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The Looking Glass War Paperback – February 26, 2002

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; Reprint edition (February 26, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743431707
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743431705
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #846,058 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Le CarreÌü's fourth George Smiley novel is handsomely dramatized in this BBC Audio production. Early in the 1960s the cold war is in full swing, and the Department, a holdover from the WWII section of British intelligence, forms an uneasy alliance with its rival agency, the Circus, when it is suspected that Soviet missiles may be in the process of being placed along the West German border. Death, lies, betrayal, secrets, secrets, and more secrets all add up to the kind of rich espionage story fans have come to expect from le CarreÌü. Though this production, by necessity of time, is forced to leave out much of the book on which it's based, the dramatization captures the essence of the material, and the actors expertly brings their characters to life and are supported with excellent production values.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.


Publishers Weekly A bitter, bleak, superlatively written novel.

Financial Times (U.K.) A book of rare and great power.

More About the Author

John le Carre was born in 1931. His third novel, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, secured him a worldwide reputation, which was consolidated by the acclaim for his trilogy: Tinke, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; The Honorable Schoolboy, and Smiley's People. His novels include The Little Drummer Girl, A Perfect Spy, The Russia House, Our Game, The Taileor of Panama, and Single & Single. John le Carre lives in Cornwall.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By M. Haque on July 22, 2003
Format: Paperback
I read "Looking Glass War" several years ago and was jolted at how realistic the people and the departments seemed. The tragedy of the story stayed with me for a long time.
Human ambition, the senselessness of bureaucracy and the infighting among goverment departments --- these are some aspects explored here in a 'spy-story' setting. The interactions seemed very real; the bizarreness of the events very much like real life.
Of course this is more of a serious novel than a thriller, as expected of John le Carre. The mood is gray and cluody, and the ending is distressing. The story follows a young employee of an almost-defunct intelligence department. He flies to Scandinavia and finds the local police more savvy than himself. The characters deceive others and themselves in daily-life ways. They prepare to send a poorly-trained man of forty into East Germany as a spy. At the final betrayal, our protagonist cries in anger and shame.
Those reading this book for getting kicks out of following the heroic adventures of a glamorous spy, sent to do the right thing by the right side, will be disappointed. There's no clear distinction between good and bad sides. The enemy people (east germans) are all too human. As in life, much is ambivalent.
This is not an action-packed thriller to make a feel-good hollywood movie from. Rather, it's an excellent addition to human literature, a testament to the tragedies of individuals caught between government institutions of the twentieth century.
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 4, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book deals with conflicts without and within: how does British intelligence deal with the communist threat, and how do the different departments in the British government vie for supremecy. I thought it a good study on how oftentimes the outside threat is forgotten. In this book, governments are ruthless, and men are driven by ambition and then are shocked by where that ambition leads them. Characters are very human, each working for different reasons, and in the end very believable. Le Carre is the best at examining the psychology of control and lying: what are the consequences of a life of deceit? No, it is not an action thiller. Don't read it if that is what you are looking for. But if you want a realistic portrayal of what goes on behind the government scenes in the spy game, this is definitely for you.
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36 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Geist on December 31, 2002
Format: Hardcover
A marvelous, bitter novel of ad hoc espionage and bureaucratic intrigue--though it dates from the Cold War, its ethical concerns are as timely as ever. The quality of writing throughout far surpasses the requirements of genre and the conclusion retains a spine-chilling power.

A previous review here demands refutation. A so-called "Reader" insists that "Le Carre knows nothing about espionage, foreign affairs, international relations, spy technology etc." "Reader"'s argument? "In the 1960's Czechoslovakia was surrounded by the world's most sophisticated security perimeter.... To Western espionage, however, this iron curtain was easily permeable; high-tech espionage aircraft and satellites routinely overflew Soviet [sic] territory, mapping government installations with a precision far greater than any earth-bound surveyor.... [I]n [Le Carre's] world the Czech border has a chicken-wire fence guarded by local boys with rusty Mannlichers. Aerial spying is carried out by airline pilots, presumably leaning out of their jets to snap a few candids with concealed polaroids!"

A few comments in response:

A) The U-2 spy plane and Corona spy satellite were U.S. programs--Britain's aerial espionage technology lagged well behind in the mid-60's. "Reader" imagines a "Western espionage" monolith that did not exist. While the U.S. and Great Britain were, of course, close allies, their interests were by no means identical and their intelligence agencies were not joined at the hip. "The Looking Glass War"--which, of course, concerns (fictional!) operations by British intelligence--includes passages offering explicit rationale for not immediately involving the U.S., thus necessitating the use of relatively primitive information-gathering techniques.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Paul Carr on April 23, 1998
Format: Paperback
This is a actually a beautifully written little story of foolishness, arrogance and betrayal. It's true the plot is a bit thinner than most of this great writer's work, but this tragedy is about the the souls (or lack thereof) of the men who send other men ill-prepared into mortal danger, and their twisted thought processes. Not Le Carre's best work, but darn good.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan Yovel on March 23, 2007
Format: Paperback
As a complete book, "The Looking Glass War" isn't perhaps one of Le Carre's crowning achievements. But in its specific anatomy of the human deterioration, moral depravity and sometimes inhumanness of the cold war it is one of his deepest studies. If "The Spy who came out from the Cold" and "Smiley's People" are symphonies, then this is a tight piece of chamber music. It could have been tighter -- cutting off about a forth of the book would have improved it -- but it offers a hermetic, very troubling experience. It is less about suspense and action and more about relations, morality and compassion. For my part, it is the one book of Le Carre's that remained with me and troubled me the longest. If you liked the more serious aspects of Le Carre's work, then this one will engage you. If you enjoy his work mostly for the action and suspense, however, this one may come on as a little tedious.

Albeit a cameo by Smiley (in one of his least attractive moments), the characters are mostly new. The plot itself is simple: a small, practically defunct British spy agency with a mandate for military targets that has been lagging on aimlessly since WWII, gets one more shot at mounting an intelligence operation. WWII was their best of times, the source of their pride and nostalgia: since then, stripped from financing, backwards on technology, they are no more than a bureaucratic specter. But the gods of warfare reward their zealots, and out of the blue, the agency is offered to retrieve some crucial information about military installations beyond the iron wall (I'll be stingy with details so as not to spoil too much). Everybody wakes up. As they do not have even a single operational agent (nor a radio, weapons, vehicles etc.
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