A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal

Book rating: 04 Paperback

By (author) Ben Macintyre

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  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
  • Format: Paperback | 368 pages
  • Dimensions: 153mm x 234mm x 32mm | 649g
  • Publication date: 13 March 2014
  • Publication City/Country: London
  • ISBN 10: 1408851733
  • ISBN 13: 9781408851739
  • Edition statement: Export/Airside
  • Illustrations note: 2 x 16pp B&W plate sections
  • Sales rank: 4,383

Product description

Kim Philby was the most notorious British defector and Soviet mole in history. Agent, double agent, traitor and enigma, he betrayed every secret of Allied operations to the Russians in the early years of the Cold War. Philby's two closest friends in the intelligence world, Nicholas Elliott of MI6 and James Jesus Angleton, the CIA intelligence chief, thought they knew Philby better than anyone, and then discovered they had not known him at all. This is a story of intimate duplicity; of loyalty, trust and treachery, class and conscience; of an ideological battle waged by men with cut-glass accents and well-made suits in the comfortable clubs and restaurants of London and Washington; of male friendships forged, and then systematically betrayed. With access to newly released MI5 files and previously unseen family papers, and with the cooperation of former officers of MI6 and the CIA, this definitive biography unlocks what is perhaps the last great secret of the Cold War.

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Author information

Ben Macintyre is a columnist and Associate Editor on The Times. He has worked as the newspaper's correspondent in New York, Paris and Washington. He is the author of nine previous books including Agent Zigzag, shortlisted for the Costa Biography Award and the Galaxy British Book Award for Biography of the Year 2008, and the no. 1 bestsellers Operation Mincemeat and Double Cross. He lives in North London with his wife and three children.

Customer reviews

By Brendan Hart 22 Jul 2014 4

Disclaimer: I received this book for free through the First Reads program. So a tip of the hat to Random House.

Note: The edition I received was a 304-page uncorrected proof.

Macintyre did a good job with this one. His writing is accessible. The book moves at a good pace. It is packed with information, and quotes from first-hand sources are frequent. There are humorous anecdotes, as well as accounts of covert field operations. The Afterword, by John Le Carre, is mostly notes he took from a 1986 interview of Nicholas Elliott.

While Macintyre handled the subject well, one can not escape how depressing the subject is. It's essentially 300 pages of horrible stuff happening. Philby might be the main focus, but the underlying theme is the damage caused by English arrogance and incompetence. There's no way to undo what was done. There's no happy ending.

Review quote

An engaging book on a tantalising and ultimately tragic subject, If it starts as a study of friendship, it ends as an indictment Philip Hensher, Spectator No one writes about deceit and subterfuge so dramatically, authoritatively or perceptively. To read A Spy Among Friends is a bit like climbing aboard a runaway train in terms of speed and excitement - except that Macintyre knows exactly where he is going and is in total control of his material Daily Mail, Books of the Week It reads like fiction, which is testament to the extraordinary power of the story itself but also to the skills of the storyteller . at least as compelling as any of the great fictionalised accounts of Britain's greatest traitor and one of the best real-life spy stories one is ever likely to read ***** Daily Express Illuminating, gripping and moving . What Macintyre reveals - but not too quickly - is the extent to which those who confided in him, as friends or colleagues or both, were made unwitting accessories to treason Evening Standard Thrilling ... An extraordinary book ... I'm not a lover of spy novels, yet I adored this book. Fictional spies never seem believable to me; novels are populated by stereotypes devoid of nuances that define the individual. That's not the case here. Macintyre's strength is his capacity for intimacy, the very thing Philby, Elliott and Angleton lacked . Just about perfect The Times Book of the Week Whereas Milne thinks his friend betrayed his country because he genuinely believed in communism, Macintyre's explanation is more intriguing and more convincing Sunday Times Riveting reading ... The transcript of this rendezvous is Ben Macintyre's scoop: the motor of an unputdownable postwar thriller whose every incredible detail is fact not fiction . A brilliant reconciliation of history and entertainment ... A Spy Among Friends is not just an elegy, it is an unforgettable requiem Observer Gripping ... Ben Macintyre's bottomlessly fascinating new book is an exploration of Kim Philby's friendships, particularly with Nicholas Elliott . This book consists of 300 pages; I would have been happy had it been three times as long ***** Mail on Sunday The life of Cambridge spy Kim Philby is analysed in this irresistibly readable study Sunday Times Swiftly paced, beautifully written . It is the small, human details that makes this grim, beguiling story so intoxicating Scotland on Sunday A hugely engrossing contribution to Philby lore ... Such a summary does no justice to Macintyre's marvellously shrewd and detailed account of Philby's nefarious career. It is both authoritative and enthralling ... One of the pleasures of writing about espionage is that you are almost licensed to concoct your own conspiracy theories; all that's demanded is plausibility, and Elliott and Macintyre's gloss on events is highly plausible William Boyd, New Statesman He does not let his readers down here . The story has been told before, but Macintyre's ability to unbundle intelligence acronyms is unrivalled . He has thrown a detailed and always entertaining light on the practices and culture of the 20th-century British intelligence through the lens of its most ignominious episode Sunday Telegraph Engaging and atmospheric Country Life Macintyre writes with the diligence and insight of a journalist, and the panache of a born storyteller . Worthy of John le Carr at his best John Banville, Guardian Fascinating . The real tragedy, as this book so masterfully reveals, is that Philby's charm and easy manner made fools of so many ***** Sunday Express The doomed relationship between Philby and Elliott makes this old tale of treason seem new enough Economist Riveting and tragic. I read Macintyre's book in one sitting, and found it impossible to put down Lord Faulkner of Worcester, House Magazine A book I could give to anybody Observer The consistently readable Ben Macintyre shines a penetrating light on the friendship between Kim Philby, one of the most notorious traitors in British history, and fellow MI6 spy Nicholas Elliott Sunday Express Summer Reading No one writes so well on subterfuge and deceit as Macintyre Mail on Sunday Summer Reads A rollicking book. Mr Macintyre is full of pep and never falters in the head-long rush of his narrative Richard Davenport-Hines, Wall Street Journal Europe An extraordinary book . The focus on friendship brings an intimacy here that is missing from the cardboard stereotypes that populate conventional espionage histories and spy novels The Times There is nobody to beat Ben Macintyre for a knowledge of espionage . A Spy Among Friends is, like all of Macintyre's work, a real gem Alexander McCall Smith, Sainsbury's Magazine The vicarious experience of the seedy, hard-drinking glamour of old-school espionage is thrilling Zoe Strachan, Sunday Herald Books of the Year An unputdownable thriller, and the impeccably researched truth Nicholas Hytner, Observer Books of the Year