There is no narrative flow; it reads more like the notes for a book than a finished work. The authors do little more than describe the information revealed by the secret KGB archives to which they obtained access and by the U.S. government's declassified VENONA transcriptions. The almost exclusive reliance on the secret communications between Soviet spies and their superiors create a distortion, because, as one might expect, those communications are dominated by discussions of problems. The coded messages flew across the Atlantic when there were crises, not when things were going smoothly. There is also understandably little explicit discussion in the messages of the goods that were obtained by the spy rings. It is therefore easy to get the (very false) impression that the Soviets' espionage efforts were unsuccessful. Nevertheless, this book is worthwhile reading and one day should serve as the sturdy foundation on which a more comprehensive history of Soviet espionage and its consequences can be built.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By LEE E. ECKHARDT on October 28, 1999
Format: Hardcover
A little dry, but an important book. It shows that there was a cold war long before the Cold War, a war of subversion declared by the Soviet Union. It also shows (as if anybody ever had any doubts) that the Communist Party USA was no more than an appendage of the Soviet government. American communists used to insist they were just 'liberals in a hurry'. Where were they going in such a hurry? Now we know.
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32 of 43 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 4, 1999
Format: Hardcover
What if we found out there was a Nazi underground operating throughout all sectors of American life between 1930-1960? There would surely be outrage. What if we found out that the deadliest and most oppressive philosophy in the world had entrenched itself in our culture and its institutions from the theatre, movies, and literature to the defense establishment, executive offices of the President, and even members of the United States Congress??? Allen Weinstein illustrates just that in The Haunted Wood. Thanks to the end of the Cold War and the lure of cash the files of the former KGB provide undeniable proof that "The Red Scare" was not based on superstition and paranoia, but the geniune defense of the United States from those who carried water for the Communist conspiracy. A conspiracy that collectively killed more people in this century than any other. Now the question must be asked. Where is the shaming and accountability for those who cast dispersions upon those who tried to root out the problem and questioned their motives. Would we do the same to those who had tried to expose shadow members of the American Bund Party? Communism is a dead and dark belief that feeds on the individual freedoms of the common man. Those who supported its expansion or cast a blind eye to its crimes all bear the stain of the blood from the millions who died at its altar.
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