The Nine Lives of Otto Katz

Written by Jonathan Miles
Review by Gordon O'Sullivan

Otto Katz was never a man to hide his light under a bushel, enthralling Hollywood in the Thirties with his tales of heroism in the fight against Fascism. But behind the showy front, Katz was a gifted propagandist and one of the most effective agents ever to work for Soviet Russia. With the Communist party as a support but using his own peculiar set of skills, for the first half of the 20th century Katz was omnipresent. At one moment, he was seducing Marlene Dietrich in decadent 1920s Germany, then fighting a propaganda war against the Nazis in Paris, then thrilling film stars in Hollywood and inspiring the character of Victor Lazlo in Casablanca. He was in the thick of it on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War and organised effective Communist insurgencies in Latin America before his terminal return to Czechoslovakia.

Using recently released secret files, Jonathan Miles has produced an intriguing story of the nine lives of what has to be one of the world’s most influential secret agents. This is an excellent book; managing to keep the bewildering number of secret affairs Katz was involved in clear in a literally action-packed 400 pages.