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The Defection of A.J. Lewinter

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  547 ratings  ·  36 reviews
A masterpiece of irony and intrigue, deftly and dazzlingly plotted, The Defection of A.J. Lewinter is the novel that established Robert Littell as a master of the Cold War thriller and immediately elevated him to the ranks of John le Carré, Len Deighton, and Graham Greene.

A.J. Lewinter is an American scientist, for years an insignificant cog in America's complex defense
Paperback, 304 pages
Published October 28th 2003 by Penguin Books (first published January 1st 1973)
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3.72  · 
Rating details
 ·  547 ratings  ·  36 reviews

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Jan 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
A few years ago I came across Robert Littell, a highly recommended author in the spy genre-someone, I was told, who was equal or better than John le Carré one of my favorite authors. I have previously read Legends, which explores what happens to someone who has so many legends or identities that he begins to lose sight of who he really is and am planning to read The Company, a 900 page novel about the 40 year history of the CIA, but before I began such a huge endeavor I though it might be fun to ...more
Nancy Oakes
Dec 02, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: spy-fiction
A.J. Lewinter is a scientist with a specialty in ceramics, working at MIT on a project about ceramic nosecones for ballistic missiles, and as the book opens, in Japan for a conference. After spending some time at a Noh theater performance, he goes to the Russian Embassy, where he makes it known that he wants to defect. At first, they do not take him seriously, but when questioned further, he offers up a formula and the next thing you know, he's on a plane for the USSR with nothing but a dozen bo ...more
A great cold war spy novel. The book had plenty of intrigue, competing motivations, and a darkly cynical tone that I really enjoyed. I listened to the audio version which was narrated by Scott Brick.
Jack Heath
Synopsis: Lewinter is an American scientist playing both sides against the middle. He's telling the Russians he wants to defect but does he?
Apr 17, 2009 rated it really liked it

A ceramics specialist involved in designing the nose-cones for MIRV missiles defects to the USSR, and the various intelligence organizations on both sides of the Iron Curtain attempt to evaluate the defection. Is it important? Is it a genuine defection or a US attempt to embarrass the Soviets or plant an agent among them? What could Lewinter know that might be of any significance? And so on and so forth, to endless ramification. Lewinter himself barely appears in the book, and we never discover
Aug 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mysteries
It's pretty sad when I suddenly realized that I was nostalgic for the days of the Cold War. It was so easy having a clear-cut enemy, as opposed to finding out that it is we who, in fact, are our own worst enemies. One of the moderators of a Yahoo! group to which I belong recommended The Defection of A. J. Lewinter to me -- the first of a series of Cold War thrillers by Robert Littell.

I was quite pleased by this densely-packed study of what happens -- on both sides of the Iron Curtain -- when an
Feb 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
Why did A.J Lewinter defect to the Soviets and what did he take with him? These questions occupy both the Soviet and American intelligence agencies, as well as the reader, as Mr. Littell shows us what might have been going on inside these agencies after such a defection. This is not an espionage thriller in the style of Jason Bourne, and it is more analytical and with less action than even Le Carre's novels. It is more of a psychological espionage novel. It is about the motivations, fears, uncer ...more
Vicki Elia
Jun 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Audiobook Review
read by Scott Brick
3 3/4 Stars

A.J. Lewinter is a mid-level U.S. rocket scientist, a neurotic dweeb with a failed marriage, a career he would prefer was something else, and a hair-brained idea that if he defects to Russia, maybe they would find his ideas of great interest, particularly his 'Solid Waste Disposal' scheme. Littell's 'Defection' is almost tongue-in-cheek satire of the intelligence services of both the U.S. and Russia in the 1970's. The book is almost comedic, particul
Jul 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: crime
This clever spy novel would be comic if it weren't so plausible. Is the defector Lewinter a fraud or real? What is the impact on the Russian economy if the information they've been given is true? What is the US going to do about the defection? Schemes and counter schemes, bluff and double bluff, right to the last sentence.
May 05, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having grown up during the Cold War, I know enjoy reading novels about the Cold War since it was\is clear who the "bad guys" are. This book, about the defection of an American scientist, is a quick read. It's strong on the procedurals (how the Americans and Russians react to the defection) and the story is laced with dry humor and irony. Especially at the end of the book.
William Hill
Aug 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Another home run by Littell. A fast paced spy novel - easily read in a siting or two. Of course the genius of Littell is not necessarily the story. That is secondary. It is his character development as in all his novels that make them all five star. This is another one.
Jul 09, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
This early Littell is a good indicator of much of Littell's future themes: duplicity, bureaucratic infighting, irony, subversion, etc. One of his most influential works, athough probably not his best, but a great early effort.
Michael Connick
Apr 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
My absolute favorite spy novel. It's the most accurate I've found in capturing the feel of actually working within the intelligence community.
Feb 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
extremely concise, little gem
Oct 22, 2007 rated it really liked it
Littell's first and best in my view. They've gradually gone downhill from this one.
Alan Mills
Jan 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery-crime
It took a bit to figure out what was going on, and I put this down for a while and came back to it a couple of months later. But once I figured out what was going on, I sped through the rest in two days.

This is spy/thriller, but less James Bond than John LeCarre novel. Lewinter defects to Russia, bringing with him secret plans for the trajectories of MIRV warheads....or did he?

The entire novel consists of a complex multi-layered chess game on both the Russian side (is Lewinter a real defector wi
Sep 27, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: i-own, via-deadtree
A taut novel of espionage that seems a little dated now. Employing ironic parallelism to heighten dramatic surprise, this book highlights the kafkaesque absurdism--and the impossibility of being wholly subservient to an ideology and simultaneously claiming an abstract moral superiority.
Masayuki Arai
Apr 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
chess :)
Aug 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Is the defector A. J. Lewinter real or a plant?
Does the USA even know whether he is real?
Can the USSR be sure if he is real or a plant?
Is the USA signaling to the USSR by their actions that the defector is real or do they just want the USSR to think he is real?
Is the USSR signaling to the USA that they think the defector is real or do they just want the USA to think they think he is real?
Does it even matter to the USA or USSR whether he is real or a plant?
Sep 26, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: espías
Una novela interesante pero muy alejada de la clásica novela de espías, con mucha acción y donde buenos y malos están claramente marcados antes de empezar la trama.
En esta novela el autor se centra en la paranoia que inundaba a rusos y americanos durante la guerra fría y como cualquier acto, hasta cierto punto insignificante, podía cambiar radicalmente la política de unos y otros.
Lectura entretenida y sobretodo muy fácil de leer por lo cortita que es.
Aug 25, 2012 rated it liked it
"All I know is that they expect me to pull off big coups with second-rate people - present company excluded."

"We lived in a wooden house with the windows painted on the outside. Ha! I've come full circle. In my youth, the windows were painted on the outside; now they're painted on the inside."

quick/interesting read of spy craft.
Oct 08, 2008 rated it liked it
The plot was readable, the dialogue was interesting, and the character development was alright. Yet, somehow, this book seemed to be lacking something significant. I was amazed by the Company but felt that The Defection of A. J. Lewinter wasn't quite Robert Littell's normal fascinating espionage thriller standards.
David Orphal
Jan 25, 2014 rated it liked it
When an American scientist defects to Russia, a great game begins.

Is this a real defection? Is this a plant of miss information orchestrated by the American intelligence agency?

The twist and turns look like two grand masters playing chess… Blindfolded.
Dec 03, 2014 rated it it was ok
After reading the reviews on the back of the book, I was expecting a more moving experience from this short novel. One of the reviews even calls Littell "the American Le Carre," but I would not go anywhere near that far. There were redeeming aspects to this book, but I was left wanting more.
Oct 12, 2013 rated it liked it
A quick read that evokes nostalgia for the pathos and absurdity of Cold War gamesmanship.
Feb 05, 2012 rated it liked it
Quick, entertaining read about spying during the Cold War days.
Daniel Potter
Jun 18, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: espionage
no action but lots of cold war
Erik M
Jan 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
Truly, 3.75/5.

It's a very solid debut and spy novel, but some parts could be tweaked. Great dialogue.
Kevin Jolly
The Defection of A.J. Lewinter by Robert Littell (2003)
Dec 09, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: read-fiction
I found this book slow and boring. I expected an action adventure story and found naval gazing.
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An American author residing in France. He specializes in spy novels that often concern the CIA and the Soviet Union. He became a journalist and worked many years for Newsweek during the Cold War. He's also an amateur mountain climber and is the father of award-winning novelist Jonathan Littell.