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

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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 (340 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 11,049 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

Review

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 Stanley Crowe TOP 500 REVIEWER on 26 Sept. 2014
Format: Hardcover
For me, the friends are the story here. Kim Philby's doings are clearly set forth, but by now they are fairly familiar, although Ben MacIntyre tells that part of story well and clearly. What makes his book particularly arresting, in my judgment, is the context. It's not just a matter of the way in which MI6, the British equivalent of the CIA, was filled with the products of elite British public schools (private schools, to Americans who might be misled by the "public") and Cambridge University -- it's the particular people involved, especially Nicholas Elliott, child of a privileged background who was fatally attracted to the slightly older, equally privileged Philby soon after being recruited to the Secret Intelligence Service. In many ways, Elliott is the most compelling figure in the book -- he didn't lack courage, loyalty, or goodwill, and he went on to demonstrate logistical and administrative ability, but the reader gets a sense that he never grew up and he seems never to have shown the kind of intelligence and imagination that would make him ask about the qualities of a first-rate spy. If he had, it might have occurred to him that charm, social grace, generosity, and good looks could have been used to cover all kinds of deceit. But for Elliott, these qualities were simply markers of the class he trusted, and the reader finds it hard to believe that after 1951 or so, when some in the regular Secret Service, MI5, who were less blinded by class and privilege, were making a strong circumstantial case that Philby was not all that he seemed, Elliott not only refused to take the case seriously but worked to engineer Philby's return to the highest echelons of MI6 at a time when suspicion about him had required him to step down.Read more ›
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41 of 46 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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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Charles Brewer on 9 Sept. 2014
Format: Hardcover
I have read all of Ben Macintyre's books, and they just get better and better. However, in this one he has set not only an exceptional standard for narrative, but, in a way that was absent in the others, he has, I think, let his own standpoint show, which lends a special edge to the book.

I recently heard an interview with the biographer of a Pre-Norman, Anglo-Saxon monarch, and she said that because of the constant proximity to this character, she became something of an advocate of his reputation against others whose relative position was held in higher regard. She thus admitted to a somewhat personal relationship with the subject of her book.

Well Macintyre, I believe does the same. His chapters a a splendid mix of amusing story, surprising history, personal courage (by both British backed and KGB agents) and political interpretation , but, time after time, the objective and cheerful mask slips and reveals that Macintyre absolutely despises and loathes Philby. A sentiment that it is impossible not to share.

The amusing stories of Abwehr and SIS rivalry in Istanbul are retold as clever revelations, and even the post-Venlo rolling up of the British networks in Holland is presented objectively, as a "fortunes of war" disaster, but Philby's betrayal of the Catholic "resistance" in Germany to the KGB is retold, several times, with ill-disguised disgust.

Philby comes across as the lowest possible form of life, an intellectually inadequate Communist who would not defend his beliefs (perhaps because he realised how pathetic and inadequate they were, but hid from this in alcohol), who betrayed trust, friends and those whose lives depended on him for a third rate dictatorship and an intellectually moribund religion.
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