A Soviet spy’s story of climbing ranks and defecting.
Not only because it was a gripping narrative that mostly didn’t feel dated despite its age, but because it offered many glimpses of Russian perspective—or at least a Russian perspective—to this clueless Westerner.
One recurring theme sticks out to me. It’s that people who attempt to hide their animal nature are the ones to be afraid of, the hypocrites that commit atrocities:
Spetsnaz soldiers (…) were convinced that human nature was basically vicious and incorrigible. They had good reason. Every day they risked their lives and every day they had an opportunity to observe people on the brink of death. So they divided everybody into the good and the bad. A good person in their eyes was one who did not conceal the animal seated within him. But a person who tried to appear good was dangerous. The most dangerous were those who not only paraded their good qualities but who also believed within themselves they were indeed good people. The most loathsome, disgusting criminal might kill a man, ten men or even a hundred. But a criminal will never kill people by the million. Millions are killed only by those who consider themselves good. People like Robespierre do not grow out of criminals but out of the most worthy and most humane types. The guillotine was invented not by criminals but by humanists. The most monstrous crimes in the history of mankind were committed by people who did not drink vodka, did not smoke, were not unfaithful to their wives and fed squirrels from the palms of their hands.
It takes courage to truly acknowledge your own nature and motivation. But human animals have unique gifts of will—and the ability to choose to be better. Current world events demonstate Russia’s present catostrophic failure to choose better, and bravery on the part of other leadership that does despite its own self-interests.
Espionage and elite military operations are naturally intriguing to me, and this book journeyed through an astonishing number of details that obviously took enormous energy to arrive at. Those details were the backdrop in a non-fictional story that was hard to put down even after I finished it.