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Strangers on a Bridge: The Case of Colonel Abel and Francis Gary Powers Paperback – August 4, 2015
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“Before you see the new Coen brothers movie “Bridge of Spies,” read the book that inspired it. “Strangers on a Bridge,” the 1964 bestseller, tells a fascinating true story of Cold War espionage…An enthralling inside account.” (Minneapolis Star Tribune)
"Unique in the strange history of the Iron Curtain... Enthralling... A truly remarkable account of how the author fulfilled his stewardship as a lawyer and as a negotiator. He has done us a real service in writing this engrossing and forthright book." (Allen Dulles, former chief of the CIA, in the New York Times Book Review)
"Absorbing... A top-notch spy thriller." (Time Magazine)
"As fascinating as it is exciting." (The Houston Chronicle)
"Strangers on a Bridge guides us through the saga with a dry and courtly wisdom." (The New Yorker)
"As compelling as The Spy Who Came In From the Cold--except it happens to be true." (Life Magazine)
"An impressive story of devotion to justice and the national interest." (M.C. Miskovsky, CIA)
"Well written and informative, Strangers on a Bridge is a wonderful firsthand account of the most notable spy swap made during the height of the Cold War. Written by defense attorney James Donovan in 1963, the book gives an accurate overview of the behind the scenes negotiations that resulted in KGB Colonel Rudolph Abel being exchange for my father, CIA U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers, in February 1962 on the Bridge of Spies." (Francis Gary Powers, Jr., Founder and Chairman Emeritus The Cold War Museum)
“This book is much more than the exciting journal of one of history’s great espionage cases, its preparation, trial and appeal and its dramatic dénouement at the Glienicker Bridge. Anyone who thrills to spy narratives and brilliant investigative work and skillful courtroom tactics will be sure to enjoy it.” (Charles S. Desmond, Former Chief Judge of the State of New York)
About the Author
Born in New York City in 1916, James B. Donovan graduated from Fordham University and Harvard Law School. A commander in the Navy during World War II, he became general counsel of the Office of Strategic Services and was associate prosecutor at the principal Nuremberg trial. Mr. Donovan subsequently acted as chief counsel in major trials and appeals in over thirty states, and was an insurance lawyer and partner at Watters and Donovan. He was Democratic candidate for United States Senator from New York in 1962; served as general counsel for the Cuban Families Committee, obtaining the release of more than 9,700 Cubans and Americans from Castro’s Cuba; was president of Pratt Institute; and was president of the Board of Education of the City of New York. He died in 1970, and was survived by his wife and four children.
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While the movie showed some of the Abel capture and then the trial, and finally the appeal to the United States Supreme Court, it really couldn't go into the detail that Donovan does in his 1964 book. Donovan - not to be confused with fellow lawyer and OSS founder, William "Wild Bill" Donovan - gives a steady account of both the trial and the exchange on the Glienike Bridge, which spans the Havel River in Berlin.
"Strangers on a Bridge" isn't particularly exciting book, but it is written with a eye towards giving the truth, rather than the Hollywood version of the case. Certainly Spielberg and the Coen brothers do take artistic license with James Donovan and Rudolf Abel and Francis Gary Powers, but it seems less than many other "based on real life" movies that are made.
James Donovan died in 1970 at the age of 53, of, I think, a heart attack. He left a legacy of government work behind, beginning with an early stint with the OSS, then working on the Nurenburg War trials, continuing with the defense of Soviet spy Rudol Abel, and also helping with an exchange of prisoners in Cuba. He must have been quite a guy.
Read the book first! That's what the advertisement said, and that is what I did. Now, I look forward to seeing the movie with Tom Hanks as James B Donovan.
James B Donovan was a lawyer, a defense lawyer no less. He was General Counsel for the OSS in WWII and assisted with the Nuremberg Trials after the war. His background made him the perfect choice for defense counsel for Rudolf Abel accused Russian spy.
"Our committee feels strongly that American justice along with the Soviet Colonel, will be on trial," the chairman of the Brooklyn Bar Association told Donovan. Donovan knew this would be no easy defense task. Feelings against the Russians were strong in 1957 America, but Donovan believed in the Constitution and that "every man, however despised, is entitled to counsel and a fair trial." Despite the criticism and his own patriotic duties James B Donovan became the legal counsel for accused spy Rudolf Abel.
I enjoyed reading Strangers On a Bridge immensely. It reads like Donovan's personal diary. It not only gives the reader insight into a unique time in America's history, but also it shows us how the defense lawyer is such an integral part of our nation's justice system.
Donovan takes the reader through the trial and subsequent appeals and all the way to a unique bridge in Berlin for an incredible prisoner exchange between two world powers.