Jeffrey's Reviews > The Dangerous Otto Katz: The Many Lives of a Soviet Spy

The Dangerous Otto Katz by Jonathan Miles
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's review
Jan 11, 11

bookshelves: first-reads, biography, non-fiction, read-in-2011
Recommended for: World War II and Cold War aficionados in particular
Read from December 22, 2010 to January 10, 2011, read count: 1

I won this book in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway.

Jonathan Miles sets himself a difficult task in chronicling the life of master Soviet spy, Otto Katz. As with any spy, one of his goals is to obscure those relevant facts. Combine that with a career that verges on the success of the fictional Sidney Reilly's accomplishments and you have a real challenge.

Unwisely, in my opinion, Miles starts at the end of Katz's career as he faces the fate of many of Stalin's servants. At first I thought it was an attempt to develop sympathy for the character, but I've come to realize it's more a continuation of the dust jacket. Katz's life, assuming Miles is correct (and I have no reason to disbelieve), is so absurd as to have Miles attempt to further sell the reader on reading the story. This preface is not needed and it, along with the murky early years of Katz's life, delay the reader from getting to the enjoyable substance of the book, which really begins after the Reichstag fire.

From there, it's headlong into the rise of Nazi Germany as Katz attempts to rally anti-facist spirit in Europe and the U.S. while his master secretly negotiates with the Third Reich. Involved in the development of such notorious events as the Cambridge Spy Ring and potentially the assassination of Leon Trotsky, while inspiring such characters as Victor Lazlo in Casablanca, Katz went all over the world in multiple identities, all in service to the Soviet Union, only to find himself yet another one of Papa Stalin's victims.

If you can make your way through the weaker early chapters, then you'll find this an interesting insight into the influence one man with many faces had on the 20th Century.

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Reading Progress

12/22/2010 page 4
1.0% "The cover is unimpressive. I think they're going for film noir-esque but it looks like it was done in a cheap photoshop job. Anyway, the book opens with a discusson of Noel Coward and how he came into contact with Katz."
12/23/2010 page 36
9.0% "Miles sets up the book with Katz's execution, then (a very graphic description of) his imprisonment, then goes back to his birth. Is this to inspire sympathy for the man?"
12/31/2010 page 62
16.0% "I'm not sure what puts me off about Miles' writing. It may be his long paragraphing which creates a "wall of text" effect. The content isn't the problem, indeed I'm pretty familiar with the general topic. But something about it isn't reading well with me."
01/04/2011 page 113
29.0% "Finally getting into rhythm. Dealing with the Reichstag arson trials and Katz creates Breda, the identity that inspired the character Lazlo in Casablanca"
01/05/2011 page 147
38.0% "Katz essentially sets up Peter Lorre's Hollywood caraeer."
01/06/2011 page 177
46.0% "Photo insert!"
01/07/2011 page 217
57.0% "The Stalinist purges and signing the non-aggression treaty with Germany."
01/10/2011 page 277
72.0% "In post-war Czechoslovakia, the worm turns."

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