August 21st, 2008


An odd little book ...

Michael Bradley's The Secret Services Handbook is one of those books that makes one wonder how, exactly, it got published. Not that it's a bad book, or an uninteresting book, or an uninformative book, it just seems to be "not enough" about anything in a reasonably obscure category.

The cover is almost a metaphor for the book as a whole ... it's designed to sort of look like a worn leather volume, with a full-size metal K.G.B. badge affixed to it ... yet no effort was taken to work the title into this graphic presentation, rather than "mocking up" a foil-stamp text block that would look like it was part of the suggested "big secret book", it's in a pen-based Germanic sort of font in powder blue, hovering over the leather-look image. It would be so easy for this to have been better!

The main part of the book has "files" on 17 "secret services" from around the world (in a little over 100 pages), which gives you a clue that none are dealt with in any depth. There is an introduction with a paragraph or two on "what spies do" and similar topics, then a brief listing of a dozen or so bits of "specialist equipment" ranging from such arcane items as "binoculars & telescopes" to "electronic voice changers" ... just makes you want to run out to Radio Shack, eh?

I've wondered what the intended market for this volume was ... my first guess was the "back of the tabloids" classifieds but I'm thinking it might be more for a retro pre-teen boy audience (reminding me of things that I found fascinating back in the 60's). This latter impression is bolstered by the efforts the author makes in showing the official insignia of the various organizations covered (as if these had much bearing on their mission or activities), as well as their "typical weapons" (which puts me into a whole "Man From U.N.C.L.E." state of mind, expecting the KGB to have something equivalent of the "T.H.R.U.S.H. Gun").

Each of the following get a few pages: the CIA, Cuba's DGI, France's DGSE and GIGN, Syria's GSD, the KGB, Britain's MI5 and MI6, Iran's MOIS, Israel's Mossad, Argentina's SIDE, Romania's SRI, Britain's SAS, Russia's Spetsnaz, East Germany's Stasi, Egypt's Task Force 777, and finally the USSS (our Secret Service). Needless to say, there isn't much of a cognitive flow to the chapters, as it appears that the concept was to hew to an approximate alphabetical order. Certainly, there was info here that I'd never encountered, but it was almost like reading thumbnails about some long-defunct baseball league or something, as in most cases (despite some interesting scenarios) there wasn't much here to provide more than name-check recognition.

The Secret Services Handbook is a Barnes & Nobel book, and is at a deep discount over at, even cheaper than what Amazon's new/used guys have it for, so if this is something you'd be interested in picking up (I got it off of the clearance table at the store), I'd recommend using it as an add-on to get a order up to the free shipping level!

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