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A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal [Hardcover]

Ben Macintyre
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (107 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 Mar 2014

Kim Philby was the most notorious British defector and Soviet mole in history. Agent, double agent, traitor and enigma, he betrayed every secret of Allied operations to the Russians in the early years of the Cold War.

Philby's two closest friends in the intelligence world, Nicholas Elliott of MI6 and James Jesus Angleton, the CIA intelligence chief, thought they knew Philby better than anyone, and then discovered they had not known him at all. This is a story of intimate duplicity; of loyalty, trust and treachery, class and conscience; of an ideological battle waged by men with cut-glass accents and well-made suits in the comfortable clubs and restaurants of London and Washington; of male friendships forged, and then systematically betrayed.

With access to newly released MI5 files and previously unseen family papers, and with the cooperation of former officers of MI6 and the CIA, this definitive biography unlocks what is perhaps the last great secret of the Cold War.

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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: 23.6 x 14.8 x 4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (107 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 269 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)

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

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Spy Among Friends 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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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The endless fascination of espionage........... 22 April 2014
By Lady Fancifull TOP 500 REVIEWER
This is an excellent, readable account of Kim Philby's life, and indeed of the whole culture of espionage from the lead-up to the Second World War, through the war years, and then into the period of the Cold War, when Russia, not Germany, was seen as the enemy by the West, and particularly by the UK and America. Author and journalist Ben Macintyre is clearly fascinated by the subject of espionage as he has written several other factual books on this topic. His research is extensive, and this particular book has a revealing postscript by John le Carre, who of course also worked in the Secret Service.

Macintyre starts his book with that very well known, and also in some ways, given the time of its writing, (1938) that very shocking statement by the novelist E.M.Forster:

"If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friends, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country"

What in the end the Forster quote implies is that `country' like ideology itself, can, taken to an extreme, lead to the devaluing of an individual life. The ism elevated above the humans who live within the ism, or believe the ism. Fidelity to the ism (nationalism, specific faith or political ideology ism) can lead to the terrible things that happen when not just the other person's ism, but indeed, the person themselves, becomes expendable for the sake of devotion to MY ism.

The fascinating dichotomy in this book however, became the clash between the `club' - an upper class, public school, Oxbridge educated elite - a friendship of same background, bonded together with heavy drinking, those who were loyal to those friends, and would never betray their friends, and those, like Philby, whose loyalty was to the country of ideology.
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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The enigma that was Kim Philby 10 Mar 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The literature on the Cambridge spy ring, and in particular on the most successful member, the so-called Third Man, Kim Philby, is very large, but still new books appear, particularly after the publication of authorized histories of the intelligence services. This one is by Ben Macintyre, the well-known journalist and writer on intelligence matters. The problem with all such books is how much to believe. Spies are notorious at manipulating accounts of their past actions and constructing false histories to suit their own purposes. This is, after all, what spies are trained to do. Macintyre does at least admit right at the start that this is a problem, which is compounded by the fact that the files of MI6, CIA and the KGB are still closed, so `facts' cannot be checked.

Macintyre's account tries to concentrate on the way that Philby deceived for many years, and ultimately cruelly betrayed, his close friends, both in MI6 and his family, including at least two wives. But to do this, he has to retell the standard story of Philby's early days in MI6 before and during the war. There is little new here, although his close friendship with Nicholas Elliott, another high-flyer in MI6, does figure strongly. Philby was a notorious liar, philander and heavy drinker, but none of this appeared to be a cause of concern to senior people in MI6, who later could not bring themselves to believe that `one of their own class' could be a traitor. Macintyre relates a story where the appointment of an intelligence officer is made without any vetting on the strength of a chance remark by someone in a club that `I know his people'. This just about sums up the poor professionalism of the intelligence services, particularly within MI6, during that period.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A good read, very good value for a kindle
A good book which I couldn't put down. we all know the Philby story, what I found amazing the way that friends and colleagues rally around him because he is the 'right sort' a good... Read more
Published 6 hours ago by Lucy
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Wonderful book in perfect condition!
Published 12 hours ago by Peter van Riet
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
An excellent book. Well written.
Published 1 day ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Reads like a spy novel - very good biography of senior double agent
A very readable biography of Kim Philby, the brilliant senior MI6 officer who was all the time a spy for the KGB and whose latter years were spent in Russia. Read more
Published 2 days ago by M. F. Cayley
5.0 out of 5 stars A Vivid Tale of Treachery
A real page turner!
A fascinating account of real life spies,and of particular interest to the age group who remember vividly Burgess,McLean and of course the evil that was... Read more
Published 3 days ago by John Gourlay
5.0 out of 5 stars If you have any doubts about how ruthless governments are or how...
Very well researched and presented; an enjoyable and informative book.
If you have any doubts about how ruthless governments are or how stupid they are, read this.
Published 4 days ago by George Smith
4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging and fascinating
Enjoyable, interesting and informative read. An insight into deceit and betrayal carried out effectively and professionally by a man who's motivation is strangely weak! Read more
Published 4 days ago by Jayne Lansdell
5.0 out of 5 stars I really enjoyed this story
I really enjoyed this story. It answered some of the question I had, a really good read on holiday.
Published 5 days ago by P Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars the most ghastly of the ghastly
the very worst type of public schoolboy
Published 6 days ago by ian lowry
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
An excellent account of the Kim Philby story
Published 7 days ago by Ann Jarvis
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