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The Master Spy: The Story of Kim Philby Hardcover – March 25, 1989
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover," illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Learn more
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From Publishers Weekly
Knightley ( The Second Oldest Profession ) obtained a series of remarkably frank interviews with Kim Philby not long before his death last year, and from them has written an intimate portrait of the man widely regarded as the most successful penetration agent in the history of espionage. Philby's conversations ranged widely, including discussions of the origins of his political convictions, his stint as war correspondent in Spain, his friendships with fellow KGB agents Donald MacLean and Guy Burgess, his life in Russia following his 1963 defection, and his views on patriotism, honor and the human condition. Philby claims, convincingly, that he was forced to defect by British authorities who wanted to avoid the scandal that his arrest would have provoked. This is but one of innumerable revelations of utmost interest to students of modern espionage. Another: that a covert FBI operation directed by J. Edgar Hoover went awry in 1956 and, instead of exposing Philby as planned, enabled him to continue working for the KGB for seven more years. Knightley concludes that Philby "died happy, fulfilled and unracked by guilt." The book is a journalistic coup of the first order. Photos. 50,000 first printing.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Another book on Kim Philby? And Knightley's second ( Philby: The Spy Who Betrayed a Generation) on the same topic? Why? Knightley addresses these reservations by proving that his unique chance to interview the dying Philby in 1988 has produced a tantalizing, intimate story. The author's portrait is excessively personal and verges on a grudging sympathy. "Yes, Philby was a traitor," he admits. "But traitor to what, remains open to debate." Other books, like Robert Cecil's A Divided Life: A Biography of Donald Maclean (LJ 2/15/89), are not so kind to Philby et al. But this offers enough Philbyan tidbits and minutiae, from tales of the Cambridge days to the "hero's welcome" in Moscow in January 1963, that the reader will find it most satisfying. Well written for a well-worn tale, spiced with asides from numerous interviews.
- John Yurechko, Georgetown Univ . , Washington, D.C .
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
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The puzzle of why a person would choose to live his life in a kind of extreme distortion of reality is difficult to comprehend. The deception, at the core of Philby's espionage, would eventually infect every part of his life. It was a huge price to pay, and so the ultimate fascination is: how did he do it and why.
Kim Philby had a decades long career in the art of high wire espionage, at the highest levels of British Intelligence. He has been a source of rage and fascination for those interested in World War 2, Post War espionage, Cold War intrigue and the notorious "Cambridge Five".
The author meticulously pieces together: the roots of Philby's devotion to an ideology (Marxism/communism); his career of deception; and the denouement - both politically and personally. The concept of betrayal is explored and revealed as a misconception, at least in Philby's enigmatic world.
Knightley's writing skills are uneven at best, but the facts and story carry the day here. At times the facts are breathtaking. Philby's choices locked him into a course that was irreversable if he was to survive. The extent of his actual commitment to communist ideology was tested through the disillusionment of the Stalin era and post-Stalin era. Many of the faithful held fast to a Marxist dogma that in Soviet practice was an abysmal failure. The evidence strongly shows that Philby was a true believer - or perhaps just a wily survivor. His brilliance at the game of espionage is irrefutable and with some luck as well, he lived out his final years in his gilded cage in the heart of his chosen country: a protected and lionized survivor of one of the most dangerous 20th century games.
The author spent many years researching his subject,seeking the actual, elusive Philby. To fill in gaps, that would have been absent from Philby's autobiography, was a goal. It was also an enormous coup for the author to be granted in-person interviews, lasting many days, with Philby at his home in Moscow. Philby died not long afterward. The interviews comprise the climax of an engaging and revealing book.
Did the author actually trust as truth nearly all that Philby said in the last interviews? The reader of this book can't help but suspect that the master spy was, until the end of his life, still the master manipulator.
This is an intriguing journey into the life and mind of one of the most notorious, successful spies of the 20th century.
In the last years of his life, Philby--known to his colleagues as Kim--invited Mr. Knightley, a respected investagative journalist of The Sunday Times, to do a series of interviews in Moscow, where the spy had been living since he escaped from Beirut in 1963. Philby explained that the KGB wanted Graham Greene to interview him, but since Greene was a friend and former colleague in SIS, Philby believed that Knightley would me more objective, and therefore, less suspect as an interviewer.
As Knightley notes (p. 4), Philby's answers were verifiable by the archives of the various security services on both sides of the Cold War, and that Philby stipulated the ground rules in advance: that if the topic focused on "operational matters" of either service, he would not answer; he would answer other quetions as truthfully as possible, and that if he didn't know the answers to a question he would say so. There were those who felt that by interviewing Kim Philby, Phillip Knightly was being used as a tool of the KGB. Knightly himself, however, jumped at the chance to do the interview, explaining that "anything Philby said . . . would contribute something to our understanding of the man and his motives" and that if one is to learn from history, "the more we can learn from Philby affair the better" (5-6). Phillip Knightly concludes that no matter what one might think about the man who betrayed his country "for what he believed to the last were impeccable motives," in the final estimation, the fact remains that "professionally, as a spy, [Kim Philby was] in a class all by himself" (6).
Phillip Knightley's "Philby: KGB Masterspy," demonstrates this proposition admirably.
(The page numbers in this review refer to the 2003 edition, published in the UK by Andre Deutsch.)
Regarding the telling of the story the author does a good job. The book was a bit jumpy, not the best construction of a story. It also tended to drag at times; the author did not have the skill to present a laundry list of facts in an interesting way. The author did do a very good job in documenting his sources. I have read a few books on this topic and this one would probably not be my first choice, I suggest Spy Catcher. This is a good book if you are deeply interested in the topic.