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A Very Principled Boy: The Life of Duncan Lee, Red Spy and Cold Warrior Hardcover – April 29, 2014

4.5 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Winner of the George Pendleton Prize

Wall Street Journal
“In A Very Principled Boy, Mark Bradley tells Lee’s story with few frills or atmospherics, letting the remarkable facts speak for themselves. Mr. Bradley is a former CIA intelligence officer whose straightforward narrative refuses to sensationalize. For this and other reasons, it radiates authenticity.... [A] fascinating narrative.”

Washington Post
“In his swift, absorbing and damning book A Very Principled Boy, Mark A. Bradley, a former CIA officer and a lawyer in the Justice Department’s National Security Division, brings the gavel down on Lee’s guilt and explains how he eluded prosecution. Bradley combines a lawyerly ability to build his case with a gift for storytelling to make the life of this cautious, smaller-than-life character more than the footnote it was.”

Foreign Affairs
“Bradley has produced a truly superb example of this genre, especially because he exposes in riveting fashion how the Soviet spy network worked and how it flummoxed the FBI, which was very slow to catch on.”

Seattle Times
“What makes the story fascinating is not so much what Lee did – there aren’t many details of what secrets he stole – as what his government did and didn’t do about him, and why.... Much of the value in Bradley’s book about Lee is in telling the military and political story of the 1940s, showing how the abrupt changes in the political climate played out in the life of a lonely man who chose a course he came to regret. Bradley is neither a conservative out to make Franklin Roosevelt look soft on Stalin, nor a liberal who would limit the story of communists in government to ‘witch hunts.’ He is a professional telling the story of infamous breach in intelligence, and in A Very Principled Boy, he tells it well.”

Washington Times
“One of the best espionage books to cross this desk in years.... A five-cloak, five dagger read.”

Weekly Standard
“Duncan Lee’s improbable story is well-told in this new biography by Mark A. Bradley, a former CIA officer, who has diligently mined the many new sources on Soviet espionage that have become available in the past two decades.... While some parts of Lee’s story remain a mystery (since he never acknowledge or explained his espionage), Bradley has provided a fascinating account of one man’s treachery and the toll it took.”

Journal of Cold War Studies
“With A Very Principled Boy: The Life of Duncan Lee, Red Spy and Cold Warrior, Mark Bradley has provided a superb history… an exceedingly well-written, fully fleshed-out biography of Duncan Lee the man and spy that easily meets the most demanding standards of scholarly history.”

Journal of American History
“Bradley skillfully navigates the complex workings of personalities, politics, ideology, and bureaucratic rivalries that make up the history of communist espionage and anticommunism. His book is a welcome contribution to our understanding of the emergence of Cold War politics out of the Grand Alliance of World War II.”

“A valuable contribution to the intelligence literature on Soviet spies during World War II and what happened to them after they were discovered.”

Studies in Intelligence
A Very Principled Boy explains Duncan Lee in the context of his time and closes the file on one of [William] Donovan’s most trusted officers. It is a major contribution to counterintelligence literature, with lessons for all intelligence officers.”

Russian Life
“Lee’s story is by now a common one – of the idealistic youth who becomes radicalized then blindly serves a power that has little regard or relation to his ideals. Bradley’s tale (fluidly told and meticulously documented) is of how this Yale and Oxford educated son of missionaries first justified his personal treachery, then regretted it, and how it destroyed his life and those around him.... But it is also a larger tale of the vast scope of Soviet espionage operations in the US, of Hoover and the FBI’s dogged counterespionage efforts, of what happens when conscience and country collide.”

Washington Lawyer
“One of the very best espionage books in years.... [Bradley] performs a masterful job of exploring the tangled and confusing life of Lee.... Classify this as a five-cloak, five dagger read.”

UVA Lawyer
“[Bradley’s] work reveals the dark intricacy of Soviet espionage inside the U.S. from the 1930s through the 1950s. The result is the fascinating tale of a traitor who chose his conscience over his country.”

W & L Alumni Magazine
“A fast-paced, cat-and-mouse tale of misguided idealism and treason, the book draws on previously unreleased CIA and State Department records to reveal this riveting story.”

Library Journal, starred review
“[Bradley] tells the fascinating story of this complicated spy’s life.... Bradley provides extensive background information regarding the events of the time and all the characters involved, painting a vivid picture of the world in which Lee operated. Readers interested in Cold War history or real-life spy dramas will enjoy this thoroughly researched and highly readable work.”

“An obscure wartime spy working for the OSS, the wartime precursor to the CIA, gets a thorough exposé by a government lawyer and former CIA officer.”

Randall B. Woods, author of Shadow Warrior: William Egan Colby and the CIA
“A vivid portrait of one of the early Cold War's most important but least studied Soviet moles. Bradley does an excellent job plumbing the depths of Duncan Lee's ideological defection.”

Christopher Andrew, author of Defend the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5
“Mark Bradley's riveting biography of Duncan Chaplin Lee fills a major gap in both Russian and American intelligence history. Like Alger Hiss, Duncan Chaplin Lee persuasively claimed after the Second World War that accusations that he had been a Soviet spy were a McCarthyite invention. In reality, as Bradley demonstrates, Lee had been a committed Russian agent at the heart of wartime US intelligence. The ‘Very Principled Boy' became a master of the black art of deception—so much so that he deceived even himself.”

David Garrow, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Bearing the Cross
"Bradley's deeply researched and authoritative biography offers a powerful and emotionally compelling account of how one man's life illuminates the dramatic story of widespread Soviet espionage by Americans against the United States during World War II.”

Daniel Horowitz, Mary Huggins Professor of American Studies and History, emeritus, Smith College and author of The Making of The Feminine Mystique: The American Left, The Cold War, and Modern Feminism
“A compelling book that draws on recently declassified Soviet and American documents to tell the story of Duncan Lee, who worked for the OSS and as a double agent for the USSR before becoming a Cold Warrior. Mark Bradley knows exactly how to help us understand the combination of bureaucratic intrigue, espionage, and multiple contexts that make this such an extraordinary history, biography, and spy story.”

Hayden Peake, curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection
A Very Principled Boy tells the story of an idealist inoculated with communism as a Rhodes Scholar, who serves as a Soviet agent in the OSS, becomes a post-war Cold Warrior, and duals with the FBI when exposed by defectors and Venona. An astounding story of espionage and counterintelligence, thoroughly documented and wonderfully told—a captivating read.”

About the Author

Mark A. Bradley is a former CIA intelligence officer and is currently serving as an attorney in the United States Department of Justice’s National Security Division. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Washington & Lee University, he holds a Master of Arts in Modern History from Oxford University (which he attended as a Rhodes scholar) and a law degree from the University of Virginia. He has contributed to the Washington Post, the Washington Lawyer, and Naval Proceedings.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Edition edition (April 29, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465030092
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465030095
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #248,964 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
First a disclaimer. I have known and respected Mark Bradley for many years. I did not, however, assist in the research and writing of this book.

“A Very Principled Boy” is a thoroughly researched and argued study of how Duncan Lee, whom William Donovan recruited into the OSS and apparently never ceased to trust, came to spy for the Soviet Union and successfully evaded prosecution. Bradley’s insights benefit from his legal training and professional experience in the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Justice. He also gained the cooperation of Duncan’s children who shared the false self justifying history Lee wrote for his family and his damning correspondence with his mother.

Bradley’s purpose is to evaluate Lee’s motivation and assess the damage to the United States. His reading of Lee as a narcissistic idealist who spied for the Soviets out of ideology and quit largely for fear of being caught and shot is persuasive. His conclusion that Lee’s principal damage was alerting the Soviets to whom the OSS had under suspicion, including their top penetration, also is convincing. So too is Bradley’s argument that the FBI’s inability to build prosecutable cases against Lee and other WWII Soviet spies exposed by Elizabeth Bentley contributed greatly to the rise of Senator Joe McCarthy and the Red Scare of the early 1950s.

Bradley's book also is striking as a study in intelligence amateurism and the price that all parties paid for that amateurism. Before World War II the United States had never tried to build an intelligence agency able to collect, integrate and analyze military, political and economic information acquired from a broad spectrum of sources. Nor did the United States focus on counter intelligence. The OSS had to be built on the fly.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Duncan Lee's life story goes to show that being well-born and well-connected opens a great many doors closed to lesser mortals. Family connections helped get him into Yale, and then into Christ Church, Oxford, and a Sterling Fellowship at Yale. His Rhodes scholarship opened more doors at posh Wall Street law firms, and finally into Bill Donovan's OSS, a "league of gentlemen," with the rank of lieutenant colonel. After the war, he continued to exploit his connections, and parlayed them into a lucrative executive career. His connections protected him from the wrath of J. Edgar Hoover and HUAC. Even serial adultery and alcoholism did not prevent Lee from dying a multimillionaire. Duncan Lee was the Establishment equivalent of a Mafia "made man." Mark Bradley's excellent biography is both a valuable addition to Cold War history and to the prosopography of America's upper class whose day is far from gone.

Robert Neuman is a retired university professor and management consultant. He is a co-author of The Six Sigma Way, and other books.
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Format: Hardcover
Once again we read about an "idealistic youth," who is really a despicable traitor, a communist mole who sold his country to a totalitarian dictator, Joseph Stalin, in pursuit of the elusive and deceptive dream of creating a "workers' paradise." This tome is an excellent biography of the American spy Duncan Lee by former CIA agent Mark A. Bradley, based on previously unreleased CIA and State Department records. Duncan Lee was indoctrinated into communism as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, later becoming a State Department employee and ultimately an Office of Strategic Services (OSS) double agent during World War II. Lee was only later exposed by defectors and decrypted Venona intercepts.

The book makes compelling narrative that reads like fiction, only that the characters existed and the events really happened. It is a fascinating cloak and dagger story and a fascinating read, exposing yet another cog in the many wheels of communist agents infiltrating the U.S. government and spying for the Soviets. It is of interest and an irony of history that Duncan Lee also claimed that his deadly espionage was a McCarthyite invention. Once again, the vilified Senator Joseph McCarthy seems to have been right as proved by Venona, declassified material, and KGB records made available after the fall of the USSR. Senator McCarthy was destroyed. Duncan Lee, like many other Soviet moles during the Cold War, was never prosecuted and after his betrayal lived comfortably in self-imposed style in Bermuda and later Canada.
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Format: Hardcover
Never heard of Duncan Lee? Well, you will if you read Mark Bradley's "A Very Principled Boy."

Duncan Lee was a member of the famous Lee Family of Virginia, the "First Family of Virginia" an FFV if ever there was. Two ancestors were Signers of the Declaration of Independence. A cousin line produced Robert E. Lee, arguably the best general North or South in the American Civil War. Bold, principled and courageous people.

Duncan Lee was the son of an Episcopal missionary with evangelistic zeal who set out early in his adult life to convert heathen Chinese. Episcopalians are not now nor ever have achieved the evangelical stature that Mormons or Jehovahs Witnesses strive for but Duncan's father Edmund was in that mold. Both Edmund and Lucy Lee, Duncan's parents, had a passion and fervor for spreading the gospel and spirit of Christ, teaching in what we now call the Third World. Whether away from home or back in the United States, his parents devoted their lives to the cause.

Duncan on the other hand, saw Christianity and religion in general as unequal to such a challenge. Once out from under his parents direct influence, Duncan Lee moved increasingly to an agnostic and ultimately atheistic world view. By the time he came of full age in the mid-1930's, market capitalism as an econmic system and ideology in the West seemed to be failing. Marxism, socialism and communism seemed to offer solutions that Lee could believe in.

Did Duncan Lee ever become an actual member of the Communist Party of the United States? Probably but never proven. More to the point, did Lee embrace the Soviet Union, the communist ideology, even Stalin's governance? This is what author Mark Bradley sets forth.

As to spying, how did Lee get away with it?
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