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The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal
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The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal

4.2  ·  Rating details ·  6,157 Ratings  ·  589 Reviews
From the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning history The Dead Hand comes the riveting story of a spy who cracked open the Soviet military research establishment and a penetrating portrait of the CIA’s Moscow station, an outpost of daring espionage in the last years of the Cold War

While driving out of the American embassy in Moscow on the evening of February 16, 1978, the
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published July 7th 2015 by Doubleday
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Brandon Forsyth
Apr 16, 2015 rated it it was ok
I have a deep affinity for espionage tales, and I read and loved David Hoffman's Pulitzer Prize-winning 'The Dead Hand' a few years ago, so I was doubly excited when I saw this in my office two weeks ago. Unfortunately, the book didn't really deliver for me. A lot of the book is built off of the cable traffic between the CIA's Moscow station and Langley, and you can tell. There is a cold, impersonal tone to these messages that filters into the narrative of the book, and the drama and stakes of w ...more
Mal Warwick
Jul 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
If you think you have a strong sense of how espionage was conducted during the Cold War, you’re probably wrong. Histories, and the crowded shelves of spy novels set during the era, offer a cursory and misleading view of the day-to-day reality as it was lived by the men and women who worked for the CIA and the KGB. David E. Hoffman’s outstanding tale about one extraordinary Russian spy for the US and his CIA handlers is truly eye-opening. You won’t be able to look at spycraft in what is called hu ...more
Doubleday  Books
Feb 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This was a fascinating read. Pulling from previously secret documents and based on interviews with people who were actually there, David E. Hoffman tells the incredibly true story of the Russian engineer who, over the course of 6 years, passed along Soviet technology and military research to members of the CIA Moscow Station and saved the Unites States billions during the Cold War. Full of suspense and intrigue, The Billion Dollar Spy is an amazing look behind the scenes of the CIA in the Soviet ...more
Robert Intriago
A very illuminating non-fiction book based on recently declassified material. The items I found of special interest were:

1. The history of the CIA in the Soviet Union and its progression from the 1950s and the 1980s
2. The development of the spying trade craft and its applications and failures when used in the field, items such as dead drops, electronic dead drops, cameras, transmitters and washable ink.
3. Life and purges in the USSR during the Stalin period and the transition to the more liberal
Aug 10, 2015 rated it did not like it
The Russ spy Tolkachev, who helped the US beyond measure in the 80s, delivered info on "the MiG fighter, the MiG-25 high-altitude interceptor, the MiG-31 interceptor, and the MiG-29 and the Su-27 multi-role fighters..he compromised versions of the SAP-FIR radar and the ZASLON radar..." Sample writing. Do you know what author Hoffman is jibbering about? Of course not.

Hoffman's writing is >> appalling ! He's a hack journalist who was awarded by the CIA a ton of facts which he cannot put i
Jul 12, 2018 rated it liked it
The quiet dad and engineer named Adolf Tolkachev was a nightmare for the USSR in the 1980s, except they didn't know it. Over a period of six years, his sketches, notes, secret photos, and insights put the USA at least a decade ahead in the type technology I know you've seen yourself.

Consider the in-flight fighter jet cameras whose videos we've seen glimpses of on the news. When Saddam Hussein marched and flew into Kuwait, attempting to overtake the nation, the air superiority of the US over the
Brendan Monroe
I hate struggling to finish a book. I typically only read books that I've heard are good (don't we all?), so if I'm not enjoying a book I'll do my best to either convince myself that there's nothing wrong with me and to just give it up or, if that doesn't work, to keep going until I finally just lose patience with it. So it was with "The Billion Dollar Spy".

I've been on a real Russia kick lately, so I've been reading all the good non-fiction on the country and culture I can get my hands on. "Re
Allen Adams
Jul 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing

Spy thrillers have long been big business in the literary realm. Running the gamut from John le Carre to Tom Clancy to Ian Fleming to Robert Ludlum, these books have long proven to be page-turning delights, telling tales of the shadowy worlds that exist just beneath the surface.

But what if you got your hands on one such spy thriller, only to discover that all that happened within it actually took place?

That’s the question with which David E. Hoffman’s "The
Aug 27, 2015 rated it liked it
In direct aerial combat over Iraq, the US Air Force downed every Soviet-made fighter that it encountered, without any losses. Next to superior technology, better tactics and pilot training, there was another reason: the United States knew every information about these airplanes, thanks to a Russion spy that saved the US billion dollars of R&D by providing all necesary information it could find about these aircrafts.

In this book, David E. Hoffman tells the story of Adolf Tolkachev, a disgrunt
Daniel (Attack of the Books!) Burton
Adolf Tolkachev's story is one of brilliant courage and heroism. That it ends in tragedy and betrayal only seems to accentuate the stakes that he faced in his struggle to tear down the totalitarian tyranny of the Soviet state. David Hoffman's telling of Tolkachev's story, as well as of the stories of the American spies and diplomats that worked with him, is thoroughly engrossing, describing in detail the meetings, plans, and efforts made to support one of America's most valuable Cold War agents. ...more
Fausto Betances
Solid 5 stars!

This book was as engaging as it was entertaining. I had to wait a long time to get my hands on it but it was worth the wait.

Pure cold war thrill, this book combines substance with great storytelling. In the process, it opens a window into the fight for supremacy between the CIA and KGB. How spies operated inside Moscow and how Russian counterespionage functioned.

One of the most interesting discoveries was to see how soviet agents, seemingly infallible from afar, committed mortal hu
Jul 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Before even finishing this book, I knew it would immediately rank near the top of my all-time favorite books. Intriguing look into the workings of Cold War espionage that does a tremendous job of realizing the intensity of real like scenarios that unfolded in Moscow. I highly recommend this book to fans of espionage, the Cold War, and military readings.
Nov 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: readers with an interest in cold war espionage
Shelves: espionage
This book is a detailed investigation of the rise and fall of one particular Russian spy, Adik Tolkachev, who provided the USA with thousands and thousands of pages of technical secrets between circa 1978 and 1985. Most of the well-known Russian spies belonged to the KGB or GRU, and were usually only active when posted abroad, not when in Moscow and under constant surveillance. This man managed to pull off the seemingly impossible : to have more than 20 face-to-face meetings with a CIA officer i ...more
Mar 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
During the early years of the Cold War, the Americans and Russians were intent on discovering information about military research and development, and any other technical information that would be useful in planning for defense and attack in the event of another conflict. Each country tried to infiltrate the other’s highly guarded secrets. Information could be obtained by wiretaps, satellite surveillance, and photographs, but the most valuable information was most often obtained from human intel ...more
Jan 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Gripping.. more so for non-fiction, and the similarities between the espionage activities and what one sees in the movies is thrilling beyond words..understanding why US had an edge in technology well into the 90s is explained with the work of a man who decided, at great personal peril, to work for the greater good, and ultimately met his end because another self righteous American brat decided he wasn't given his due credit.. worth a read.
Tom Marshall
Jul 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
If David Hoffman's the author, it's an outstanding read - period, end of sentence.

This latest of his is no exception and in my view may be even a touch better than "The Oligarchs."
If that's possible.

Highly recommended. The man cannot write a bad sentence, and always teaches with insight and depth while telling very human stories.
Apr 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
A look on the inside.

Nerves of steel. Patience. Abilities to improvise. Determination. Attention to detail. Men and women involved in the Great Game.
Lauren Hiebner
Apr 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a good story of how the CIA operated in Moscow during the Cold War years. The book puts you on the street in covert operations avoiding the KGB and analyses the impact worth billions of dollars, for the US. These type of activities need to continue especially with a former head of the KGB (Putin) in charge of Russia.
Feb 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was unexpectedly excellent. I loved the mundane details and the way the narrative entertwined across multiple personalities - all against a backdrop of Cold War tensions. And, in an amusing takeaway, it certainly seems that the CIA succeeded in spite of itself, not because.
Jun 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-reads
The Billion Dollar Spy - David E. Hoffman

(I received this book through the GoodReads First Reads program. Thank you.)

On January 12, 1977 around 6 pm, an average-looking Soviet man leaned into the car that the CIA station chief, Robert Fulton, was filling at a gas station. The Soviet asked if Fulton was American and then said that he wanted to talk. He surreptitiously left a note on the front seat of Fulton’s car and left. The entire event took about 15 seconds.

During 1977, the man tried three mo
Jun 15, 2015 rated it liked it
I received this book through the GoodReads first reads program.

As many of you likely know, I've been on a bit of a James Bond kick this year and have been studiously reading through the canon. My favorite of the books, and films, for some time has been From Russia With Love. How could I resist a peek into the real Cold War, then, and all of the complex espionage techniques utilized? Why even try to resist?

David E. Hoffman has painted a beautiful picture of the difficulties of espionage in Mosc
Jun 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Growing up in the '70s and '80s, the Cold War and it's concomitant threat of nuclear extinction was constantly in our faces in the form of television specials and pop lyrics. Who remembers "The Day After" or the lyrics to "99 Luftballoons"?

But I never really understood what was going on in Moscow. "The Billion Dollar Spy" is the fascinating true story of Adolf Tolkachev, a Soviet engineer who for personal reasons wanted to pass critical engineering secrets to the United States. We also learn abo
Nov 22, 2015 rated it did not like it
Having just read two books in the same genre by Ben MacIntyre, I found this one incredibly dull, repetitious, full of meaningless detail, and a very convincing portrayal of the CIA as an ineffective bureaucracy populated by incredibly obtuse people. Here are two events amusing in their ineptness.

The spy, who lives with wife and 12 year old son in a three room apartment is asked to immediately walk out the door and meet his handler when he receives a call from the handler. After a couple of thes
Aug 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
An extremely compelling and exhaustively researched true story of soviet engineer Adolf Tolkachev who for years passed on the USSR's most valuable military secrets to the CIA. The book functions well as a historical spy thriller — it is rife with detailed descriptions of tradecraft, dead-drops, smuggled spy cameras and purloined radar schematics — but also does an excellent job of describing the Cold War political, cultural and military environment in which the espionage occurred. That context m ...more
Jan 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Another tremendous outing by David Hoffman. He walks us through one of the single most critical human intelligence resources of the Cold War. Working off the cables between Moscow station and Langley, it can come off as dry at times, but by the same token, Hoffman is able to demonstrate how valuable the intelligence was, and how often intelligence comes by happy (or unhappy, depending on your point of view) accidents.
Jeff Carroll
Feb 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
Interesting to read about all of the espionage during the cold war. Amazing to think that this one person had such a huge impact on our military technology development. Crazy to think that they had a basic text messaging device and tiny cameras back in the early 80s.
Nov 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
Wow. what a fascinating read!
Vladimir Vinogradsky
Jul 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Awesome Cold War spy story.
Sep 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club
This is an informative, true story about U.S.-run espionage in Moscow during the Cold War in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and particularly, the most lucrative spy, Adolf Tolkachev, a Soviet military design engineer with a high level security clearance who aided the U.S. The information that Tolkachev provided between 1979 and 1985 is estimated to be worth billions of dollars to the U.S. in the form of military intelligence, research & development, and training. The usefulness of Tolkachev ...more
Rob Kitchin
Jul 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Adolf Tolkachev is a senior radar engineer working in an elite Soviet military research institute in Moscow. He’s also very disillusioned with the oppressive Soviet regime and how under Stalin’s years it persecuted his wife’s family. Wanting to undermine the state in February 1978 he taps on the window of a car possessing US diplomatic plates. At first the CIA mission in the Moscow embassy ignores his approach suspecting that the man is a dangle – a KGB attempt identify CIA operatives and to spr ...more
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David E. Hoffman covered Ronald Reagan's 1980 presidential campaign for the Knight-Ridder newspapers. In 1982, he joined The Washington Post to help cover the Reagan White House. He also covered the first two years of the George H.W. Bush presidency. His White House coverage won three national journalism awards. After reporting on the State Department, he became Jerusalem bureau chief for The Pos ...more
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“The one thing that proved to me you were CIA and not KGB is when you gave me those medicines to test on my daughter. Because the KGB is heartless. They would have given me one pill and said, do it. I knew I was working with a humane organization when you gave me five medicines.” 4 likes
“This is a country that can’t even make toasters,” he said. “And while they can make missiles, they can’t feed their population.” 3 likes
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