Sir John Ure’s vividly told story recounts the colourful careers of a handful of larger than life British intelligence agents and explorers who were perceptive early critics of the Bolshevik regime. They provide a welcome contrast to such self-satisfied figures as Bernard Shaw and H G Wells, who callously hailed the Bolshevik victory in Russia as the ultimate triumph of liberty and democracy. Lavish entertainment and flattery accorded these liberal luminaries during fleeting visits to Russia rarely failed to achieve their sinister hosts’ objectives.
Ure’s accounts of the exploits of those intrepid characters who infiltrated Soviet Russia during the decade following the October Revolution – on occasion, plotting the regime’s downfall – are as exciting as any novel by John Buchan, while also being broadly authentic history. That the secret agents were ultimately unsuccessful cannot detract from their astonishing courage and principled antipathy to oppression. Nor was their goal necessarily doomed at the outset. Committed opposition to the regime was not only