A Brief History of The Spy by Paul Simpson is a factual account of modern spying from the Cold War up to the ‘War on Terror’ and the steps taken by government departments across the world to maintain and develop espionage, counter-espionage and counter-terrorism capabilities. It is a good introductory text without getting too bogged down in the politics behind the ‘spy game’. The selected bibliography provides a useful starting point for further reading, but it does not contain an appendix of references – it would be nice to know where some of the facts contained in the book came from – ‘recently released files’ or Wikipedia? My only other criticism is that it does seem to concentrate on spying in Britain, The USA, Germany and USSR/Russia; there is little said about the Middle East until Simpson talks about post-911 developments.
The Baader Meinhof Complex by Stefan Aust is a factual account of the rise and fall of the 1970’s German-based terrorist group in the ‘war of six against sixty million’, and has spawned an interesting film of the same name. The story is presented in discrete chunks which read at times like a cross between a magazine article and a crime report. Aust is sometimes in danger of letting his own politics slip through into his writing, but on the whole tends to tread a neutral line and let the reader decide whether they think the actions of the group and their subsequent treatment by the German authorities was justified. Sometimes the text is let down by its having been translated from Aust’s native language and lacks a narrative punch. Aust seems to lose his way somewhat in the middle of the book, but then the real-life events that he describes pull Aust’s and the reader’s attention back in and the book ends with heaps of drama. Aust is no Antony Beevor, but he does a good job of laying out the facts about the actions and some of the philosophy of the Baader-Meinhof group.