BOOK REVIEW: The Taking of K-129

The Taking of K-129
Josh Dean
Dutton Books
Copyright 2017 by the author

Those of you old enough to have lived through Ancient History may recall hearing stuff in the early 1970s about mining manganese nodules from the ocean floor. One of Howard Hughes’ companies contracted the building of a huge ship, the Glomar Explorer, to see if these nodules could actually be scooped up in any way that could possibly be practical and profitable.

Years later, it came to light that the mining operation was actually the cover story for collecting something even more valuable and outrageous: a sunken Soviet ballistic missile submarine.

Josh Dean approaches the story from an interesting angle. Not from the Cold War geopolitics, not from the cloak-and-dagger world of the CIA, but from the engineering challenge of creating something that could filch a submarine from the ocean floor – while keeping that truth a secret. And he does this by having interviewed the people who were there and knew it all.

It’s a really fun story; how America was able to do something the Soviet’s couldn’t. Heck, the Commies didn’t even know where the sub was! And it really was a tough challenge; it pushed the engineering limits of what could be done at the time. The most impressive thing is probably that people bought the cover story! This huge, complicated ship, and its lifting “claw”, being built and tested and sailed and berthed out in the open – and no eyebrows were raised or questions asked out in the open.

Not that there weren’t a few close calls, as Dean describes. Someone broke into an office at one of the contractors and stole paperwork that could have blown the cover. A tax assessor gave the CIA grief over the taxes on the sale of the ship from the builders to the “owners”. The press had to be leaned on to keep quiet on the story for the time being.

Dean uses a lot of short chapters, switching viewpoints from one to the next. This keeps things moving at a brisk clip. In truth, there’s none of what you’d expect from a secret spy story. No meetings in the shadows with mysterious figures, no danger of sudden death from a poisoned dart…. just a scramble to get the ship built and the job done before the Soviets find out and raise a stink.

He also tosses in a lot of details. For example, just in case the Soviets tried anything, a few of the Glomar’s crew were issued rifles and handguns. And so no one would ask too many questions, skeet shooting equipment was also provided.

It’s a fun and exciting read, taking us back to a time when one could trust the government and ordinary citizens cooperated with it for the common good. And when we could dare to to big things.

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