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Patrick Lang
The Human Factor: The Phenomenon of Espionage
Lang’s revised and updated debut examines the art of espionage and human intelligence gathering. Lang–a retired colonel who has since authored many other books, including a memoir on his time in the military and a trilogy of historical fiction novels based during the American Civil war–offers a succinct guide on all facets of modern intelligence gathering, laying out the history of intelligence gathering through the stories of past spies and heroes, explaining the systems and institutions that have traditionally emerged in modern nations to facilitate espionage work, and illuminating the delicate art and practice of gathering human intelligence today and in the future.

Employing a lucid structure and writing with welcome clarity, Lang demonstrates his authority on the business of human intelligence, offering fascinating case studies and insights into the psychological motivations of the agents who are at the center of this dangerous business. His description of these psychological motives has a literary quality while also suggesting greater truths about human nature: “The nature of the hunger is unimportant to the clandestine collection team. It is the strength of the hunger that matters.” Recounting the case of Arnold Deutsch, a Soviet-era spy who had recruited students referred to as the “Cambridge Five” to pass on information to the Soviet Union but was later executed on Stalin’s orders, Lang writes, “His reward for creating an entirely new doctrine was a small caliber bullet to the back of his head.”

For the most part, this is an objectively written primer meant for a specialist audience, namely those involved in the human intelligence and espionage or who have a particular interest in the field. General audiences may find some sections bogged down in detail, and at some points Lang’s didactic tone may prove off-putting for a casual reader. Still, Lang’s chronicles and consideration of real historical figures and the tradecraft of espionage will likely sustain and reward the attention of anyone with serious curiosity about his subject.

Takeaway: A vital, succinct primer for anyone interested in understanding the art of human intelligence gathering and espionage.

Great for fans of: Darryl Pennington’s Human Intelligence Collection, Christopher Andrew’s The Secret World.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A