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The Taking of K-129: How the CIA Used Howard Hughes to Steal a Russian Sub in the Most Daring Covert Operation in History
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The Taking of K-129: How the CIA Used Howard Hughes to Steal a Russian Sub in the Most Daring Covert Operation in History

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  1,163 ratings  ·  149 reviews
An incredible true tale of espionage and engineering set at the height of the Cold War—a mix between The Hunt for Red October and Argo—about how the CIA, the U.S. Navy, and a crazy billionaire spent six years and nearly a billion dollars to steal the nuclear-armed Soviet submarine K-129 after it had sunk to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean; all while the Russians were watching.

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Hardcover, 384 pages
Published September 5th 2017 by Dutton
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Start your review of The Taking of K-129: How the CIA Used Howard Hughes to Steal a Russian Sub in the Most Daring Covert Operation in History
May 07, 2018 rated it liked it
“[Captain] Ramius made one last careful scan of the horizon. The sun was barely visible aft, the sky leaden, the sea black except for the splash of whitecaps. He wondered if he were saying goodbye to the world…”
- Tom Clancy, The Hunt for Red October

“[Russian] Pacific Fleet command expected to hear from all deployed subs at prearranged times, but K-129 was to travel in silent mode for the first two weeks at sea, so until March 8, there was no reason for anyone back in Kamchatka to worry. On the eighth, however/>“[Russian]
Rick Presley
Sep 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
For fans of the Silent Service and CIA shenanigans, this is a must read. It tells the story of a CIA-funded venture to recover a downed Russian sub from the floor of the Pacific and is as gripping as anything Tom Clancy has written. All the more so because it is true.

From my personal perspective it answers long-standing questions I've had since my childhood regarding deep ocean mining. I remember reading about the Glomar Explorer in school and all the excitement about underwater mini
Sep 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
I found this a fascinating account. Even if you are skeptical, like me, and only believe half of it, or that only half was told, it's a good story. Think Mission Impossible on a tremendous scale.
This quote sums it up. "Imagine standing atop the Empire State Building with an 8-foot-wide grappling hook on a 1-inch-diameter steel rope. Your task is to lower the hook to the street below, snag a compact car full of gold, and lift the car back to the top of the building. On top of that, the job has t
Aug 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: finished, favorites
Thanks to DUTTON BOOKS for sending me this Goodreads give away. Fascinating information on behind the scenes government doings on country security and weapons. Author Josh Dean does a great job of bringing all the top secret ways of getting the job done. I really enjoyed the reading and recommend this book to all interested in our government way of working.
Sep 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Thanks so much to Dutton for the copy in exchange for my honest review!

Are you a fan of nonfiction? Espionage? Well, if you are, then you need to pick up Josh Dean's THE TAKING OF K-129. I personally LOVED this book. This is a topic that has always interested me. As a Political Science and International Relations major in college, this was what we focused on. My senior project was on espionage (specifically the Cuban Missile Crisis) and it always fascinates me to read about the leng
Feb 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing

This was fascinating! It is about the CIA's attempted mission in the late 60s/early 70s to raise the sunken Russian nuclear submarine, the K-129, from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean - and to do it in secret, kept from both the Russians and the U.S.

The Hughes Glomar Explorer, described as engineering marvel of a ship, was built to capture and raise the sub. And the cover-up story. Oh this was fun!

True? Who really knows, we're talking the CIA. Factual? Who cares - th
Nov 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
A very interesting read about a monumental challenge that the country rose to meet.

In 1968, the Russian nuclear submarine K-129 went down with all crew on board in 16,500 feet of water. So what did the US try to do? Salvage the sub in the hopes of discovering secret intelligence. Saucy! Provocative! And pretty damn amazing, considering that this would be the hardest engineering feat of all time, and has been analogized in the book like so:

"Imagine standing atop the Empire
G Marks
Dec 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review is for the audio version. The book is the result of extensive investigation into an absolutely amazing venture undertaken by the US government to raise a lost Soviet submarine, carrying nuclear-warhead missiles, from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. The really amazing part of this book, in addition to the fantastic operation itself, is the technology involved in designing the recovery ship. The description of the challenges, design, and fabrication of the ship itself is absolutely te ...more
Shane Phillips
Jul 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is quite a story. So many people involved, so much $$. It's a miracle that it was kept secret so long. I have vague memories of the Howard Hughes cover story during the 1970's/1980's and of learning the real story. The details in this story seem almost too detailed for such a secret project. This book is a good companion with "Red Star Rogue: The Untold Story of a Soviet Submarine's Nuclear Strike Attempt on the U.S"
Lucy Meeker
A very good, informative book, thoroughly enjoyed it! Quick read, well told, and learned something new. A very interesting read and worth getting for any Cold War enthusiasts! I won a copy of this book in a goodreads giveaway.
Charles Fields
Jan 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
If you like history and don't mind a bit of engineering mixed in, you may like this.
If you like Clive Cussler and wish sometimes real life was more like his adventures, you may like this.
This is an amazing true (so far as I can tell) story that reads almost like fiction because it is so daring and such a technical leap from what everyone "knew" to be possible.
If you sometimes wonder why the government lies so much, this may give you a bit more sympathy for them.
Apr 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Astonishing true story of how the US secretly retrieved a sunken Soviet submarine that was almost 3 miles down in the North Pacific Ocean. Because the US had to keep the recovery secret, it required a myriad of cloak-and-dagger activities to hide what was really being accomplished on an enormous (and incredibly expensive) scale.
Mar 17, 2019 rated it really liked it

“The fact that the US managed to build a ship of 60,000-tons displacement, to install equipment to sustain such a load, to make provision of how to accommodate the submarine under the ship and finally to lift it up—it seemed to us something unreal, fantastic,” he told a Russian news program. “I can compare it with a mission to the moon in regard to technology and invested money. And another point—the ship was built in two years and the disinformation was organized outstandingly.”

- Russian Admi
Charles Moore
Dec 13, 2017 rated it liked it
If you're are old enough, like me, you might recall the saga of the Hughes Glomar Explorer and the raising of a sunken Soviet submarine in the 1970s. Dean's highly detailed and meticulous account of what it took to do this massive undertaking is very interesting reading. You do have to be patient with the plodding action but this is a remarkable story. Most of us, I dare say, even if we remember any of this, never had a clue.

There must be a cast of a thousand. Yet, not one word was l
Rachel Parham
The devil is in the details, and never has that adage been proven more true than in Josh Dean's The Taking of K-129, the crazy true story of the CIA's dogged efforts to raise a sunken Soviet submarine in the middle of the Pacific during the Cold War... without anyone knowing they were attempting to do it.

Dean's comprehensive work covers every last step in the top-secret 5+ year operation, from the mysterious loss of the K-129 herself in February 1968 through the arrival of the Hughes
Nov 25, 2017 rated it it was ok
The first 25% of this book was Fascinating, but then... major taper off. Then it got really tedious.

Spoilers ahead - beware
So the mission failed to get most of the sub. The claw picked up the entire sub, but like 3/4 of the way up, pressure / something snapped most of the sub off. And that cost $300 million. They couldn't go back down because they designed something with the propulsion feet to be a one time only thing, which just Enraged me. I'm a software engineer, & the i
May 11, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
If you are old enough, you will remember the Glomar Explorer and the revelation that it raised a Soviet submarine off the Pacific floor. The whole story was shrouded in mystery (it included Howard Hughes) and cloaked in misinformation by the CIA. Exactly what was recovered and what did we learn from that submarine?

If you are younger and never heard of this story, here's your chance.

But, is the book any good? A long portion of the book goes into the backstory of the key players wh
Jeff Mauch
May 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The basic premise here is that we built one of the largest and most technically advanced boats ever made with a great cover story involving Howard Hughes and found a way to go out and grab a Russian nuclear submarine off the ocean floor from over 3 miles deep, during the cold war without Russia even having a clue what we were doing. How crazy is that? The technology alone was on par with the advances we were making in the space race. Then throw in that it was all done covertly with hundred of pe ...more
Feb 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Spellbinding. Scoring major points with creativity, cloak-and-dagger escalations, and a storytelling style all his own, Josh Dean paints a thrilling picture of mind, men, and machine attempting the impossible: stealing a Golf-II class ICBM sub at the crest of the cold war. I had no prior exposure to Project Azorian before this book, and was electrified to learn the tale. The Taking of the K-129 strikes a shocking balance between cold war government, technological evolution, and raw human emotion ...more
Jan 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The K-129 was a Golf class Russian diesel submarine that carried nuclear missiles and a crew of almost a hundred. It was lost at sea about 1500 miles northeast of Oahu when it suffered some kind of explosion followed a couple of minutes later by a catastrophic hull failure. Its crew all died. The sub sank to a death of 16,000 feet.

The CIA and US Naval Intelligence was able to locate the site because the US had spread hundreds of hydrophones across the Pacific, and one of them registered two lou
Dec 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
An engaging story about a CIA-sponsored effort using Howard Hughes' Summa Corporation as cover to raise a Russian sub with nuclear ICBMs that sank in over three miles of water in the late '60s. I remember hearing decades ago about the massive Glomar Explorer, ostensibly built to engage in deep-water mining, but, until now, hadn't connected that massive, highly advanced ship with the surreptitious raising of a submarine thought to have been lost. That it was accomplished over a period of about fi ...more
Gunnar Esiason
Mar 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
The Taking of K-129 is the kind of story that is almost too good to be true. Josh Dean presents a well researched and even better articulated account of one of the CIA’s most daring covert operations. Dean is detail oriented, and provides valuable perspective from both the engineers who developed the ship to conduct the operation and the security agency who created a cover story on a scale of global proportions. Although it did take me awhile to read ‘The Taking of K-129’ it wasn’t because it wa ...more
Dan Morris
Feb 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It's easy to see the title and assume this is a spy/war story, but it doesn't read that way at all. There are a few interesting anecdotes about cover stories and politics, but this is primarily a story of a lean engineering team doing incredible work to solve a nearly-impossible problem. I can't think of a perfect analogy... the Manhattan Project, the Normandy Landings, and the Apollo 11 landing come to mind as history's most incredible feats of logistics and engineering, but all of those were m ...more
Jan 25, 2018 rated it liked it
The work it took just to put this book together is almost as amazing as the story itself! The idea to raise a sunken Russian sub, starting in 1960, and gather its secrets, took 6 years to bring to fruition and 300 million of your tax dollars to pay for it. The engineering problems solved, were done by slide rule and with no computers at that time, was a miracle itself. Only 1800 people knew the secrets of the Glomar Explorer keeping it all from any enemies and the American people themselves. Wit ...more
Roger Neyman
Sep 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
A well written history of the covert CIA operation to recover a sunk Soviet submarine. The book successfully weaves together telling the tale, and telling enough of the context and background to breathe a lot of life in to the primary tale. I listened to the audiobook, but think this would be a good read as well. The shortcoming lies, perhaps, more in the genre than in this particuar author, but I will share it anyway. The telling scrupulously avoids questioning the values and ethics of espionag ...more
May 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An extremely well-researched and well-written account of Project Azorian. Josh Dean weaves all aspects of a major intelligence operation with white world technology development that pushes the boundaries of the then-impossible. This book is an exciting mix of intelligence, history, OPSEC, engineering, program management (just enough to get a feel of what it takes and all the intricacies and how it can go wrong, without all the boring stuff), and suspense. Even though I know the result of the ope ...more
I have to give Josh Dean three stars here because his book doesn't shed any new light on a well known story. Since it was revealed in the 1970s there have been numerous retellings of this story and each one pretty much says the same things. While this story may offer a bit more on the technical aspects of the plan it doesn't shed any new light. It offers pretty much what has already been said and while it is told in an interesting and relate-table fashion it still sheds nothing new. I know a lot ...more
Lee Harding
Sep 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was a prepub late review book for me.
That being said, WOW!
Normally in a book with this much technical history one would assume a dry factual tome, but this was a heckuva ride from the start to the end.
This is what made America great when men with brains extended their capabilities to the outer edge of technological achievement and just made things work.
Spycraft at advent of computers. Spycraft with all the cutting edge tools of the 1970s (the time when i was a teenag
Randall Russell
Mar 26, 2018 rated it liked it
I found the technical parts of this book to be quite interesting - perhaps because of my background in mechanical engineering. And what is described in this book is certainly an outstanding engineering achievement, especially considering the technology that was available in the early 70s. In addition, a lot of what was done really was pioneering work in the field of deep ocean drilling and working at depths of thousands of feet. That being said, I think that in other areas the book delved into t ...more
Oct 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I won a free copy of this book from Goodreads Giveaways.

This story was fascinating, and amazingly, even though the cover was blown in the 70's, I feel like it's still kind of holding because I had never heard of this episode at all. Amazing feats of engineering were done in service of this project. We'll maybe never know how much this incident changed the Cold War, but it's fascinating on so many levels to read about the process. Josh Dean has a good writing style, and the book reads
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Josh Dean is a New York based journalist whose work has appeared in Popular Science, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, GQ, Men's Journal, Rolling Stone, Inc., Fast Company, ESPN the Magazine, and many others, covering subjects as diverse as pee wee go-kart racing, snowboarding in Iran, the byzantine world of small production watchmakers, and a start-up nuclear fission company. He is a correspondent for Outs ...more
“delirious, but only in the specifics. What” 0 likes
“The specifics of spying are secret and closely guarded, but the fact that spying is being done is very much in the open. Everyone does it. And no one talks about it.” 0 likes
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