Red Spy Queen

A Biography of Elizabeth Bentley

By Kathryn S. Olmsted

288 pp., 5.5 x 8.5, 12 illus., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-1499-1
    Published: March 2014
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-6217-9
    Published: November 2003
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-7663-8
    Published: November 2003

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When Elizabeth Bentley slunk into an FBI field office in 1945, she was thinking only of saving herself from NKGB assassins who were hot on her trail. She had no idea that she was about to start the greatest Red Scare in U.S. history.

Bentley (1908-1963) was a Connecticut Yankee and Vassar graduate who spied for the Soviet Union for seven years. She met with dozens of highly placed American agents who worked for the Soviets, gathering their secrets and stuffing sensitive documents into her knitting bag. But her Soviet spymasters suspected her of disloyalty--and even began plotting to silence her forever. To save her own life, Bentley decided to betray her friends and comrades to the FBI. Her defection effectively shut down Soviet espionage in the United States for years.

Despite her crucial role in the cultural and political history of the early Cold War, Bentley has long been overlooked or underestimated by historians. Now, new documents from Russian and American archives make it possible to assess the veracity of her allegations. This long overdue biography rescues Elizabeth Bentley from obscurity and tells her dramatic life story.

About the Author

Kathryn S. Olmsted is assistant professor of history at the University of California, Davis. She is author of Challenging the Secret Government: The Post-Watergate Investigations of the CIA and FBI.
For more information about Kathryn S. Olmsted, visit the Author Page.


"Olmsted has done history a great service with this nuanced and credible assessment. Her balanced and scholarly appraisal of Bentley's career will hold up and be hereafter cited as the most authoritative judgment."--National Review

"Ms. Olmsted's biography is one of the most significant works to emerge in McCarthyism studies since the collapse of communism, and it draws on the many secrets that have poured out of the U.S. and Soviet archives in the past dozen years."--Wall Street Journal

"[This] biography of the woman who ushered in the cold war . . . shows clearly that Bentley told the truth about Soviet espionage in high places. . . . [and] that Bentley was a truly disturbed, and disturbing, woman."--New York Times Book Review

"As a chronicle of the early years of the Cold War, and as a portrait of a woman who happened to be a spy, this is a revealing and compassionate biography."--Booklist

"An intelligent, balanced biography. . . . Olmsted's thoughtful account restores Bentley to her rightful place and gives her all the credit--and blame--she deserves."--Publishers Weekly

"Olmsted chronicles the rise and fall of a Communist-spy-turned-informer from her early days as an antifascist at Columbia to her Cold War defection to the FBI. . . . A valuable addition to the annals of spy lore."--Kirkus Reviews