Law and politics lecturer Frederick Hitz wrote The Great Game: The Myth and Reality of Espionage and Why Spy? Espionage in an Age of Uncertainty. His career at the CIA spanned 25 years, and he was the agency’s first presidentially appointed inspector general until 1998.
What book have you reread over and over?
Probably The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens. My mother gave me a set of Cruickshank’s Illustrated Dickens for my high school graduation in 1957. The protagonist, Mr. Pickwick, goes on a hilarious odyssey through Britain and is constantly being set upon by an assortment of rogues. I read it a few times when I was in the western region of Nigeria where I went to teach in 1964, shortly after Nigerian independence. Scenes in the book were so remarkably different from life in Nigeria that it made me rock with laughter.
What neglected classic would you recommend to readers?
If you want a beautifully written sailing story about spying before World War I: The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers. It had remarkable resonance when it was first published in 1903 because it foretold a plot by Kaiser Wilhelm’s navy to invade the vulnerable east coast of England in small boats, coming through the sand berms of that distinctive German North Sea coastline. The book was so influential that it led to an appropriation in the British Parliament to shore up England’s east coast defenses. In addition, the author was later executed for running guns to the Irish republicans in 1920.
What are you reading now?
The Lost Spy by Andrew Meier is about a Soviet spy lost in the bureaucracies of both East and West, but later re-taken and executed by the Soviets. Cy Oggins, a 1920s Columbia University graduate with communist sympathies, enlisted to support the Comintern in Paris, Shanghai and Berlin as an “illegal”—a spy operating with a false identity without diplomatic protection—to keep track of white Russians, Jews and other dissenters from Stalin’s paranoid Russia.
Spies are a popular subject in fiction. Which spy novel do you think is the most realistic? Which is the most fun?
It is hard to beat Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré for verisimilitude in the Cold War era. It also follows in some detail the betrayal of Kim Philby, the USSR’s most successful Cold War spy and one of the infamous “Cambridge Five.”
The most fun spy novel by far is Rudyard Kipling’s Kim. It re-creates the 19th-century spy wars between Britain and czarist Russia for control of the Indian subcontinent, called “The Great Game.” It evokes the thrill of spying for its own sake and the extraordinary tapestry of different nationalities, religions and cultures that enveloped 19th-century India.