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A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal Hardcover – 3 Mar 2014

407 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (3 Mar. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1408851725
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408851722
  • Product Dimensions: 15.5 x 3.3 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (407 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 29,082 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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 seven previous books including Agent Zigzag, the story of wartime double-agent Eddie Chapman, which was shortlisted for the Costa Biography Award and the Galaxy British Book Award for Biography of the Year 2008. Operation Mincemeat: The True Spy Story that Changed the Course of World War II, published in January 2010, is the thrilling true story of the greatest and most successful wartime deception ever attempted. He lives in London with his wife and three children.

(Photo credit: Jerry Bauer)

Product Description


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 Carré 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)

Terrific . Macintyre's gift is to write well-researched non-fiction as though it was popular fiction, and here he excels himself with an almost unbelievable tale of establishment complacency and incompetence (Ian Hislop, Mail on Sunday Books of the Year)

One of the peculiar pleasures involved in reading a biography of Kim Philby is that of spying on the spy . A Spy Among Friends manages to convey Philby's satanic charm (Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday Books of the Year)

This account of the high-level British spymaster who turned out to be a Russian mole reads like John le Carré but is a solidly researched true story (New York Times 100 Notable Books Of 2014)

Macintyre is a gifted storyteller (Charlotte Heathcote, Sunday Express Books of the Year)

Hard to put down . A great book that lives up to the reputation it has acquired (Robert Lambourne, Times Higher Education Supplement)

Conscious that Philby's story has been told many times before, Macintyre tries to find a new angle by interweaving it with that of Nicholas Elliott, probably Philby's closest friend in MI6. This has the merit of creating a rare sense of momentum, as we build towards their final confrontation in Beirut (Sunday Times)

Book Description

The true, untold story of Kim Philby, history's most famous traitor, from Sunday Times no. 1 bestselling author Ben Macintyre, featuring an Afterword from John le Carré

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWER on 24 April 2014
Format: Hardcover
British author Ben Macintyre is an excellent writer who has written at least three other books about spies and WW2 and the Cold War. Each of them is very good, and Macintyre adds a degree of humor otherwise missing in many other books on the subject. His new book, "A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal" is another in a long line of good books on espionage. The problem with this book - and with me as the reader and the reviewer - is that I am so disgusted with the men Macintyre writes about - particularly Kim Philby - that I just didn't enjoy the book as much as his previous books.

Kim Philby was one of the great spies in 20th century history. A prolific gatherer of information in pre-WW2 Europe, during the war, and the Cold War afterwards for Great Britain, he was equally if not better at betraying the Brits to the Russian KGB and the NKVD. He was part of the "Cambridge Five" spy ring and fled to and died in the Soviet Union after being unmasked by the British Intelligence in the 1960's. (He was almost caught several times before but tidily arranged for his potential exposers' deaths so as to keep his double-crossing a secret.)

Kim Philby was part of the British "Old Boys' Network" of Oxbridge graduates from elite British families. If your father was well-known and respected, chances are you - the son - would be, too, and welcomed into intelligence work. That's how Kim Philby and many others - including Nicholas Elliott - got into the "spy business". Ben Macintyre writes well about these men and you'll probably enjoy the book. Just don't be surprised if you feel like you need a shower after finishing it.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Rob Kitchin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 21 Sept. 2014
Format: Hardcover
For over twenty years Kim Philby operated as a Russian agent inside the British establishment, much of it working in MI6, including heading up Soviet counter-espionage. The most famous of the Cambridge spies recruited in the early 1930s, he sent thousands of copies of secret documents to his spymasters and hundreds of Allied agents and provocateurs to their death or incarceration. When asked to choose between family, friends, country and political ideology, he always chose politics. A skilled liar and accomplished charmer Philby had a knack for establishing friendships and then exploiting them, relying on them to support his ‘good name’ when accusations eventually surfaced in 1951 as to his exploits. Remarkably the strategy worked, with Philby not only remaining unprosecuted and free, but heavily defended by friends and colleagues and bought back into the intelligence fold, only defecting in 1963. It is these duplicitous friendships that Ben Macintyre explores in A Spy Among Friends, notably his relationship with Nicholas Elliott, a high-flying MI6 agent, and James Angleton, who became the CIA head of counter-intelligence. To a certain degree this does provide a new route into the story of Kim Philby and his exploits, though his charm and friendships are well known. Moreover, the Philby story is one that has been told many times before; it is one that is highly contested with multiple versions of the truth and much disinformation circulating. As a consequence, there is little in the book that has not previously been spun and reworked a few times over. Indeed, most of the material is sourced from other accounts rather than archive sources. What Macintyre offers then, is a slightly different take on an well-worn tale, but one that is told through an engaging narrative.
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50 of 55 people found the following review helpful By S Riaz HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 16 Mar. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Ben Macintyre is a great writer and, in this latest book, he has turned his attention to Kim Philby – one of the Cambridge Spies. Historically, this book may not offer much that is new, but it does tell the story from a different viewpoint ; that of his friendships, most notably with Nicholas Elliott. In other words, this is not really a straight-forward biography of Philby, but focuses on his personality and on the Old Boy network that enabled him to evade detection for so long. The book begins with the meeting between Philby and Elliott in Beirut in January, 1963, with Elliott confronting his former friend about his betrayal of his country and trying to obtain a confession. He must certainly have felt betrayed personally too, as he had done much to protect Philby from earlier suspicions by MI5 – defending and helping him when he was in difficulty.

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.
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