In February next year it will be exactly half a century since the first sensational ‘spy swap’ took place, in a divided Berlin at the height of the Cold War. In a two-for-one deal, William Fisher, a Soviet mole born to Russian-German parents in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1903, was exchanged for a pair of Americans: Frederic Pryor, a graduate student of economics, and Francis Gary Powers, a first-class pilot who had been shot down over Sverdlovsk in the Urals on May Day, 1960. Less than two years later, Fisher and Powers walked towards each other from opposite ends of the Glienicke Bridge, whereas Pryor – an interesting and unusual person, as this book makes clear – returned to West Berlin via Checkpoint Charlie (the conventional route). In this well-constructed and very readable study, Giles Whittell weaves together the stories and lives of all three protagonists who, in the author’s opinion, might have unwittingly changed the course of world history.
Whittell believes that Khrushchev may well have been planning to propose a fairly genuine détente to Eisenhower at a meeting in Paris in May 1960 (Khrushchev had visited the USA the previous year). He had known from 1956 (after the Twentieth CPSU Congress but before the invasion of