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The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive & the Secret History of the KGB

3.91  ·  Rating Details ·  955 Ratings  ·  67 Reviews
The Sword and the Shield is based on one of the most extraordinary intelligence coups of recent times: a secret archive of top-level KGB documents smuggled out of the Soviet Union which the FBI has described, after close examination, as the "most complete and extensive intelligence ever received from any source." Its presence in the West represents a catastrophic hemorrhag ...more
Paperback, 736 pages
Published August 29th 2000 by Basic Books (first published 1985)
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A Short Course in the Secret War by Christopher FelixTracking the Axis Enemy by Alan Harris BathGrant's Secret Service by William B. FeisThe Secret War for the Union by Edwin C. FishelThe Deceivers by Thaddeus Holt
CIA: Suggested Reading List
68th out of 100 books — 1 voter
The Triumph of Improvisation by James Graham WilsonThe 40-Minute War by Janet E. MorrisThe Main Enemy by Milton BeardenThe Art of Intelligence by Henry A. CrumptonThe Sword and the Shield by Christopher M. Andrew
Cold War-Reagan Era
5th out of 6 books — 10 voters

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Community Reviews

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Dec 29, 2015 Michael rated it really liked it
A very interesting read for those interested in Russian or Cold War history or espionage. This book is very thorough, so be prepared for a long read. The writing style is consistent, so my flagging interest at the midway point in the book was a result of my general lack of interest of the post-Stalin Cold War period.

The notes secreted away from the archives and published in the West reveal some very important historical facts. In a broad context, it is clear that the Soviet system was never abl
Marvin Goodman
First of all, I'm filled with respect for the dedication it took for Vasili Mitrokhin to painstakingly copy thousands upon thousands of documents, as a KGB archivist, and secretly store them under his home. The trove most assuredly has been of incalculable value to historians and western intelligence agencies. Because I've always been a fan of the espionage genre - both historical and fictional - I expected to binge-read this book, growing drunk on previously unavailable levels of detail and acc ...more
Marin Popa
Jun 21, 2013 Marin Popa rated it it was amazing
Vasill Mitrohhin is a hero among historians - he had the amazing courage to keep an astonishing amount of data about the relentless spying activities of the soviets from being hidden and deleted.

The result is this very detailed book, which shows how the soviets spied on a scale hard to imagine from the start until the collapse of communism and how so many westerners collaborated with them.

Once again the reality proves to be more fascinating and incredible than fiction.
Antonio Nunez
Quite recently a colleague told me that he resented a newspaper columnist who had referred to a relative of his as a communist spy. My colleague believed his relative had been an innocent victim of McCarthyist red baiting. I knew that his relative was no innocent but a high-level KGB operative. It said so in the Mitrokhin Archive vol. I, "The Sword and the Shield".

One of the tragedies of the Cold War is that many western communist spies, traitors to their own countries and dupes to one of the wo
Dec 16, 2006 Alvar rated it liked it
Recommends it for: committed readers
This thing is dense. It's not really well written, but the information presented is amazing. It's the Mitrokhin papers, basically hand-copied archives from the KGB archivist, who defected in the early 1990s.
I pick it up every few months, read a couple of hundred pages, and put it down.
Jan 27, 2009 Joseph rated it it was amazing
I don't think we fully appreciate yet the revelations that are in this book.
David Groves
Mar 27, 2012 David Groves rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not being an expert on the world of Soviet spying, this is a slow read. It is exhaustive and complex. However, embedded in the story are riveting wow moments of humanity and imperfection. In addition, the authors take the reader through history as seen through the lens of intelligence and counterintelligence.

From the Russian Revolution through the White Russian Guard to Stalin's rise to the Great Terror to Hitler's invasion of Russia and beyond, this narrative gives the inside story. Some momen
Sep 28, 2016 Paul rated it liked it
This seemed like a very extensive history of the KGB, though it seems that it was "broad not deep", since I've read entire books based on some of the incidents mentioned in this one. I wasn't particularly engaged in it, but it was quite interesting to hear about a lot of the "behind the scenes" stuff going on in the KGB.
Nov 05, 2012 CD rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, espionage, e-read
A subtitle that should be considered by any potential reader is "The Paranoia of Stalin". The information alone in the odd way it is presented regarding the activities of Stalin alone make this book worth investigating for those interested in this part of Russian/Soviet history.

Three stars is a higher rating than this work merits on all counts except raw information. And it is raw. Indeed this rates as one of the most poorly organized and constructed historical works of this caliber that has bee
Betsy Gilliland
May 01, 2016 Betsy Gilliland rated it liked it
Shelves: russian-soviet
I understand that this is an unprecedented coup for intelligence research, and I recognize that the author is an academic, but I feel like the blurbs rather oversold the book as a spy thriller. I knew going into it that it would be detailed and well-footnoted, but I also hoped that there would be a story or several. What happens instead is that the juicy stories get buried under piles of dates, names, and places that are just lists of facts.

Mitrokhin's own narrative of how he collected, hid, an
Feb 28, 2009 Simon rated it liked it
A fascinating book, with great accounts of KGB operations inside and outside the Soviet Union, from before the Second World War all the way up to the early 1990s. I was particularly interested in the sections on the Cambridge 5, having just read John Banville's The Untouchable, but there were lots of other really interesting parts, like the accounts of the KGB's efforts to infiltrate the US, and the stories about its charismatic "Great Illegals."

One slight problem I had with the book was Christo
Fred R
Jan 31, 2011 Fred R rated it liked it
I don't think people really realize how important Soviet penetration of the western democracies (particularly America and Britain, but including France, Italy, and West Germany as well) was to the early years of the Cold War. There's nothing too surprising from this book in particular, although it does provide a good overview, even if it is too detailed.
Their glory days were really the 40s and 50s. Later on, their activities were reduced to the incompetence of the FBI (sending hate letters to p
Sep 02, 2008 Walker rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Andy May, Bob Price
Frightening and real: this is a harbinger of the Putin era, as it details the history and string of successes enjoyed by the KGB and its ancestors,the Cheka,the NKVD,et al.

Mitrochkin had to relocate the secret files of the KGB from its location in Llubyanka to a new ring road library. He copied the files in a tiny script and removed them from the building in his socks, subsequently hiding them in his dacha. He sought and received asylum from the Brits in 1991 then published this remarkable and c
Dec 28, 2007 Steven rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone who is fascinated by our old cold war nemesis.
Shelves: history
You may or may not have learned much about world history in school; though if you have, then maybe you'd be interested in learning what the old Soviet KGB and their politburo masters in side the Kremlin were up to during most of the entire cold war.

This book is a collection/copy of the actual archives that were typed up by Vasili Mitrokhin of the old KGB over a 30 year span of time. Communists it seems, are fastidious record keepers. Later in 1992, he smuggled these archives out to the west via
Scott Martin
Mar 20, 2013 Scott Martin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a book that I have had for a long, long time, but had never got around to finishing (by long time...since I was in college). An interesting perspective on Soviet history and the role that the Checka/NVKD/KGB/FSB played in Soviet history. Having studied Russian history, a lot wasn't that new, but in most of the stories about the Soviet Union, the years between Khruschev and Gorbachev tend to get glossed over. Given the power of Andropov (as KGB head and then Soviet Primer), it is not surp ...more
Don Flynn
Nov 20, 2015 Don Flynn rated it liked it
A doorstop of a tome, I started this book 15 years ago. Got a little over 200 pages in, then put it away for a number of reasons. It was long and dry, and it was around the time my mother passed away from cancer. So it stood on my bookshelf, the bookmark perched around one-third of the way in a bare taunt at my lack of commitment. Picked it back up this fall and finally completed the journey.

Yes, it is a rather dry recitation of events and people, but some of the people involved are surprising,
Alex Black
Mar 06, 2013 Alex Black rated it it was amazing
Comprehensive, dense, accessible, and an amazing tour of one of the greatest archival treasure troves of the Cold War. Cambridge historian Christopher Andrew takes readers through the Mitrokhin Archive's history of KGB and its predecessor organizations, describing their operations against western nations abroad and dissidents at home and in the Warsaw Pact. The archive extends back to the early days of Soviet intelligence during the Russian Civil War, and goes forward until the mid 80s.

The desc
John Wright
Interesting return to the Cold War. With unverifiable sources and hear-say, as well as a populist writing style, it can be a tiresome read, but it reminds one of the hard line, realist, Great Power beliefs so recently passed, yet ready to resurface. It also reminds us what a giant (if sometimes lethal) boys' game the whole thing was. Biggles and Tintin were role models for some. Also,although nominally a history of the KGB based on smuggled archival material, Mitrokhin and Andrews emphasize the ...more
Dec 12, 2010 Evan rated it liked it
A historical review based upon information gleaned from a CIA archivist who defected with pallets os stolen intelligence to the Brittish. Since most of the data is early cold-war, it has uncovered many historical tid-bits. While lengthy and dry at most points...a good "put me to sleep at night book", it also contains some eye opening moments that make you understand the intelligence business in general, while explaining away sopme myths, and shedding light on others. MYTH SPOILERS; 1) kennedy as ...more
Jan 04, 2016 Lis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fantascienza? Magari!

Nei film si vedono spie infiltrarsi nei governi, microspie nei posti più impensabili, persone ricattate da fotografie scattate nelle situazioni più impensate, segreti militari che passano di mano, tradimenti, è davvero così? realtà è addirittura peggiore!

In questo libro l'attività di spionaggio del KGB viene descritta minuziosamente e il quadro che ne esce ricorda molto da vicino 1984 di Orwell.
Un libro a tratti pesante a causa del livello di dett
Quite long, but detailed. Could've used more discussion of the security side of the KGB (and its predecessors), as opposed to primarily discussing straight intel ops. Key points:

1) Soviet intel collection was at its height 30s-early 60s (especially during the era of the "Great Illegals"), when it could rely on ideologically driven agents, and when Britain and the U.S. were not as alive to the collection threat. Post Prague Spring ('68) and the rise of the New Left, the Soviet image lost its lust
Nick Black
Jan 15, 2009 Nick Black rated it liked it
Recommended to Nick by: Dmitri Alperovitch
Amazon 2008-12-29. I was kinda shocked this was published after The Cardinal in the Kremlin; it seems to set that entire book up. Andrew's editor seemed to have phoned the last few chapters in, with a string of noticeable errors splashed across the closing pages. Furthermore, the arrangement of material is pretty much abominable, lending to massive duplication and disjointedness. That having been said, the material itself is pretty much without peer, so far as I know, and I learned a tremendous ...more
Feb 29, 2016 Paul rated it liked it
A massive infodump. Unfortunately, unless you already have expert knowledge of European history the random barrage of facts and snippets without much context or explanation might prove hard to place in any meaningful whole. There is very little comment or analysis, mostly dry facts. I do not have enough historical knowledge and the book doesn't help with this (rather strangely it starts doing this near the end when explaining the fall of USSR, though again, some previous knowledge still required ...more
Sep 18, 2013 Mike rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
In 1992 Vasili Mitrokhin, who had been illegally, and and great personal risk, been removing secret documents from the KGB archive in which he worked, managed to smuggle thousands of these papers to America via an allied country. Mitrokin's archive threw a huge amount of light on where and how the KGB operated, and outed hundreds of agents in the process.

Christopher Andrew, though occasionally going over the top in his descriptions, entertains and informs in equal measure with anecdotes of how t
Jun 07, 2009 Amy rated it really liked it
The real-life stories behind spies and espionage throughout the USSR's long, long history. A surprisingly fascinating 600-page romp drawing mostly on one source: an archive of the KGB's most secret files, painstakingly assembled over a 12-year period by a secret dissident KGB archivist and only smuggled out of Russia in 1992. It's really cool to think that hardly any of this information ever would have come to light without the courageous daily work of Mitrokhin, who hand-copied thousands of pag ...more
Dec 13, 2015 Kevin rated it liked it
Shelves: history
what to day - fascinating view of the motivations behind KGB operations. The depth and breadth of their operations was truly amazing. Their dependence on human based intelligence is interesting and the sheer number of their agents, recruiting, and focus is worth reading. The book is a tough read due to all the special names agents are given (many who you never get the name) and the wandering explanations can be hard to read.

In the end, it is a very stark presentation of how the KGB operated.
Jun 22, 2015 Jenny rated it it was amazing
Ever since I took courses on the CIA, the Cold War, and Russian politics in college, I have been interested in reading about the history between the CIA and the KGB. I started with Joseph Trento's The Secret History of the CIA. I sought out this book as many other books mention Vasili Mitrokhin and his secret dacha archives. I was not disappointed. History buff will find the tale of Mitrokin's defection from the USSR and all the wealth of information he shared with the Western Bloc endlessly int ...more
Vasil Kolev
Apr 05, 2011 Vasil Kolev rated it it was amazing
Wasn't an easy read.

The book is a very good description of the KGB's (and some other USSR services) involvement in the history of the 20th century. It clears up some things, but in general it shows a lot of the dirty tricks they've employed through the years.

All in all, this is one of the books that shows that rarely should information should stay secret, and it's a good argument for the existence of things like Wikileaks.

The book is a really good source of information and citations can be seen
Aug 19, 2012 April rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
Fantastic Book! The only thing that keeps it from 5 stars is that it is not the easiest book to read. It packs so much information about so many people that its easy to lose track. The writing is difficult but the feat that one man accomplished to get all this information out of the country is worth at least an attempted read and it took me a while to finish. However, this is the most in depth and educational book I've ever read about the KGB and inner workings of their organization with spies a ...more
Nov 05, 2013 Patrick rated it really liked it
The problem with this book is there is just too much to take in. I can only read a page or two at a time.

Despite Andrew taking a swipe at Sen. Joseph McCarthy, this book does vindicate the man to some extent. Or so it seems to me. The Soviets were all over the place. If anything, McCarthy underestimated the sheer number of spies.

Also impressive is the dedication of Mitrokhin, copying this stuff out by hand for years and years. Good thing he did.

The book is especially relevant right now, with the
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Christopher Maurice Andrew is an historian at the University of Cambridge with a special interest in international relations and in particular the history of intelligence services.
More about Christopher M. Andrew...

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