Scientist Spies: A Memoir of My Three Parents and the Atom Bomb

Eric Hobsbawm writes:

This is an unusual and illuminating contribution to the literature on Soviet espionage that has become part of Anglo-Saxon folklore. All the more so as it is written from the point of view of the spies rather than their hunters. It is about four people: the author, a retired biochemist of distinction, and the ‘three parents’ whose times shaped his life. They were Hilde, or Hildegard Pauline Ruth Gerwing, and the two physicists she successively married, who passed information to the Soviets on the atom-bomb project between 1942 and 1945: Berti, or Engelbert Egon August Ernst Broda, and Alan Nunn May, who was sentenced to ten years for it. Broda’s protagonists do not belong in the shadowy world of John le Carré’s intelligence professionals or agents, or even the milieu of full-time Communist Party or Comintern functionaries, let alone the Party cadres trained into total identification with Moscow in institutions like the Lenin School. Their life was primarily science – the physics of what Ernest Rutherford called ‘the heroic age’ – even when it was inseparable from their Communism.

(LRB 25 August 2011)

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