The Man with the Poison Gun

Pages: 384
Imprint: Oneworld

The Man with the Poison Gun

A Cold War Spy Story

Serhii Plokhy

The most important assassination case in Cold War history
9781786070432 (8 Dec 2016)
RRP £18.99

The Book

Late in the summer of 1961, a KGB assassin defected to West Germany. Bogdan Stashinsky had already travelled on numerous occasions to Munich, where he’d single-handedly tracked down and killed enemies of the communist regime. His weapon, a unique, top-secret design, killed without leaving a trace.

Just hours before the border closed and work began on the Berlin Wall, Stashinsky crossed into West and spilled his secrets to the authorities. His trial revealed a gripping tale of exploding parcels, fake identities, forbidden love and a daring midnight escape. His life would serve as inspiration for Ian Fleming’s final novel.

And this would not be the end of the intrigue. It appears that Stashinsky was released from prison long before he served out his sentence. Counting world leaders among his enemies, he changed his face, changed his name and disappeared. The last word had it that he’d gone to South Africa. He may still be living there today…

Additional Information

Pages 384
Imprint Oneworld


About the Author

Serhii Plokhy is the Mykhailo Hrushevsky professor of Ukrainian history at Harvard and the director of the university's Ukrainian Research Institute. A leading authority on Eastern Europe, he is the author of several books including The Last Empire, which won the Pushkin House Russian Book Prize in 2015. He lives in Arlington, Massachusetts.


Evoking classic spy thrillers, Serhii Plokhy one of the foremost experts on Russian and Cold War history alive today masterfully tells the stranger than fiction tale of soviet spy Bogdan Stashinsky and the most publicized assassination case of the Cold War.'

- Anne Applebaum, author of Gulag: A History and Iron Curtain

‘One of the greatest espionage stories of all time. Plokhy's riveting tale of how a KGB assassin came in from the cold reads like a thriller because it is a thriller and all the more powerful because every word is true.'

- Michael Smith, author of Foley: The Spy Who Saved 10,000 Jews

‘This is a remarkable story about one Soviet agent's attempt to free himself from the overweening and terrifying grip of the KGB at the height of the Cold War. Serhii Plokhy superbly captures the tense mood of the late 1950s and early 1960s in the USSR...thrilling.'

- Roger Hermiston, author of The Greatest Traitor: The Secret Lives of Agent George Blake

The Man with the Poison Gun is the classic old-school Cold War spy tale. It's all here—the trench coats, the cigarette smoke, the high stakes, the special weapons—deeply documented and smoothly told by Professor Plokhy. In the literature on 20th-century espionage, this book belongs on the top shelf.'

- Mark Riebling, author of Church of Spies

‘This book often reads like an Ian Fleming spy novel, but it is actually about real events that occurred during the tensest phase of the Cold War in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Serhii Plokhy provides a riveting account of the exploits of a Soviet assassin who used poison gas to kill exiled opponents of the Soviet regime amid East-West preparations for all-out war. Plokhy's meticulously researched book sheds valuable light on the Soviet regime's continued use of political assassinations in foreign countries long after the death of Joseph Stalin. A wonderful read for scholars and spy novel fans alike.'

- Mark Kramer, director of Cold War Studies, Harvard University

‘A gripping portrait of an assassin and his journey from recruitment to mission to defection, The Man with the Poison Gun exhumes one of the Cold War's stranger episodes—the KGB's murder of Ukrainian émigrés with a spray gun that squirted poison. Author Serhii Plokhy tells an evocative and informative tale, based on original archival research, that immerses us in the tradecraft of Soviet spies operating in Western Europe.'

- Peter Finn, co-author of The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book

‘Serhii Plokhy, one of the most brilliant historians of our era, has retraced the steps of a murderer and this gripping book is the result. The Man with the Poison Gun will appeal equally to students of history and lovers of spy thrillers.'

- Mary Elise Sarotte, author of The Collapse: The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall

‘Serhii Plokhy has alighted upon a fascinating episode in the history of Soviet intelligence…Plokhy, a leading Harvard professor, details the story in startling clarity and pinpoint accuracy from an impressive array of sources, German, Russian, Ukrainian and American. Yet he carries his learning lightly, which makes for a very readable story that could as well have emerged from the pen of a spy thriller writer.'

- Jonathan Haslam, George F. Kennan Professor, School of Historical Studies, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, and author of Near and Distant Neighbours: A New History of Soviet Intelligence

An extraordinary story told with verve and scholarship.'

- Andrew Lownie, author of Stalin’s Englishman: The Lives of Guy Burgess

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