The British spies were self taught and well versed in dirty tricks. Over the next three years, they would be involved in murder, deception and duplicity on a grand scale. Living in disguise - and constantly switching identities - they would infiltrate Soviet commissariats, the Red Army and Cheka (secret police), and would come within a whisker of assassinating Lenin. The pinnacle of their achievement was to unpick Lenin’s plot for global revolution. Their work was to have an unexpected consequence, one that continues to influence our lives today.
Drawn from previously unknown secret documents held in the Indian Political Intelligence archives, Giles Milton gives a remarkable insight into the murky world of espionage, murder and deception that took place inside post-revolutionary Russia. (source
This non-fiction book covers such a fascinating subject - the role of British spies in preventing communism from spreading beyond Russia immediately following the Russian Revolution. Author Giles Milton does a fantastic job of breaking down exactly what happened, providing important background information and explaining matters in such a way that people with limited knowledge of the time period can easily understand what went on.
Milton is very skilled at conveying historical facts as if he were telling a story. This is, of course, exactly what he's doing - he's telling the story of British spies in Bolshevik Russia. But unlike many nonfiction authors, Milton is aware that he's telling a story, rather than just spewing off a litany of facts, and so he's able to maintain the reader's interest throughout the story (unless the reader simply goes through a phase during reading where she just gets sick of reading about politics... guilty as charged. Whoops). Milton conveys the drama and danger encountered by the daring British spies who risked their lives to halt the spread of communism. Milton's clearly done his research; his text is peppered with quotes and facts to back up his claims.
Even so, I think that it's fair to say that this is a book that should not be used for scholarly research, but rather simply to enrich amateur knowledge of history. While Milton has done his research and I think that this is a fairly accurate book, he's not as thorough in citing his sources as he should be if he wants this book to be taken seriously by academia. Although he does quote frequently, the only mention of sources is relegated to the back of the book. He does break down the sources used for each chapter and explains what he used each for, but he doesn't specifically say where each bit of information came from. When I was working for my BA in history, my history professors stressed that any secondary source (which Russian Roulette would be) that we used for research papers should have extensive and detailed footnotes. However, this book contains absolutely no footnotes at all. This detracts from the scholarly credibility of the text and makes it much less likely to be taken seriously by scholarly historians. Additionally, I did a bit of research on Milton, and, while he considers himself to be a historian, from what I could find, he doesn't have any kind of history degree. It states on his website that he studied English at university, which definitely makes him qualified as a journalist, researcher, and an author, but in the eyes of professional historians, he would need to have a doctorate in Russian history for this book to be considered truly legitimate for academic study. Thus, while this book is great for history buffs who want to learn more about the Russian Revolution and British espionage, it's not the best for someone who's trying to do professional or academic research.
One final note - if you plan on buying this book, I would recommend buying a hard copy rather than an eBook. Milton had the foresight to include an extensive list of important names, which definitely would have been extremely helpful to me as I was reading. He even was thoughtful enough to include it in the beginning of the book, rather than the end. Unfortunately, accessing it from a Kindle was a bit of a hassle, whereas if I were reading a hardcopy, it would simply be a matter of sticking a post-it note on the page and flipping back and forth as needed while I was reading. So if you're interested in this, I definitely recommend buying a hard copy over an eBook.
Russian Roulette is very well-written and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who's interested in learning more about British espionage in Russia. Although I wouldn't recommend it to people trying to do serious research, it does give a pretty in-depth overview of the subject and it's written in a way that should keep the reader interested throughout the book.