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on 18 December 2009
Apart from one or two irritating typing errors - surprising for Bloomsbury - this was a truly excellent read. Its combination of the affairs and political intrigues of that interesting coterie of Catholic intellectuals of the 1920s and 1930s (Belloc,Chesterton, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene Tom Burns et al) and the fascinating details of the contribution of the British Embassy in Madrid in combatting the propaganda of Nazi operatives in Franco's Spain and helping to keep Spain out of the Fascist Axis embrace, makes this book of real interest to any lovers of espionage. It will also appeal to all those with a deep regard for Spanish culture. It is also very well written, perhaps the somewhat sentimental title might put off some readers - should't, it's an engrossing read.
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on 8 November 2009
Jimmy Burns's father, Tom, was one of Britain's unsung war heroes, not because of physical gallantry but because he was astute enough to play a major role in the diplomatic effort to keep Spain out of World War II. How he did this is the central theme of Jimmy Burns's admirable and engaging study. This is a book to which it is a pleasure to return, a memoir and historical work which can read like a novel.
The author is ideally placed to write it. Apart from being the son, he has an Anglo-Spanish background, he worked in Spain as a journalist and in London he wrote about security and spies. He needed all these qualities. What he does is to weave the personal history of Tom Burns into the web of international and Spanish politics, the morass of bureaucratic infighting in the intelligence community of wartime London (featuring, among others, notorious Kim Philby and Anthony Blunt). He does this with great skill and a sure touch. This is not a book to miss.
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on 30 January 2013
History is written by the winners and this book shows it. It is a very chatty discursive "family history" by a son about his father's very colourful career. There seems to be a lot of intent to "set the record straight" and not a few "get squares" . Normally we don't get much written about how much the British Government actually supported Franco. There is much more literature about heroic support from the Left for the communist Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. The extent to which the conservative old boy network dominated British government, military and espionage policy in World War 2 comes through in this book. The Public School, Oxbridge and Clubland web of privilege seems to determine everything. The role of Catholicism in being apparently able to make both fascists and communists the baddies is emphasised more than usual in literature.

Nevertheless, the book is entertaining for its range of real characters, bizarre events and new twists on "history". There is quite a bit of repetition and there are quite a few typographical errors.
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on 16 September 2009
A fantastic story and life, encompassing the London literary scene, a touching love story, espionage and Spain during WWII. Well researched and well written I can highly recommend this book.
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on 3 November 2009
Jimmy Burns describes for the first time a top secret intelligence campaign of bribery, recruitment and propaganda that, with Churchill's blessing, kept Franco in power to secure Spanish neutrality and protect Allied strategic interests in southern Europe and North Africa: if we had lost Gibraltar we would have lost the war.

This was the only strategic campaign of WWII conducted purely as an intelligence campaign: because no shots were fired it has eluded historians and biographers but its importance was simply vital, in the proper sense, to beating Germany. If Germany had been able to close off the Mediterranean, it would have gained access to the Middle East for the oil it so desperately lacked (Germany had to crack coal for its poor-quality fuel): with oil, and with Britain cut off from oil, it is hard to imagine the Germans losing the war. It was lack of fuel that was in Rommel's own judgement the reason he lost to Montgomery in the Western Desert and it was a major factor on both sides in the Battle of Britain .

Trying to keep Kim Philby off his back in London and fighting for influence against Germans in Spain, Tom Burns was involved in some of the more colourful episodes of WWII, entrapping German agents, thwarting a Nazi attempt to kidnap the Duke of Windsor in Spain and recruiting several unusual British agents such as the romantic Hollywood actor Leslie Howard. The author clarifies some of the many factors that prevented Franco paying his debt to Hitler and Mussolini who had helped him with the Spanish Civil War.

After five years of personal interview and probing family papers, classified government documents and other previously undiscovered archives, Jimmy found that Tom Burns was at the heart of the Allies' intelligence and propaganda operations in Madrid, Lisbon, Gibraltar and Tangier.

For the role of oil in all of 20th century history, including WWII, see Daniel Yergin's "The Prize".
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on 14 September 2009
The story could have come from the pen of Graham Greene himself. Book has extra layer of interest and sincerity in that the author is the subject's son. Excellent!
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on 11 August 2010
Not a bad book, but the title is a bit misleading. The subject of the book was an attache at the British embassy in Madrid,
and as such was involved in a lot of underhand escapades, very much the same kind of thing you would imagine an attache to
do in a modern day Embassy in Russia for example. Not what I would call a spy.
There is also a lot of reference to high society jinks, both in Spain and England, none of which has much bearing on the 'Spy'
aspect of the book, or the War which was going on at that time.
Disappointing for me.
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on 4 October 2012
Doubtless the publisher wanted to sex up the title and widen the potential audience who might not have been attracted by the reality. The story told is interesting without unnecessary embellishment. It is the story of Tom Burns and his relationship with Spain, especially during the Civil War and subsequently during the Second World War when he was the Press Attache at the British Embassy. Biographies written by close relatives can often be hagiographies but the author does not feel into this trap and for me gives a honest and open account of his father's beliefs and activities. There were several aspects that I found especially interesting. Burns was a fervent Catholic and an active member of the pre-war Catholic literary establishment drawn by their faith to embrace Franco and his crusade against what they saw as godless forces. I had not previously read much about Spain during the Second World War so it was fascinating to learn more of the country during this period. Burns managed to remain a British patriot who acted in the country's best interests without sacrificing his own faith or political preferences. This was despite the malevolent influence and activities of the Soviet spy Kim Philby and the fellow travellers around him who did everything they could to ged rid of Burns. It is perhaps hard in to-day's more secular age to warm to people like Burns who were so strongly led by their faith but nonetheless the book is well worth reading for its insight into a little considered aspect of the period.
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on 10 October 2014
I felt this book should have been good but it was so drawn out that the potentially interesting book lost my interest about a quarter of the way through. I ploughed on until shortly after half way but the "old boy network" really irritated me and I gave up, thinking there were better books to read. I have only ever done this with a book once before.
Perhaps if it were condensed to about half the number of pages it would work because the wartime facts involving how the countries inter-reacted were interesting but the trivial padding annoyed. It seemed hard to believe it was written by a journalist.
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on 4 March 2013
A gripping true story about a period I knew little about. If you think Spain is just about sunshine and beaches, this book brings out the darker side of its recent history.
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