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Russian Roulette: A Deadly Game - How British Spies Thwarted Lenin's Global Plot

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  551 ratings  ·  85 reviews
In 1917, a band of communist revolutionaries stormed the Winter Palace of Tsar Nicholas II—a dramatic and explosive act marking that Vladimir Lenin’s communist revolution was now underway. But Lenin would not be satisfied with overthrowing the tsar. His goal was a global revolt that would topple all Western capitalist regimes — starting with the British Empire.
Russian Roul
Hardcover, 378 pages
Published 2013 by Sceptre
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Start your review of Russian Roulette: A Deadly Game - How British Spies Thwarted Lenin's Global Plot
TBV (on hiatus)
“Old-fashioned diplomacy had been shown to have serious limitations in times of crisis. A spy, working undercover and in disguise, could achieve more in a day than a frock-coated ambassador could hope to do in a year.”

In 1909 Mansfield George Smith Cumming

became Head of Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), Director of secret operations inside Soviet Russia. ”He was an unlikely candidate for espionage. An English baronet of the old school, he had been the Conservative Member of Parliament for Chel
Lyn Elliott
May 02, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, russia, spies
If you made a film of these tales of derring-do you wouldn't begin to believe them. Even here, where Milton lets us know that these British adventurer-spies really existed, their plots read like stories from a Boys Own Annual – except that not all their schemes were successful.

Milton has condensed a mass of archival research from Europe, India and Central Asia to deliver a wild-ride of a story that covers fascinating territory quite new to me.

The British spies who aimed to disrupt, even maybe ov
Tim Pendry

A very readable account of the early espionage operation undertaken by the British Empire within Russia both in collaboration with the Tsarist Government and then against its Soviet successor in the period (roughly) 1916 to 1921. It suggests its own sequel so we may expect more.

It is popular history and sometimes too obviously reads like a thriller but Milton is a good historian as well as a good writer. His sources are clear and he has managed to weave a broadly truthful story out of difficult
Jun 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
The cold war before it became cold

There’s something fascinating about spies and spy craft. “Russian Roulette” details the genesis of Britain’s Special Intelligence Services (later also referred to as MI6) as it began during the World War I in response to Russia’s Bolshevik movement. At that time Lenin and Trotsky and their cronies were attempting to socialize not just Russia but the entire world. Their first step was to murder the royal family and any citizens who didn’t agree with them. It was
D.A. Holdsworth
Oct 23, 2022 rated it it was amazing
So here's a funny thing. I picked this book off my brother's shelf more at less at random, just looking for a bit of historical escapism. The antics of British agents in revolutionary 1917 Moscow - seemed like escapism to me.

But the Universe had other ideas.

I was only a few pages in and I realised the book was totally about today. Picture this: unrest on the streets of Moscow - an unpopular, disastrous foreign war is robbing Russian mothers of their sons - talk of regime change is in the air -
Al Bità
This year (2018) we commemorate the centenary of the ending of World War I — the so-called “war to end all wars”. The irony of that last phrase will not be lost on anyone contemplating the events of the last century…

This book reveals details of a different type of “war” going on at the same time: the secretive, hidden, dangerous war involving spies and espionage undertaken by British agents, particularly in the eastern regions of Europe, from the north of Russia to the Indian sub-continent. Mil
Apr 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
Giles Milton ("Nathaniel's Nutmeg") writes with the infectious joy of your favorite uncle telling tall tales after a snort or two of good bourbon. With "Russian Roulette," Milton uses some real-life British spies as his Good Guys while Lenin and the Bolsheviks wear Black Hats in several tales of risking life and limb for God and country. Anyone who likes their history footnote-free and full of narrative will enjoy "RR."

It may be hard to believe in our cynical world, but at the dawn of the 20th c
Oct 01, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2022
This book feels like it was made for a movie. Utilizing documentation and records recently made available, the book covers two mostly independent British spy networks: one in St. Petersburg and Moscow and the other at nearly the opposite corner of the USSR at Tashkent. Lots of low technology, cleverly used (you’ll never guess how they made invisible ink) as the Bolsheviks take and solidify their grip on power in the Soviet Union.

The author makes this book easily accessible and I found it a fast
Margaret Sankey
Jul 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
Using recently (2005) declassified documents and files lurking at the British Library's India Office collection, Milton reconstructs the activities of a deeply eccentric and risk-taking team of MI-6 spies, including Arthur Ransome, Sidney Reilley, inserted into or left behind in Russia as the Revolution took hold. Using forgery, disguises and old-school trade craft (including seducing their landladies and posing as Cheka officers), they infiltrated the inner circle of the Comintern, roamed the s ...more
Barry Hammond
Interesting factual account of the dealings of British spies against The Soviets during and just after World War I. Some of the material here was only declassified in 2005 so it seems very fresh. Just another reminder that we'll never know the true story of anything that's happening now until years later. The section on the attempted war against British India is especially good. Great stuff! - BH. ...more
Sep 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was a very interesting account of how British spies helped contain the international spread of communism after the Bolshevik revolution in 1917. The years 1917-1922 were more pivotal in world history than most of us realize. There is always focus on the aftermath of WWI and the terms of peace with Germany and reparations that eventually led to the rise of the Nazis. However, lost in the shadow of those events, another drama was unfolding in which the new Soviet Union under Bolshevik revolut ...more
Preston Fleming
Jan 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
How British spies thwarted the COMINTERN’s revolutionary ambitions for India

If you watched the 1983 television mini-series REILLY: ACE OF SPIES and acquired a taste for British espionage in the first three decades of the 20th century, this book is for you. The author, Giles Milton, has written a colorful and well-researched account of how Mansfield Cumming, the first head of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, now known as MI6), and his stable of extremely capable spies, nearly overthr
Jul 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Fun to read. Now I really understand why during the famous WW2 meetings with the allies Stalin clearly hated the British and Churchill most of all.
This book was very well researched but I would still call it sensational. He consulted both official records and memoires spanning the thirties to the sixties. But people writing memoires have axes to grind, blame to shift, faulty memories and some are just compulsive liars (a group that includes politicians and I would guess spies. The book is certa
Paul Whitla
Dec 25, 2019 rated it liked it
I am a big fan of Giles Milton but tend to prefer his earlier writings over the more recent. I suppose no author wishes to be typecast, and Milton has indeed deviated into humorous fiction also, but I did really enjoy his earlier studies of great individuals largely forgotten by history and preferred this to his current oeuvre which tends to focus on 20th century European events. In this particular book one of the problems I found was that there was no single central character other than ‘C’ to ...more
Stephen Coates
Feb 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Forget James Bond, who never uses disguises, announces himself by name, fights thugs for hours without so much as a scratch and kills a score of baddies with a gun fired over his shoulder yet is never hit, Milton recounts a number of remarkable real spies, the earliest spies in what was to become MI6. Starting with some Russian-speaking Brits in Russia at the time of the revolution, the embryonic organisation very quickly became very proficient at gathering valuable information from inside the r ...more
James Crabtree
May 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
This awesome book looks at the fallout from the Russian Revolution and the British secret agents sent in to stop world revolution. The efforts to stop the Bolsheviks included a raid against the Baltic Fleet, operations in Soviet Turkestan to stop Islamic Holy War propaganda, intelligence asessments in Petrograd and Moscow and even a coup aimed at toppling Lenin and replacing him with a candidate of Sidney Reilly's liking. An awesome book, it reads like fiction and is well illustrated with photog ...more
Jerome Otte
Feb 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An insightful, well-researched history of British intelligence operations in Bolshevik Russia.

Milton looks at the creation of SIS during the Great War and its Russian contingent, first involved with assisting the tsar with tracking enemy troop movements (mostly through wireless intercepts), then with reporting on the revolutionary unrest in Petrograd, then with supporting the Whites, and finally with countering Bolshevik subversion abroad.

Milton looks at how vague the instructions for some of t
Gilang Rangga  Paundra
Oct 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: bukuku
Interesting story about British efforts to undermine Bolsheviks influence. Author has clear explanation about how the events unfolded but this book has so many characters that sometimes makes you confuse. Also, sometimes timeline is jump so if you don't read closely you'll get lost. Overall the story and the characters in this book is so good that it almost feels like you read a novel even thought what you read here is a true story. You must read this in order t understand why communism doesn't ...more
Bret Kinghorn
May 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Enjoyable read about the birth of the British SIS and their first task of trying to slow, or stop, Lenin and his Communist regime. Interesting to see how early 20th century spies plied their trade and survived. It was also interesting to see the different types of "characters" that were employed to be spies.
If you enjoy British, Russian or espionage histories, its a good book for you.
Vanessa Maldonado
May 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Gripping and well written. Lots of interesting facts and the historical context is well put together. However, the effort to make the spies as total heroes of this chapter in history I don't completely agree. They did without a doubt an incredible job but if it would coincide with the Russian economical crisis the end of this would have been different.
Great book regardless.
May 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I hugely enjoyed reading this book. Milton is a very engaging author, and the book is a lot of fun, rather than a dry historical analysis. He packs a lot into this book, shedding light on British secret service activity in Russia before, during and after the Russian Revolution through the stories of some of the spies who were on the ground, an eclectic collection of characters.
James McLeod
Aug 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Another hit from Milton, this round diving into the fascinating world of espionage, sourced from newly public official documents - any author’s dream! The book is exciting, strange, and frightening, but excellently written. Gives a great sense of how things were during one of the most exciting and scary times in modern history.
Feb 14, 2021 rated it it was amazing
The exploits of British spies operating in Russia just before, during and just after the Bolsheviks gained control of Russia. This is real 'gung-ho' stuff and if you did not know it to be a true rendition of actual events you would have thought the story line to have been taken straight out of a 'Boys Own Comic Book' together with the plots of a few unpublished 007 novels. Highly recommended. ...more
Artie LeBlanc
Jul 28, 2022 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction, history
I was disappointed. The content should be fascinating: but Milton spends far too much time describing the appearances and foibles of the various agents, and never seemed to cut to the chase. I gave up after 113 pages.

This is sad, because the subject matter has huge potential, which I had expected the author of "Nathaniel's Nutmeg" to exploit. Ah well...

Apr 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Enjoyed this book, excellent insight into the start of the UK Secret Service, especially the work in Russia post the Czar. Informative on the start of the Communist Regime and their quest for world dominance.
William Barr
Oct 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fun and Interesting

Easy to read. Very interesting history. Understand the foundation that became James Bond. The Soviets were not as formidable as they presented themselves. Worth the quick time to read.
May 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
a good book, plenty of information and good photographic support. Start with a bang - Rasputin's murder - but then falls into more matter-of-fact spying characters, although still very interesting and well researched. A recommended read for novices to Russia's revolution and the Bolsheviks saga. ...more
Not quite a five-star read but quite close.
Milton is a very good writer. I find more and more I need decent writing to be able to read history; academic history is increasingly impossible to follow.
This book seems best read after the reading of Peter Hopkirk's trilogy on Central Asia.
Emma Tattersall
Jun 09, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Really enjoyed this book about the creation of a British Secret Service. It included new details about events I already knew a bit about and lots of gripping action that I hadn't previously known. Particularly enjoyed the retellings of the various escapes from Russia. Would read again & recommend 😁 ...more
Greg Carson
Sep 06, 2018 rated it it was ok
More of a series of sketches than a work of history. Too light on details and not well organized.
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British writer and journalist Giles Milton was born in Buckinghamshire in 1966. He has contributed articles for most of the British national newspapers as well as many foreign publications, and specializes in the history of travel and exploration. In the course of his researches, he has traveled extensively in Europe, the Middle East, Japan and the Far East, and the Americas.

Knowledgeable, insati

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As the final days of the year tick themselves off the calendar, the 2022 Goodreads Reading Challenge is coming to a close. Sincere...
116 likes · 93 comments
“In the summer of 1914, he had headed to France in the company of his only son, Alistair. They were driving at high speed through woodland in Northern France when Alistair lost control of the wheel. The car spun into a roadside tree and flipped upside down. Alistair was flung from the vehicle and landed on his head. Cumming was trapped by his leg in a tangle of smouldering metal. ‘The boy was fatally injured,’ wrote Compton Mackenzie in his account of the incident, ‘and his father, hearing him moan something about the cold, tried to extricate himself from the wreck of the car in order to put a coat over him; but struggle as he might, he could not free his smashed leg.’ If he was to have any hope of reaching his son, there was only one thing to do. He reached for his pocket knife and hacked away at his mangled limb ‘until he had cut it off, after which he had crawled over to the son and spread a coat over him.’ Nine hours later, Cumming was found lying unconscious next to his son’s dead body. His recovery was as remarkable as his survival. He was back at his desk within a month, brushing aside any outer shows of mourning for his son. Cumming had the ramrod emotional backbone that so typified the gentlemen of his social class and era. Just a few months after his accident, one of his operatives visited him at his offices on the top floor of Whitehall Court. Cumming, who had not yet received his artificial leg, was inching his substantial frame down six flights of stairs: ‘two sticks, and backside, edging its way down one step at a time.’ Little wonder that his friends described him as ‘obstinate as a mule.” 2 likes
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