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Publisher's Summary

Step into the real world of the spy with this detailed and unforgettable tour of the millennia-long history and enduring legacy of espionage and covert operations. While most of us associate this top-secret subject with popular fiction and film, its true story is more fascinating, surprising, and important than you could possibly imagine.

These 24 thrilling lectures survey how world powers have attempted to work in the shadows to gain secret information or subvert enemies behind the scenes. Filled with stories and insights that will change the way you think about world history's most defining events, this course lets you peer inside a subject whose truths most people are unaware of.

Professor Liulevicius introduces you to the inner workings of covert organizations, including the Oprichnina, a feared secret service established by tsar Ivan the Terrible in the 1500s in an effort to cleanse Russia of treasonous activities; the CIA, established in 1947 by President Truman to replace the Office of Secret Services to be in charge of all intelligence collection – and which had an embarrassing early history; and Mossad, Israel's version of the CIA, which won a series of key intelligence victories during the cold war and over terror attacks and hostage crises in the second half of the 20th century.

You'll also meet famous – and infamous – spies, including Sir Francis Walsingham, Mata Hari, and Kim Philby. In this stirring series of lectures, you'll study the psychological motives behind spies, the ethics of cyber warfare and corporate espionage, the question of whether we now live in a surveillance society, and more.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your My Library section along with the audio.

©2011 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2011 The Great Courses

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Story

depends what you're after

What did you like best about Espionage and Covert Operations: A Global History? What did you like least?

the second half of the book, dealing with the twentieth century is a clear and interesting overview

Would you be willing to try another book from The Great Courses? Why or why not?

Yes, this one book is likely not much of an indicator of what the others are like given they feature other speakers on other topics

What three words best describe Professor Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius’s performance?

listenable and engaging but not nuanced

Was Espionage and Covert Operations: A Global History worth the listening time?

the first half of the book was too superficial and remote. Insufficient context was established to give the brief key stories much meaningfulness and there was little to no reflection; no sooner have you started to care about the story he's telling than he's moved on from it. granted this is an overview but it's just too skirting in its approach. if time is such a restriction the lecturer really needs to let certain stories go in order to more fully flesh out others. <br/><br/>the second half doesn't employ a substantially different approach but there's a continuity and proximity of context that makes it substantially more satisfying.

26 of 26 people found this review helpful

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Perhaps too broad a topic for this format?

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

I would. It covers so much that you are bound to find something that interests you.

Would you be willing to try another book from The Great Courses? Why or why not?

No. This is the only topic i saw that interested me personally and the way it was covered left a lot to be desired. But there's so much touched on here so its probably impossible to feel satisfied with whats given without it being a million hours long.

What about Professor Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius’s performance did you like?

Excellent. Enthusiastic without being forced or ridiculous. Engaged without sounding bias.

Did Espionage and Covert Operations: A Global History inspire you to do anything?

Research. Lots and lots of research.

Any additional comments?

The amount of detail and information is astounding yet disappointing. The scope is so wide that it is impossible to cover any instance with any intimacy. It got better the more modern it got (obviously because we have better record) but i still felt like i was was being hurried through a museum with just enough time to read the placards once before being pushed along. I do appreciate how much is mentioned. <br/><br/>NOTE: Toward the end he does some what spoil Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy , The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, Casino Royale, Hunt For Red October (i think) and a few others which escape me now. You get plenty of warning for most of them. But they are there.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Sean
  • BELVEDERE TIBURON, CA, United States
  • 10-16-14

Entertaining and informative

This book is much better that Michael Warner's recent "The rise and fall of intelligence." He starts each lecture with a clear premise--"now we are going to discuss signals intelligence in WWI" and gives clear, complete examples.

The text is not technical, but he still manages to convey how technology and politics interact with the espionage community.

It is a concise and entertaining survey of espionage.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Learn About the History of Spying.

If you could sum up Espionage and Covert Operations: A Global History in three words, what would they be?

You Won't Believe

What did you like best about this story?

Very good overview of the history of spying and covert operations from ancient times to the modern era. Not nearly long or detailed enough to do the subject justice, however. The course teacher is superb--really, really talented at presenting the topic--not a minute of boredom here.

Which scene was your favorite?

History of covert operations in the 19th Century was fascinating.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

When the spies caught caught and killed--it happens more often than we imagine.

Any additional comments?

There is a need for more objective reviews of this topic in the literature and fewer "gee-whiz" types books (a la Clancy). This is towards the Le Carre style and the lecturer has great understanding of his topic.

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

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  • Cynthia
  • Monrovia, California, United States
  • 02-23-14

The World's Most Versatile Profession

The joke is that prostitution is the world's oldest profession, and there's a debate about the second. Is it politics? Ronald Reagan joked at a business conference in Los Angeles on March 2, 1977, that "Politics is supposed to be the second-oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first." Is it motherhood, as Erma Bombeck claimed in "Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession" (1983)? Or is it spying - as both Phillip Knightley says in his 1986 book, "The Second Oldest Profession: Spies and Spying in the 20th Century" - and Professor Vejas
Gabriel Liulevicius in this Great Courses lecture series "Espionage and Covert Operations: A Global History" (2011)?

Whenever spying started, it is the world's most versatile profession. Liulevicius points out that a spy can be anyone. A 13th Century merchant on the Silk Road might be gathering intelligence for Genghis Khan's Mongol Hoards. A highly respected but deeply in debt American Revolutionary War general, feeling slighted by being passed over for promotion, might sell secrets to the British - as Benedict Arnold and his wife did. An arrogant Southern Confederate Army Command might believe the propaganda that Blacks were subhuman and could not pass on military plans to the forces fighting to free them, and speak improvidently in front of a 15 year old black girl serving dinner. A politically idealistic and unrealistic group of young men might agree to spy for the communists, and rise high in a democratic government before being discovered, but after betraying hundreds (Kim Philby and the Cambridge 5). Spies can be soldiers, mothers (Valerie Plame), prostitutes (Mata Hari, arguably), friends and enemies.

Liulevicius does discuss the reasons people become spies - including idealism (Jonathan Pollard, a Naval Intelligence Analyst who spied for Israel); money (Aldrich Ames, CIA, for the USSR/Russia), the desire to "get one over" on people who underestimated him (Robert Hanssen, FBI, also for USSR/Russia).

Liulevicius lectures are fascinating, and emphasize the development of the tools of the profession - the tradecraft - over the last two millennia. He also discusses how tradecraft failures lead to the discovery of spies. Liulevicius doesn't throughly discuss the reasons for the failures, but the situations he mentions appear arise from a combination of hubris, laziness and arrogance of spies themselves and handlers, rather than a lack of technical resources or expertise. That psychology alone warrants another lecture.

Liulevicius does not discuss the morals and ethics of spying, other than to mention the oft repeated maxim that "Gentlemen don't read each other's mail" which is credited to Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, who disbanded the OSS (Office of Special Services) at the end of World War II. The OSS was reconstituted in fairly short order as the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency).

Liulevicius mentions Pvt Chelsea Manning (formerly PFC Bradley Manning), an intelligence analyst who stole hundreds of classified communications and gave them to Julian Assange and Wikileaks. Former NSA (National Security Agency) contractor Edwin Snowden's intelligence leaks didn't become public until 2013, two years after this Great Course was published. Liulevicius didn't argue that Manning was a spy, and I'm sure he'd agree Snowden wasn't one either. Both men used brute force spy techniques (they were present with the intelligence and copied it), but neither were employed by any outside entity when they acquired the intelligence. Both sold the information to the "highest bidder", although the goal wasn't money for either man. It was an expression of moral belief, a desire fame, or both.

In light of these recent revelations, it would be great to hear Liulevicius talk about whether the US government's intrusion into the privacy of its citizens - its spying - is a reflection of paranoid politicians, an insular society, or just business as usual - made unusually transparent. Perhaps an updated course, Audible/Great Courses?

This is a good course, but like all Audible versions of Great Courses, there's no accompanying course material. I'm fine with that - I wouldn't have read a book along with it anyway. A true Table of Contents would have been nice, and that's available at the Great Courses website.

[If this review helped, please press YES. Thanks.]

54 of 66 people found this review helpful

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Interesting & well researched history.

Where does Espionage and Covert Operations: A Global History rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Among the most interesting audiobook I've listened to so far.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Espionage and Covert Operations: A Global History?

The true story & details about the Trojan Horse.

What does Professor Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

His narration gives life to the story.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

True dirt!

Any additional comments?

I found the narration to be well performed and gave emphasis where needed.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Little theory, broad overview

Don't expect a discussion of theory of espionage and results of experimental studies. It's just anecdotes from all times and places. But it's the field problem, not one of the lecturer, so 5 stars from me.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Recommended

What made the experience of listening to Espionage and Covert Operations: A Global History the most enjoyable?

The length, detail and subject matter.

What about Professor Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius’s performance did you like?

Very enthusiastic and great pronunciation.

Any additional comments?

An excellent course and highly recommended.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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An Edge Of Your Seat Thriller!

Espionage and Covert Operations is unquestionably one of the best courses I've ever taken! If you want to see what espionage is beyond the Bond films and popular TV shows like Alias and The Americans, this course is for you! The professor has a really passion for his subject that shows, leading to conclusions that the listener will draw about the content that might otherwise not have resulted from a boring lecturer.

These are 12 hours of your life you will be glad spending!

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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From uninterested to big fan

Would you listen to Espionage and Covert Operations: A Global History again? Why?

Yes, and I will do it quite soon I think, and will look for the suggested readings in the reference PDF.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Espionage and Covert Operations: A Global History?

Everything was great, but I was really anticipating world war 2 and the cold war since both were famous for their spies, and when that part of the course came, it was as good as I expected.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Oh, whenever he talked about slave spies (during the civil war) I got really moved.

Any additional comments?

I was never a fan of spying, but bought this course only to have a few anecdotes talk about with friends, and to have fun references when doing something creative, but this course really got my attention and now I want to read so much more about spies, be they real or fictional.<br/>My only problem with the course is that is so short that he never details much of the histories, for that you have to look for specific books on the subjects (he recommends a bunch during the lectures and the accompanying PDF).<br/>Still, if you are new to spy history, the is no better start.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • lilith_farrell
  • 10-03-14

Good start point

What made the experience of listening to Espionage and Covert Operations: A Global History the most enjoyable?

The lectures were given in a rather entertaining form, with a lot of information references. So I got the general story about the topic, also got several references to check afterwards if I want. I can't say it's comprehensive but definitely a good start.

What did you like best about this story?

Multiple books recommendation for further reading. Very entertaining.

Which scene did you most enjoy?

The in fact male spy managed to convince a male French diplomat that he was a woman. They then had an affair and the spy later told the diplomat he was pregnant...

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No. Several lectures were linked more closely than others so maybe listen to them in one sitting.

Any additional comments?

I feel like the title 'global' is not quite right for the content. It is more like 'western history', for except for some bits about Ninja and 'the Art of War', the Asian part is largely missing. There is far more information about British, Soviet/Russian, American. Sure, they have been the major players in modern history, still, the course is not global enough to justify the title.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Adrian
  • 08-07-13

Good General History

Any additional comments?

This is an interesting series of lectures, all of a half hour in length, which I listened to in a period of four days. I have always been fascinated by spying and espionage and bought these by the title. I enjoyed them, although I would have preferred more detail of the several case histories, they provide a good general overview of the subject if you have no prior knowledge of the subject.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • D. Carter
  • 10-19-16

Espionage and Covert Ops Lectures

suprisingly easy to listen to hearing in mind the subject. a little difficult to start, but otherwise very informative

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Cheryl-Anne
  • 01-21-16

Great for anyone interested in spies amd spying!

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

If you are looking for an informative, yet entertaining, guide to the historical and more modern origins of spies and spying, look no further. Professor Liulevicius provides a whistle-stop tour of espionage starting with ancient times and ending with around 2010 (the WikiLeaks leaks) but does not include the Snowden revelations. I would love to hear what he has to say about that.

What did you like best about this story?

Although not a story in the traditional sense, the links between practise of both the past and present provide a coherent whole in a time-line format. Not everything is covered, but there is sufficient information for anyone researching this subject area, as well as pointers for further research.

What does Professor Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

The professor's sheer enthusiasm for, and knowledge of, the subject area come through with every word. You can be confident that he really knows what he's talking about.

Any additional comments?

I enjoyed this audio so much that I have ordered other Great Courses by the same professor and I fully expect to enjoy those as much as I have enjoyed this one.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Chris
  • 03-20-15

Nice overview of a hidden history

Ranging from ancient Egypt to cyberspace, this course certainly covers a huge wealth of history. Perhaps due to it's subject matter, there is not very much in the way of overarching themes, it is more a series of anecdotes and (some) tall tales. I would certainly recommend a listen to pass the time but I don't think anyone with a serious interest in history or espionage will get too much out of it.

Some of the stories are funny, some are fascinating and some are downright depressing - the Stasi were no fun! Certainly I feel I have a much better understanding of how spy organisations work, and hearing stories about assassinations and spying in the news is much more interesting now that I can see the as part of a long history.

I hope they do an updated version with much more about SIGINT and the Snowden revelations as it's such a huge wealth of data that historians will be able to tell us quite a lot. I suppose we'll have to wait a bit for that though!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Hippo
  • 11-12-17

Very, enjoyable

Let me first say that I did enjoy this series of lectures and I do recommend them.

The one aspect of the series that I did not like was the deliberate blurring between fact and fiction, musings that the CIA was called “the company” because of the intelligence activities of ancient merchants is ludicrous.

The final lectures on freedom in the internet age are also not really on topic and are little more than shallow platitudes.

On a positive note this ramble through history is both enjoyable and enlightening.

  • Overall
  • Neil Green
  • 11-09-17

A good listen

An interesting course, although I found I had heard many of the stories before I found the chapter on spy novels particularly interesting.

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  • Steve
  • 04-28-16

Enthralled from start to finish

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Whether you have an historically interest or just enjoy the whole cloak and dagger atmosphere of spies and their organisations, this series of lectures will not disappoint. Find out who came before James Bond and the fact he is a very recent addition to a centuries old tradition.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Espionage and Covert Operations: A Global History?

Not sure there was one moment although some of the later lectures covering the cold war antics were very absorbing.

Have you listened to any of Professor Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius’s other performances? How does this one compare?

Haven't listened to any other works by the professor but found him not only very easy to listen to but he also speaks with a real passion and appreciation for his subject.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Couldn't wait for my car journeys so I could press play again.

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  • M
  • 02-10-15

Not the best great course

This was ok, but I felt a bit disappointed because the great courses are normally so good. The performance is fine but the narrative lacked the interesting little details that make a good book.

0 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Rob Steyn
  • 05-30-17

An Interesting and Enlightening Experience

Although quite long, these lectures were interesting and often entertaining as they uncovered the secret world of espionage... genuinely enjoyable if the subject interests you.

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  • Stan
  • 08-01-16

Great over view of spying

This is not deep. But it ultimately poses deep questions. The espionage story across thousands of years is very well told and themes are well outlined: why spying is undertaken, who does it, what motivates the spies, the role of technology, the influence of espionage in literature and how all this has changed spying and several more threads.

As for the deeper questions, essentially that is about the role of surveillance and secrecy in democratic society. And we are given no answer beyond our collective vigilance.

I really enjoyed this course.