The Bookshelf: “Strangers on A Bridge” – James B. Donovan

“Strangers on the Bridge” is the only inside account of the greatest spy story of the era and a real-life espionage classic.

The memoir was originally published in 1964 and is an insider account of a Cold War spy exchange.  In the early morning of February 10, 1962, James B. Donovan began his walk towards the famous “Bridge of Spies”, otherwise known as the Glienicke Bridge which then linked West and East Berlin.  With him was Rudolf I. Abel, a “master spy” who operated in the United States for years on behalf of the Soviet Union, and on the other side, the American U-2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers. Strangers on a bridge, representatives of two highly opposed worlds meet in the height of Cold War drama.

The wonderfully absorbing history told by James B. Donovan, appointed to defend one of his country’s enemies did so with great skill. As fascinating as it is exciting, the memoir sketches the case to read like a espionage thriller. Donovan’s willingness to defend a ‘commie’ is an act that requires a  great deal of admiration. Donovan and his family were subjected to someone shooting their house because of his will to defend Abel as under the American justice system.

The story next requires Donovan to travel to East Germany as a U2 spy plane, flown by Powers, is shot down. Post the Abel trial, Donovan is pressured to obtain Powers in a swap of personnel. Along the way, it is revealed that the swap will not be as simple as predicted, showing another facet to his commitment for freedom and justice. This is a lot of drama (thank you Extension English for making me truly appreciate the text as well). 

Donovan’s memoir clearly and simply explains the event of his case, it is an excellent insight into not only the life and mind of the author but also the secret events of the Cold War. A wonderful and easy read, this is something you should go run and pick up then watch Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies”, as based on the text. 

Shortly after the swap, in 1962, Donovan represented 1,163 prisoners from the Bay of Pigs fiasco in Cuba and eventually obtained the release of more than 9,700 Cubans and Americans. I have a deep admiration for this man, if you’re like me and would like to learn the inner details of how such an amazing person thinks or acts… this is something you should FOR SURE go grab. Like right now, go.



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