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A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal Paperback – May 12, 2015
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New York Times Bestseller
New York Times Book Review Notable Book
An Amazon Best Book of the Year
Washington Post Notable Book
Entertainment Weekly's Best Spy Book of 2014
“Macintyre has produced more than just a spy story. He has written a narrative about that most complex of topics, friendship...When devouring this thriller, I had to keep reminding myself it was not a novel. It reads like a story by Graham Greene, Ian Fleming, or John Le Carré, leavened with a dollop of P.G. Wodehouse...[Macintyre] takes a fresh look at the grandest espionage drama of our era.”—Walter Isaacson, New York Times Book Review
“Superb… Riveting reading.” –Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker
“Macintyre does here what he does best — tell a heck of a good story. A Spy Among Friends is hands down the most entertaining book I’ve reviewed this year.” —Boston Globe
“Macintyre is a superb writer, with an eye for the telling detail as fine as any novelist’s…A Spy Among Friends is as suspenseful as any novel, too, as the clues tighten around Philby’s guilt.”—Dallas Morning News
“By now, the story of British double agent Harold ‘Kim’ Philby may be the most familiar spy yarn ever, fodder for whole libraries of histories, personal memoirs and novels. But Ben Macintyre manages to retell it in a way that makes Philby’s destructive genius fresh and horridly fascinating.”—David Ignatius, Washington Post
“A Spy Among Friends is a rollicking book. Mr. Macintyre is full of pep and never falters in the headlong rush of his narrative.”—Wall Street Journal
“Vivid and fascinating...[Macintyre] succeeds admirably.”—Newsday
“A crisply written tale of a classic intelligence case that remains relevant more than 50 years later.”—USA Today
“Excellent...I was thoroughly engrossed in this book, beginning to end. It has all the suspense of a good spy novel, and its characters are a complex mix of charm, eccentricity, intelligence and wit. And it offers a great--and mostly troubling—insight into the behind-the-scenes workings of those we entrust with the most important of our political and military secrets.”—The Huffington Post
“Working with colorful characters and an anything-can-happen attitude, Macintyre builds up a picture of an intelligence community chock-full of intrigue and betrayal, in which Philby was the undisputed king of lies…Entertaining and lively, Macintyre’s account makes the best fictional thrillers seem tame.” —Publishers Weekly [starred]
“Gripping and as well-crafted as an episode of Smiley’s People, full of cynical inevitability, secrets, lashings of whiskey and corpses.” —Kirkus Reviews [starred]
“Ben Macintyre (Double Cross) offers a fresh look at master double agent Kim Philby…Fans of James Bond will enjoy this look into the era that inspired Ian Fleming's novels, but any suspense-loving student of human nature will be shocked and thrilled by this true narrative of deceit.”—Shelf Awareness [starred]
“Ben Macintyre has a knack for finding the most fascinating storylines in history. He has done it again, with this spellbinding tale of espionage, friendship, and betrayal. Written with an historian’s fidelity to fact and a novelist’s eye for character, A Spy Among Friends is one terrific book.” —David Grann, New York Times bestselling author of The Lost City of Z
“Ben Macintyre is one of the most gifted espionage writers around. In A Spy Among Friends he weaves an absorbing tale of deceit and duplicity, of treason and betrayal. With exquisite detail and masterful control, Macintyre unveils the dark and treacherous interior worlds in which spies live.” —Annie Jacobsen, author of Area 51 and Operation Paperclip
“In this spellbinding account of friendship and betrayal, Ben Macintyre masterfully describes how the Cambridge-educated Kim Philby evaded justice by exploiting the incestuous snobbery of the British old-boy network, which refused to believe that one of its own could be a major Soviet spy. As riveting as Macintyre’s earlier books were, this searing portrait of Britain's ruling class is even better.” —Lynne Olson, bestselling author of Citizens of London and Those Angry Days
“Ben Macintyre has written a truly fabulous book about the "fabulous" Kim Philby—the suave, dedicated, and most intriguing spy of the entire Cold War era. Philby and his colorful Cambridge comrades are endlessly fascinating. But Macintyre tells the devastating story in an entirely new fashion, with new sources and an astonishing intimacy.”
—Kai Bird, Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer and author of The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames
“I have seldom had a better read than A Spy Among Friends. It reads like a thriller, a thriller of a peculiarly intricate and at times frightening sort, but you just can’t stop reading it.” —Lady Antonia Fraser, author of Marie Antoinette: The Journey
“The Philby story has been told many times, but never with such sensitivity. Almost inadvertently, Ben Macintyre, a Times columnist, provides a devastating critique of the British class system and the disasters that result when people assume they know people… A Spy Among Friends is an extraordinary book about a sordid profession in which the most important attribute is the ability to lie…. Macintyre’s focus on friendship brings an intimacy to this book that is missing from the cardboard stereotypes that populate spy novels and conventional espionage histories…I’m not a lover of spy novels, yet I adored this book.” –The Times of London
“Macintyre writes with the diligence and insight of a journalist, and the panache of a born storyteller, concentrating on Philby's friendship with and betrayal of Elliott and of Angleton, his pathetically dedicated admirer at the top of the CIA. Macintyre's account of the verbal duel between Elliott and Philby in their final confrontation in Beirut in 1963 is worthy of John le Carré at his best.”–The Guardian
“A Spy Among Friends, a classic spookfest, is also a brilliant reconciliation of history and entertainment…An unputdownable postwar thriller whose every incredible detail is fact not fiction…[a] spellbinding narrative…Part of the archetypal grip this story holds for the reader is as a case study in the existential truth that, in human relations, the Other is never really knowable. For both, the mask became indistinguishable from reality…A Spy Among Friends is not just an elegy, it is an unforgettable requiem.” –The Observer
“Ben Macintyre’s bottomlessly fascinating new book is an exploration of Kim Philby’s friendships, particularly with Nicholas Elliott… Other books on Philby may have left one with a feeling of grudging respect, but A Spy Among Friends draws out his icy cold heart…This book consists of 300 pages; I would have been happy had it been three times as long.” –The Mail on Sunday
“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... The book is all the more intriguing because it carries an afterward by John le Carré.” –The New Statesman
“No one writes about deceit and subterfuge so dramatically, authoritatively or perceptively [as Ben Macintyre]. 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.” –The Daily Mail
“Philby's story has been told many times before–both in biography and most notably in John le Carre's fictional masterpiece Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy–but never in such exhaustive detail and with such panache as in Ben MacIntyre's brilliant, compulsive A Spy Among Friends… Reads like fiction, which is testament to the extraordinary power of the story itself but also to the skills of the storyteller…One of the best real-life spy stories one is ever likely to read.” –The Express
“Ben Macintyre has written an engaging book on a tantalising and ultimately tragic subject. If it starts as a study of friendship, it ends as an indictment.” –The Spectator
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
BEN MACINTYRE is a writer-at-large for The Times of London and the bestselling author of Double Cross, Operation Mincemeat, Agent Zigzag, The Napoleon of Crime, and Forgotten Fatherland, among other books. Macintyre has also written and presented BBC documentaries of his work.
From the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
This fascinating account looks at the early life of both men, their meeting during WWII and their career in the Secret Intelligence Service. Kim Philby was, from the beginning, a Soviet agent. Along with the Cambridge Spies; Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, Anthony Blunt and John Cairncross, he was so successful that his Soviet spymasters suspected him of being a double agent. As well as being a close friend of Elliott, he also became the mentor of James Jesus Angleton, an American and one of the most powerful spies in history. The Old Boy network which had brought both Elliott and Philby into the intelligence service meant that while agents were secretive outside of their immediate circle, they were horribly indiscreet within it, trusting on bonds of class and social networking to protect them.
During this book, we read of Elliott’s and Philby’s career, and personal life, including the jaw dropping appointment of Philby as head of the Soviet Section. As the Second World War ended and the Cold War began, Philby was able to inform Moscow of exactly what Britain was doing to counter Soviet espionage and, indeed, their own espionage efforts against Moscow. There is no doubt that Philby’s actions were an odd mix of defiant belief in the Soviet Union and an inability to take responsibility for his own actions. His passing of information to his Soviet masters led to many people losing their lives. Yet, despite his own reluctance to finally defect to Russia (he called himself a ‘Russian’ but lived there as an almost stereotypical Englishman) he was insistent that he had carried out instructions out of a (misguided) loyalty and was seemingly untroubled about the, often terrible, consequences. Also, although he was constantly loyal to Russia, he rarely spoke of politics. It was as though, having decided on his beliefs, he simply put them out of his mind and stayed true to them, despite any conflicting, or disturbing, evidence – such as the disappearance of successive Soviet spymasters that he looked up to and respected.
As Kim Philby’s life descended into the drama of defection, Macintyre asks whether he was, in fact, allowed to escape. Would his possible trial been such an embarrassment to the British government that he was simply given the chance to leave? However, the real core of this book is his friendship with Nicholas Elliott and the two men are almost given equal space. Angleton comes to the fore when Philby is in the States, and is important to the book, but the central relationship was Philby and Elliott. Personally, I found this a really interesting read and there is an enjoyable afterword, written by John le Carre. It is impossible to defend Kim Philby for his actions, but his story – both personal and as a spy – are certainly larger than life. If you have read anything by Ben Macintyre before, you will know that this is a not a dry and academic account, but reads almost like a spy novel. If you were not aware that it is factual, you would assume that this astonishing account was pure fiction – but it is certainly a riveting read and another well written and entertaining book from the talented Ben Macintyre.
Kim Philby lives through this book as an enigmatic yet charismatic double agent whose exploits over many years astound.
If you like spy thrillers give this book a try. Ben Macintyre writes great accounts of things that happened but in a way that engages and persuades you to draw in closer. Try his other books too.
My only moan (directed at Amazon not the author) is that if you like to read the notes on each Chapter (as I do) in Kindle this totally messes up the process of tracking your last page read. Something they could no doubt correct but choose not to.
Great book - good read!
I don’t think I have ever read such a damning indictment of the English upper class as emerges from this book. Even Gilbert and Sullivan could not have invented more eccentric characters. Their names alone are risible. We have, for example, Hester Harriet Marsden-Smedley, a journalist who first casually suggested to Philby that he might want to become involved with the Secret Services. Then there is Sarah Algeria Marjorie Maxse, a Conservative Party panjandrum and a member of MI6, who recruited Philby on the basis of a report from Valentine Vivian (also known as Vee-Vee), the deputy head of MI6, who knew Philby’s father. Vee-Vee gave the quintessential definition of England’s old boys’ network: “I was asked about him, and said I knew his people.”
We also encounter the grossly eccentric Hillary St. John Bridger Philby, Kim Philby’s father, who converted to Islam and became an advisor to King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia. One can add Helenus Patrick Joseph Milmo a barrister who interrogated Philby and who looks from his photograph like a character out of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Trial by Jury.” Then there is Sir Hughe Montgomery Knatchbull-Hugesson, His Majesty’s Ambassador to Ankara, who developed the habit of bringing home official papers to the ambassadorial residence where his valet, an Albanian petty criminal by the name of Bazna, was able to copy the documents and pass them on to the Nazis.
This book differs from other books about Philby in that it tells the tale through Philby’s relationship with Nicholas Elliott, a Cambridge-educated British spy, who was Philby’s closest friend and strongest defender even after Philby came under suspicion following the flight to Moscow of Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess after Maclean's exposure as a Soviet agent. Mr. Macintyre tries to make a kind of heroic figure out of Elliott. Elliott became Philby’s friend and began to worship him “with a powerful male adoration that was unrequited, unsexual and unstated.” However, it is clear that Elliott was a total dupe and just another eccentric member of the British old boys’ club who overindulged in alcohol and whose main pleasure was the telling of risqué jokes. I do not share Mr. Macintyre’s admiration of Elliott. He did not hesitate during bibulous lunches to relate confidential information to Philby who promptly passed it on to his Soviet handlers.
Mr. Macintyre drops only hints here and there as to why he thinks Philby did what he did. He indicates that Philby was not really an idealist who was committed to the Communist cause. For Philby spying was a kind of game and became in the long run a form of addiction. Mr. Macintyre suggests, correctly I think, that Philby’s famous escape to the Soviet Union from Beirut was no accident. He could easily have been prevented from escaping. However, the old boys were not all that anxious for one of their own to be tried publicly at the Old Bailey where their ineptitude would be displayed before the British public. They preferred the matter to remain concealed by the provisions of the Official Secrets Act. They therefore almost pushed Philby into making his escape.
It is somewhat galling that Philby went unpunished for his treachery. However, in some respects, his exile to the Soviet Union may have been the best punishment of all. Here was this bon vivant who loved champagne, haute cuisine and every other kind of luxury forced to live in the dull, gray and cheerless atmosphere of Moscow. Sadly for him, there were no posh watering spots such as he was accustomed to frequenting in London. Additionally, Philby was an unwelcome guest and was assigned a minder who was there nominally to protect him, but whose actual job was to monitor his every movement. Guy Burgess suffered a similar fate as amusingly depicted in the short BBC Television film “An Englishman Abroad” by Allan Bennett and starring Crystal Browne and Alan Bates.
Ben Macintyre relates a story in which there were no good players. Only J. Edgar Hoover, who has a cameo role in the book, emerges as a person with any common sense and that says it all!
Most Recent Customer Reviews
evenings, I did not know this enthralling story of spy...Read more