Falling off a box By Steve Barthelme ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ESPIONAGE Ronald Seth Doubleday, 718 pages $10.00 Austin This is a terrific book. I am your friend who is telling you about this terrific book. Imagine that. The Encyclopedia of Espionage by Ronald Seth \(himself an agent for the British in WW II and the subject of a four you about the Zimmermann Telegram and the Purple Machine and includes a great many sentences on the order of: Having failed to kill himself he had lost his cyanide tablet and his pistol jammed he gave himself up. Seth is a British popularizer, and is listed as the author of 33 books, mostly dealing with spies and spying. This book was originally published in England in 1972. The cover is decorated with a huge fingerprint over which the title is printed in a loose interpretation of a “Top Secret” stamp. In a short introduction Seth announces his intentions: to provide a handy reference for “espiomanes” and to interest the general reader. Espiomanes are going to have to speak for themselves, but for general readers Seth’s book is unparalleled. The premise is an informal history of espionage since about 1200 B.C., organized as an encyclopedia, and covering people, organizations, tools, and incidents. The Hiss case gets 9 pages, Rudolf Abel is covered in 6, SMERSH in 1 \(with several microdots in 1/2, and so on. All this is presented in a clear and lucid prose with a richness that is not widely available anymore. It was set up to collect information relating to attempts should there be any to undermine the constitution of West Germany. It is out of date. Florid. But it is still seductive, and in combination with the author’s funny and fascinating obsession, it makes for a wonderful book. The Encyclopedia is probably rotten with Seth’s political views \(J. Edgar Hoover the ideology does not corrupt the book because he clearly has only the one love, and that is spying. For spying’s sake. The character and intensity of his obsession also free Seth from the kind of self-consciousness which poisons the work of writers dealing with more chic subjects where a dead dolphin on the beach contributes “atmosphere” to an article attempting to equate Nixon and Hitler \(Woolworth gonzo, A review Ronald Seth does not and would not throw away his judgment so easily: I guess he just doesn’t need to he has spies. Consider Seth on secret inks: In World War II the Germans produced a secret ink that could only be revealed by a complicated photographic developing process, but which, at the same time, was extremely simple for the agent to use. It consisted of a tablet about the size of and having the appearance of an aspirin which was dropped into ordinary ink. The message was written in this doctored ink, which when exposed to the air, within a few minutes became invisible, until developed. This particular ink had many advantages. The tablets could be kept in an aspirin bottle; if the agent were in danger of being caught, he could swallow them without any serious effects; since the ink was initially visible, it was very easy to use. But its most remarkable property was that it could be used on newsprint, which is notoriously bad as an agent for a secret ink. Now there’s something you probably didn’t know! And when the arcane information temporarily loses its charm, there are hundreds of beautiful stories and many strange little observations such as this about an incident in Berlin in 1848: On this day, King Frederick William of Prussia found himself alone and unaccountably involved in one of those disturbances which were beginning to become far too frequent occurrences in Berlin. Someone had recognized the king and called out an insult. Other days, no one recognized him. And there’s the story of how Lafayette Baker got his start as a spy for the North in the Civil War, posing as a photographer with the camera with no plates and a crack which let light in. Cameras being something of a rarity at the time, any old spate of purposeful activity back behind it would apparently do. According to Seth, Baker was quite successful, and advanced with incredible speed through the ranks, so that at the war’s end he was a brigadier general in charge of counter-espionage activities. But he lost it all in failing to discover and prevent the conspiracy to kill Lincoln. Surely a monumental slip. The service had become ineffectual because of Baker’s neglect of his duties, Seth maintains. The ultimate cause: avarice. There is of course a question as to whether any of this is accurate, how good Seth’s information is, but the answer to this question is really secondary. I would guess that his information is reasonably accurate, at about the level of an encyclopedia. But it is in no way necessary that his information be correct for the general reader to love this book. Getting ten dollars worth of pleasure \(handy conversion table: Pepsi-Cola in the half quart size delivers pleasure in the amount of approximately 22 per bottle, a filthy look from a beautiful stranger is worth two falling off a box. April 12, 1974 23 CLASSIFIED Classified advertising is 20d per word. Discounts for multiple insertions within a 12-month period; 26 times, 50%; 12 times, 25%; 6 times, 10%. BOOKPLATES. Free catalog. Many beautiful designs. Special designing too. Address: BOOKPLATES, P.O. Box 28-1, Yellow Springs, Ohio 45387. MINNIE L. HAMMETT TYPING SERVICE \(formerly associated with Marjorie Ann Reports, manuscripts, theses, dissertations, mimeographing, multilithing. Reasonable rates. Open weekends. Free refreshments. 442-7008. Austin. PLAYING THE RECORDER IS EASY. Free catalog, best recorders, recorder music. Beginner’s Pearwood Soprano Book, $11.95. 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