Fall: The Mystery of Robert Maxwell, by John Preston – reviewed by Peter Rushton

Fall: The Mystery of Robert Maxwell by John Preston. Published by Viking,
London, 2021. ISBN: 978-0-241-38867-9. Hardback, 352 pages.

Five years ago John Preston established a reputation in the field of stranger-than-fiction 20th century history with A Very English Scandal, his version of the 1970s saga involving former Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe, his ex-lover Norman Scott, and the tragi-comic hiring of a hitman to suppress a homosexual scandal, ending in Thorpe’s resignation and acquittal on charges of conspiracy to murder.

A Very English Scandal was adapted successfully for a BBC television drama series in 2018, and Mr Preston no doubt aims for similar profitable success with his latest book Fall, an account of tycoon, crook and Israeli agent Robert Maxwell, for whom the cliché “larger than life” might have been minted.

This is not an archive-based history, being built rather on judicious filleting of other books and memoirs, combined with interviews – an approach that makes for a highly readable text, though it’s questionable how much new material Mr Preston adds to the historical record.

So far as Maxwell’s earliest years are concerned, this record is likely to remain forever shrouded in mystery (not to mention deliberate mystification). He was born Jan Hoch, in the then-Czechoslovak town of Solotvino on 10th June 1923. Many people – not only the obvious ‘anti-semitic’ critics of ‘rootless cosmopolitans’ – later had reason to question Maxwell’s loyalties, but it would be difficult to pin down exactly where anyone born in Solotvino in this era should be expected to assign ‘patriotic’ loyalty.

Other than saying he was a Jew (though from adolescence until the last seven years of his life he publicly shunned every aspect of Jewish identity) it’s very difficult to describe Maxwell’s original nationality, though his hometown’s temporary national affiliation proved felicitous for the satirical magazine Private Eye, who were enabled for years to dub Maxwell “the bouncing Czech”.

His parents had been subjects of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until it was destroyed by the First World War, but in postwar peace treaties Solotvino and its surrounding region (Carpathian Ruthenia) were assigned to the new multi-ethnic nation of Czechoslovakia. When Maxwell was aged fifteen, his home region was awarded to Hungary as part of the 1938 Munich agreement negotiated by the great powers.

During the last year of the Second World War this region (like the rest of Hungary) was occupied by German forces desperately trying to hold back the advance of Stalin’s Red Army – and within weeks of the war’s end, Czechoslovakia ‘agreed’ to hand over the region to the Soviet Union.

There it remained until the USSR’s collapse in the early 1990s, becoming part of an independent Ukraine at the end of 1991. It remains a potentially unstable border area to this day. (In the summer of 1993 I was stranded for two or three days at this border near the regional capital of Uzhhorod, together with a visiting group of British nationalists including the late Richard Edmonds, John Morse and his future wife Teresa.)

This unstable border character of his home town left its mark on Maxwell. According to Preston’s account, drawn from previous biographies and interviews with Maxwell’s children, his father is said to have been poor but honest. Yet the same might not have been true of his extended family. Aged about twelve in the mid-1930s, he was sent away to study rabbinical literature at a yeshiva (a Jewish school) in Bratislava – 370 miles away from his home town, which perhaps casts some doubt on his family’s supposedly extreme poverty.

Even by this age the young Jan Hoch could handle himself, and there were signs of the future bully Robert Maxwell. On arrival in the big city he soon drifted away from his studies and started earning cash as a street pedlar selling necklaces. By the approach of war in 1939 he was a teenage thug, in Yiddish terms a shtarker. More of a Peaky
Blinders
character than a Woody Allen.

His sister Sylvia put it more politely: “We could barely recognize you. Instead of the shy yeshivabucher [Talmudic scholar] we expected, we saw in front of us a flashy young chap, the prewar central European equivalent of a teddy boy.”

Robert Maxwell, his daughter Ghislaine, and wife Betty

He only returned to his home town for about three months in the spring of 1939 before heading to the Hungarian capital Budapest. Maxwell later told many tall stories about this period of his life, and Preston acknowledges that it’s often impossible with this subject to untangle truth from fiction, but one way or another Maxwell travelled first from Solotvino to Budapest (270 miles), where at the start of 1940 he was arrested by Hungarian authorities for helping to smuggle Czech refugees across the border. He escaped from Hungarian custody and made his way from Budapest to the then-Yugoslav capital Belgrade (another 220 miles), then by ship alongside other exiles to Beirut, capital of French-controlled Lebanon.

At this stage (during the late winter and spring of 1940) France was still part of the Allied war effort against Germany: the sixteen-year-old Hoch was held briefly in a French Foreign Legion camp, then transported by ship to Marseilles, where he lied about his age to sign up with what became the 1st Czech Division in the French Army, which was just weeks away from defeat.

Together with 4,000 surviving comrades from this Czech Division, Hoch was evacuated from the French port of Sète to the English port of Liverpool in July 1940, a few weeks after his seventeenth birthday. This was the decisive and final step in his journey across Europe, and from the day he landed in Liverpool, the Jewish teenager Jan Hoch began his transformation into the plummy-toned ‘Englishman’ Robert Maxwell – though his first move in this direction struck a jarring note when he renamed himself Ivan du Maurier after his favourite cigarette brand (at first unaware that this name sounded foreign to most English ears), and he used several other names before settling on Maxwell.

Due to the rapidity of German advance across Europe, there were significant numbers of emigrés from many different countries who ended up in Britain (or in British-controlled territories overseas). Yet at exactly the same time in the summer of 1940, authorities in London were paranoid about the threat of invasion and the great bogeyman of ‘fifth columnists’. To begin with, non-British subjects were not allowed into the fighting forces other than the Pioneer Corps, whose recruits did various odd jobs for the war effort rather than anything resembling frontline fighting.

Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery presenting the Military Cross to the young Robert Maxwell.

At some point between 1940 and early 1944 one of the pivotal moments in Maxwell’s life occurred, but frustratingly Preston’s new book tells us no more about it than earlier books. (Preston has simply lifted his account from Tom Bower’s biography of Maxwell – the book that the old fraudster tried to suppress during the 1980s through endless lawsuits.) The story goes that after an operation for appendicitis, Maxwell began an affair with an Englishwoman and was introduced to her friend or relative, Brigadier ‘Gary’ Carthew-Yourston of the Black Watch. It was through this Brigadier that Maxwell earned a transfer from the Pioneer Corps to a fighting unit – first with a territorial battalion, the 6th North Staffords, who landed in Normandy in June 1944 as part of the 176th Infantry Brigade, and by the end of the year as a commissioned officer, eventually a Captain, in the Queen’s Royal Regiment.

At the same as receiving his commission, he adopted the name ‘Robert Maxwell’. Preston is quite flippant about this, but while earlier name changes during his flight across Europe might have been his own idea, it’s certain that changing your name while in the process of being commissioned as a British officer is not something that a twenty-one-year-old Jewish emigré could simply decide to do on his own initiative.

Carthew-Yourston was therefore obviously an important figure in Maxwell’s life. (He cropped up again early in 1945, helping to persuade a family of French Gentiles to allow Maxwell to marry their daughter.) Soon after the ‘liberation’ of Paris, Carthew-Yourston was head of the British Military Staff in the French capital. It’s odd to say the least that Maxwell leapt from breaking rocks in a South Wales quarry as a teenage Pioneer Corps recruit, to having this type of high-level connection.

The obvious explanation is that the young man’s command of European languages made him the sort of chap who would be useful for intelligence assignments once British forces were engaged on the continent.

Less than three months after landing in France there is evidence that Maxwell had some sort of intelligence role. If we assume that Brigadier Carthew-Yourston did have an intelligence connection, it’s interesting to note that the Brigadier’s great-grandson – French businessman Charles Beigbeder – was one of the main financial fixers behind Marion Maréchal Le Pen’s creation of ISSEP, an academic institute in Lyon founded in 2018.

French businessman Charles Beigbeder, a financial backer of young nationalist leader Marion Maréchal. Beigbeder’s grandfather was the main sponsor of Robert Maxwell’s wartime recruitment into British intellgence.

This wouldn’t be the first time that Robert Maxwell and the shady networks surrounding him had been found to have connections to the so-called ‘far right’. During the 1980s Maxwell worked closely with the Japanese international gangster and former ‘fascist’ Ryoichi Sasakawa, who was a luminary of the ‘Moonie’ religious cult. Simultaneously another ‘Moonie’, Pierre Ceyrac, was one of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s advisers and an MP and MEP for Le Pen’s French National Front.

Ceyrac was the main agent for Israeli intelligence service Mossad’s effort to infiltrate Le Pen’s circle: part of this plan involved an invitation by Mrs Thatcher’s former aide Sir Alfred Sherman for Le Pen to address a Western Goals fringe meeting at the 1987 Conservative Party Conference, but Israeli networks backed away (and the invitation was
cancelled) after Le Pen semi-identified himself with ‘Holocaust’ revisionism, calling the gas chambers a “detail of history” in an August 1987 interview. Four years later (by which time Western Goals had been restructured with different leadership) Le Pen was reinvited and addressed a meeting in London alongside the late Jonathan Bowden.

Preston is only able to speculate about Maxwell’s wartime recruitment by British intelligence and he takes us no further than earlier accounts, notably by Tom Bower in Maxwell: The Outsider (1988 and various subsequent editions), Stephen Dorril and Robin Ramsay’s Smear! (1992), and Dorril again in his very unofficial history MI6 (2000). The only source who baldly stated that Maxwell was an MI6 asset (at least during the 1940s and 1950s) was Desmond Bristow, head of MI6’s ‘Iberian section’ (i.e. a specialist in Spanish and Portuguese affairs rather than Maxwell’s Central European home ground, though he also took part in high level MI6 HQ meetings on scientific intelligence-gathering).

Preston’s quotations from Bristow (who died in September 2000) are lifted from the latter’s interviews quoted by Dorril, and Preston does not seem to have done any work in intelligence archives on either side of the Atlantic to expand or substantiate this story. Moreover it’s clear that Preston is not personally familiar with even the basic essentials of intelligence history. (To be fair, very few people are, as this is a fairly new academic specialism that has greatly advanced during the past twenty years.) He describes one of Maxwell’s important early financial backers, the influential merchant banker Sir Charles Hambro, as “an original member of the Special Operations Executive (SOE)” – in fact Hambro was head of SOE during 1942-43, and for the last two years of the war headed a secret liaison mission based in Washington, DC, handling the highest level of scientific and technical intelligence-sharing between Britain and the United States, including the atomic bomb project.

Again, the brief account of Maxwell’s late wartime and early postwar activities given by Preston is little different from what can be gleaned from Bower, Dorril and one or two earlier authors.

Sir Charles Hambro – banker and wartime boss of Britain’s Special Operations Executive – was one of Maxwell’s most influential contacts in the overlapping worlds of high finance and the intelligence services

Chaotic postwar Central Europe was prey to two different species of vulture. Maxwell and his ilk spotted opportunities to profit from black marketeering and cornering the market in scarce materials – readers will be familiar with the ‘Harry Lime’ character played by Orson Welles in The Third Man, who profited from cornering the medical drugs market, and for Maxwell the magic commodity was paper. The other types of vulture were the rival intelligence organisations of East and West, who feasted on the intellectual corpse of the Third Reich acquiring scientific and technical secrets that would benefit them in what they expected to be a Third World War, but turned out to be a Cold War lasting until the eve of Maxwell’s death.

Due to his fluency in German (and working knowledge of some other European languages) Maxwell was a valuable asset in occupied Germany and (in common with many other Jewish emigrés working with the British and American forces) handled interrogations of captured German officers. One of the most important prisoners interrogated by Maxwell was Hermann Giskes, who had been head of German counter-intelligence in the Netherlands and northern France and had been in charge of one of the few highly successful German intelligence operations against Britain, when almost the entire Dutch SOE network was taken over by Giskes and ‘turned’, supplying false information to London for several years.

Czech security and intelligence files dating from 1946 and 1947 identified Maxwell as a British intelligence officer who was seeking to exploit Czech contacts. Preston quotes from these Czech documents but surprisingly does not identify the Vienna-based MI6 officer who controlled Maxwell’s activities in this period. According to Stephen Dorril and others this was George Kennedy Young, a future deputy chief of MI6. Mr Young was later a renowned Monday Club activist, founder of Tory Action, and well-known to at least one H&D contributor. The fact that he was Robert Maxwell’s postwar MI6 controller suggests that Young’s ‘anti-semitism’ was based on experience rather than ‘prejudice’.

In the summer of 1946, the twenty-three-year-old Maxwell was appointed head of the press section of PRISC – Public Relations and Information Services Control – part of the British occupation authority in Berlin, giving him power over anyone wanting to set up a newspaper or journal. His most important contact in this field was Ferdinand Springer, head of the leading scientific publisher Springer-Verlag. This had been founded in 1842 by Ferdinand’s father Julius: the Springers were an old Jewish family but had been assimilated for a century by the time Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933. It seems that Ferdinand had little trouble maintaining control of his publishing empire during the Third Reich, but by 1946 it was convenient to forget his ‘Aryanisation’ and join the British side, via Maxwell. (Ferdinand Springer was not related to the postwar German publisher Axel Springer.)

Paul Rosbaud, MI6 nuclear spy and business partner of Robert Maxwell

Preston suggests that Maxwell’s earliest business breakthrough was funded by MI6: this involved the purchase of Springer-Verlag’s entire stock of learned scientific journals, books and articles. Very oddly, Preston chooses not to mention Maxwell’s initial business partner in this publishing venture which became his best known company, Pergamon Press. This business partner was Paul Rosbaud, an MI6 informant who had remained in Germany throughout the Third Reich and supplied Britain and America with detailed intelligence about Germany’s embryonic nuclear programme. Many aspects of Rosbaud’s life and intelligence career remain mysterious, but he played an important role in Maxwell’s story and his omission from Preston’s book is strange.

The postwar MI6 effort to acquire the Third Reich’s scientific intelligence (and just as importantly, to find out how
much knowledge the Soviet Union had acquired from the same sources) was directed by Sir Charles Hambro, who
as part of these operations arranged finance for the young Maxwell’s new publishing venture (in partnership with
Rosbaud and Springer).

Unsurprisingly, several of Maxwell’s earliest postwar business associates were former (in fact only ‘semi’-retired) intelligence officers. These included Maj. John Whitlock and his fellow SOE/MI6 veteran Hugh Quennell, who both served on the board of the British publishers Butterworths, acting as the front for Maxwell’s new MI6-sponsored alliance with Springer.

Quennell was deputy chairman of Butterworths and a partner in the influential London solicitors Slaughter & May. He had been forced to resign as SOE chief in Gibraltar after taking responsibility for a disastrous explosion on board the Tangier-Gibraltar ferry in January 1942. A consignment of limpet mines, detonators and other explosives had been packed into ‘diplomatic bags’ (which by international convention cannot be searched by border security) and loaded onto the ferry at Gibraltar.

Unfortunately the explosives hadn’t been securely packed and became unstable in transit: in the early hours of the morning, soon after the ferry had docked in (neutral) Tangier, the port was rocked by a huge explosion, killing ten Moroccan civilians and four Gibraltarian policemen. The disaster was publicly blamed on a German or Italian bomb, but behind the scenes a secret British board of inquiry established SOE’s responsibility.

Despite this cock-up, Quennell’s long-term career as a City lawyer, spook, and Maxwell business associate was secure.

Alongside Hambro, perhaps the most eminent British spy to assist Maxwell’s fledgling business career was Count Frederick Vanden Heuvel, wartime MI6 chief in Switzerland (known to his friends as “Fanny the Fixer”). As late as 1954 there is evidence that Maxwell was getting help from Vanden Heuvel in some of his shady business deals, quite separate from scientific publishing. Preston has a chapter on some of these deals, in which Maxwell’s partner was another dodgy import-export specialist, Dr Kurt Wallersteiner.

Maxwell’s partner in crime and espionage Dr Kurt Wallersteiner (above left), here with Mrs Wallersteiner and friends at the Coningsby Club, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of Britain’s first Jewish Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli.

I can reveal in this review for the first time that even while MI6 veterans were assisting Maxwell, MI5 and the FBI regarded him with suspicion and were listening to his phone calls and opening his letters. For example an MI5 check on Maxwell’s phone line (authorised by the Post Office under a Home Office Warrant) produced details on 16th March 1954 of business deals between Maxwell, Wallersteiner, and the Communist Chinese government.

During this telephone conversation, it was revealed that the Chinese deal depended on working with a London-based group who had already started building Chinese connections. This group was run by Roland Berger, a Jewish communist who had worked in a senior role for the UN’s refugee organisation immediately after the war. Berger was a very important undercover communist with close ties to Soviet intelligence, though it seems likely that he defected to the Chinese side during the Sino-Soviet split of the late ’50s and early ’60s.

During this phone call, Maxwell admitted that on the one hand Berger was a friend, but that if he were to have any dealings with Berger’s committee he would have to get permission from “my friend Van, whether I can deal with this Committee. You see I can only get anything if I make use of my friend Berger; and as soon as I make use of
my friend Berger, I must talk to my ‘other friend’, you see?”

No doubt aware that his phone line was insecure, Maxwell then prevents Wallersteiner from speaking further on the matter, and cuts him short with the comment: “Well, then I will get the nod from ‘our friend’, as you know.”

Published versions of FBI files on Maxwell are heavily censored, including incompetent attempts to remove references to Kurt Wallersteiner. It seems that during the mid-1950s he was subjected to heavy FBI surveillance but they closed their investigation at the end of April 1957 after it had “not revealed any acts of espionage on his part in the United States and Canada”.

Late in 1954 however the FBI had monitored Maxwell’s contacts with leading American nuclear scientists.

Around this time the Americans had broken off nuclear intelligence-sharing with Britain, and it’s possible that this was part of a British effort to circumvent this ban by spying on our allies.

From the early 1950s right up until his death there were concerns about Maxwell and other (often Jewish) ‘East-West traders’, several of whom were linked for decades to future Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson. One official British document expressed concern that Maxwell’s financial rescue of the prestigious Oxford student magazine Isis in 1963 might be part of a Soviet strategy to gain influence at the university. Preston doesn’t delve into the broader topic of the many allegations against Wilson and his Jewish business contacts, rumours that played some part in Wilson’s sudden resignation as Prime Minister in 1976.

Robert Maxwell with then Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev

There is of course another possibility, that in parallel with his work for MI6, Maxwell was already assisting the Israeli intelligence service Mossad.

Preston makes no mention of the above MI5 and FBI records, nor of Roland Berger, but among his main sources about Maxwell’s Israeli links is Preston’s interview with the Zionist tycoon Gerald Ronson, whose own autobiography I reviewed almost twelve years ago in H&D Issue 38. Though Ronson is sixteen years younger, he had much in common with Maxwell: both larger-than-life businessmen, and both a particular type of Jew – big bruisers, or in Yiddish shtarkers. Maxwell boasted of having killed German civilians in cold blood, while Ronson had a criminal conviction for assault as part of his role in the violent Jewish ‘anti-fascist’ 62 Group, for which he was in charge of fundraising, working closely with the Group’s ‘field commander’ Cyril Paskin and its intelligence officers Harry Bidney and Gerry Gable.

Paskin and Bidney are now dead, while Gable is editor and publisher of Searchlight.

Ronson first met Maxwell at the end of the 1970s and helped him buy the famous yacht Lady Ghislaine, from which Maxwell was to fall to his death in 1991. For several years the Ronson and Maxwell families used to holiday together on their respective yachts. According to Ronson, he was responsible for Maxwell returning to his Jewish roots and building close ties to Israel during the last seven years of his life:
“He [Maxwell] usually told people he wasn’t Jewish, but he told me he was and had given it up. I said to him: ‘What’s all this crap? How come all of a sudden you’re not Jewish any more?”

By Ronson’s account, it was just after Maxwell bought the Daily Mirror and its associated titles – Britain’s second-largest group of popular newspapers, and the only Fleet Street stable that supported the opposition Labour Party – in 1984 that he suggested to Maxwell he should visit Israel for the first time. Ronson was due to visit Tel Aviv for a meeting with Yitzhak Shamir, the former Stern Gang terrorist boss who had become Israeli Prime Minister a few months earlier.

Robert Maxwell with Margaret Thatcher: though supposedly political opponents, the two were actually on friendly terms.

According to Ronson, Maxwell became emotionally attached to Israel even as their plane was approaching Tel Aviv: “There were tears coming down his face. He kept saying, ‘I should have come here years ago.’ It surprised me because he was not the sort of man you expected to see showing such emotion.” On the very next day Maxwell and Ronson met with Shamir, and Maxwell offered to invest “at least a quarter of a billion dollars” in Israel. This time he was true to his word (at one stage even attempting to buy and merge the Israeli football clubs Beitar Jerusalem and Hapoel Jerusalem to join the English clubs he already owned – Derby County, Oxford United, and Reading) though the funds of course belonged to the Mirror Group, whose pension fund Maxwell systematically pillaged for a range of dubious purposes.

One of the first fruits of Maxwell’s ‘rediscovered’ Judaism and allegiance to Israel was his wife Betty’s creation of an academic journal Holocaust and Genocide Studies. In 1988 the Maxwells organised the largest ever academic conference on the Holocaust, held in Oxford under the title ‘Remembering for the Future’. Needless to say, while sceptical about Maxwell’s many frauds and self-publicising fables, Preston uncritically parrots statements about the numbers of Maxwell’s family who died in the ‘Holocaust’, even reporting precise details that seem implausible or impossible to verify.

In addition to investing in Israel and promoting ‘Holocaust’ scholarship, there was another side to Maxwell’s relationship with the Zionist state. Some sources have suggested that Maxwell was part of money-laundering and arms-dealing operations during the foundation of Israel in 1948, but Preston focuses on allegations that cropped up just weeks before the tycoon’s death. Award-winning US journalist Seymour Hersh wrote a book about Israel’s nuclear programme – The Samson Option – in which he alleged that Maxwell and the Mirror‘s foreign editor Nick Davies had been part of large-scale arms dealing alongside a controversial Israeli called Ari Ben-Menashe; and that in the summer-autumn of 1986 Maxwell and Davies had betrayed Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu to Mossad. Vanunu had been lured from London to Rome in a Mossad ‘honey trap’, kidnapped, and thrown into an Israeli jail where he remained for almost twenty years.

Two British MPs from opposing parties, but united by their sceptical attitude towards Zionism, tabled hostile parliamentary questions about Maxwell – Conservative Rupert Allason (who under the nom de plume ‘Nigel West’ is also an intelligence historian, and who at the time was H&D editor Mark Cotterill’s constituency MP) and pro-Palestinian campaigner George Galloway, who was then in the Labour Party.

These questions fuelled media investigations that could no longer be silenced by Maxwell’s usual legal bluster, and increased the nervousness of financial institutions who had extended loans to Maxwell that by the autumn of 1991 added up to £1 billion.

Robert Maxwell (far right) on one of his many visits to the USA with (left to right) future President Donald Trump, Sen. John Tower (chairman of the US Senate Armed Services Committee), and veteran CBS broadcaster Mike Wallace (originally Myron Wallik).

Whereas in March 1991 Maxwell had purchased the New York Daily News – America’s oldest tabloid – and seemed at the height of his power, eight months later he was in poor health, and his finances were in even worse condition. His problem was one that occurs surprisingly often with financial wheeler-dealers: once one part of their carefully constructed empire is weakened, the entire edifice comes crashing down.

And of course once the crash happens, the entourage of ‘respectable’ folk who once doted on the crook no longer want to know him.

Maxwell didn’t survive to witness this denouement. Close associates and employees who managed to live down their years on his payroll included Joe Haines, former press secretary to Prime Minister Harold Wilson; Alastair Campbell, future press secretary to Prime Minister Tony Blair; and Lord Williams, Oxford-educated businessman, Labour peer, and stepfather of the present Archbishop of Canterbury.

It would be natural in such circumstances for a man like Maxwell – who knew where all sorts of bodies were buried – to attempt to pressure (even blackmail) some of his old acquaintances. On 1st November 1991 he suddenly decided to take a break on his yacht, cruising on the Lady Ghislaine around the Canary Islands and cancelling a long-planned speech to the Anglo-Israeli Association’s London celebration of the Balfour Declaration anniversary.

At some point during the night after that planned speech – in the early hours of 5th November – Maxwell fell, jumped, or was pushed over the side of his yacht. His body (assuming it was his body and not part of a faked death) was found late that afternoon. Arrangements were instantly made to fly the corpse to Israel for a rapid burial on the Mount of Olives.

Among those rushing to pay tribute to Maxwell was former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. She wrote to Maxwell’s widow:
“He was and will remain unique. Above all, Mr Maxwell showed the whole world that one person can move and influence events by using his own God-given talents and abilities.”

Shimon Peres (above right) former and future Prime Minister of Israel, pays his respects to Robert Maxwell’s daughter Ghislaine at her father’s funeral on the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, in November 1991. Maxwell was a long-term operative of Israeli intelligence.

Belfast-born Israeli President Chaim Herzog – who like Maxwell had served as a British intelligence officer during the Second World War – was even more effusive when addressing the old crook’s funeral: “He scaled the heights. Kings and barons besieged his doorstep. He was a figure of almost mythological stature. Few are the persons who stride across the stage of human experience and leave their mark. Robert Maxwell was one of them…”

In assessing Robert Maxwell’s mark on history, John Preston’s new book is a fluently-written introduction, but very far from the last word on the strange nexus of finance, politics, crime and espionage that Maxwell exemplified. There is far more to be revealed on these topics, and H&D readers will not have too much longer to wait.

Reviewed by Peter Rushton

This review first appeared in Issue 103 of Heritage and Destiny

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