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

Ben Macintyre
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (152 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.

Frequently Bought Together

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal + Double Cross: The True Story of The D-Day Spies + Operation Mincemeat: The True Spy Story That Changed the Course of World War II
Price For All Three: 19.78

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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: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (152 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,654 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)

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
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A human tragedy - but a great read! 9 Jun 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I am loath to give out five star reviews; they should be treasured and dispensed carefully. Overuse devalues them: If everything is five star then nothing is.

However, with this superb book, I have no choice but to give it the maximum. For this is one of the best books I have read for a long, long time. Credit the author with pulling off a difficult trick: Rendering a very complicated story comprehensible and lucid. I dithered before buying this book (Kindle edition) solely because it was on a subject matter of which I knew little: Would I be able to keep up with the thread, the story of numerous characters - long dead - all seemingly from a distant world of cloistered chambers and privilege?

Yes, in short. The book reads like a novel in places. It is pacy and understated. You can almost see the author raising his eyebrow as he writes. It is an incredible story of treachery and duplicity, spun on a frame of bureaucratic incompetence, deference, and faith in the Old Boy Network.

You do not have to be a historian or espionage buff to enjoy this work. It really is that accessible. The writing style so engaged me that I felt I was with Philby at times, looking out at the world through his eyes. No mean feat, given that this was a man who raised discretion to an art form.

I was born long after the names Burgess, Maclean and Philby entered into notoriety. I vaguely remember Anthony Blunt being unmasked in the late 1970s, and how the episode seemed to open up long-forgotten wounds in the British psyche. Reading this book it is clear why: Philby betrayed his fellow countrymen, did so for decades, and did it by constantly duping those near the very top of post-war British politics and power. A shameful time.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Et tu, Philby? 6 Aug 2014
Format:Kindle Edition
The post-war Cambridge spy ring holds an endless and rather strange fascination - a group of men who betrayed their country and its allies to the Soviet regime for the most nebulous of reasons and whose actions are considered to have cost many lives. And yet somehow they are held up as anti-heroes, a bit like the Great Train Robbers or Bonnie and Clyde. It's a strange phenomenon and one that always leaves me feeling a bit conflicted. So it was with a mix of anticipation and apprehension that I started to read this one about the infamous 'Third Man', Kim Philby (the inspiration behind Graham Greene's screenplay for the film of that name).

Ben Macintyre is a journalist by trade and has written several books about real-life spies. In this one he has approached his subject by looking at the friendships that to a large extent shielded Philby from discovery for years, even after suspicions had become aroused. Philby had already become a Soviet agent before he joined MI6. Like all the spies, he would claim this was because he was convinced by the arguments of communism - but, again like them all, that didn't stop him living as lavish and hedonistic a lifestyle as he possibly could. Rather than making him stand out, his heavy drinking and constant partying meant that he fitted in perfectly to the overgrown-boys' club that was MI6 at that time. And this is really the point that Macintyre is making in this book - that MI6 in particular was filled by the upper-classes, selected not so much for their characters as their families and old school ties, and living in a kind of closed community where they didn't talk to outsiders but revealed secrets casually to each other on the grounds that of course they could all trust each other.
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32 of 36 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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
Excellently argued and written. We need more books by Ben Macintyre.
Published 23 hours ago by L. R. MILWARD
4.0 out of 5 stars The First Man
A good read, and a good general account, though more early biographical detail would have helped. We are no nearer to knowing 'why Philby did it'. Read more
Published 2 days ago by Intermeddle
5.0 out of 5 stars Can't put it down!!!
Ben Macintyre writes brilliant accessible journalistic historical books. Once you start you cannot put the book down.
Published 2 days ago by Aftiti
3.0 out of 5 stars Rehearses what is already known.
Good but doesnt really add anything to the previous quality titles on this subject.
Published 3 days ago by Mr. M. T. Quinn
5.0 out of 5 stars First class!
Another winner from the pen of Ben Macintyre. Reads like fiction, impeccably researched and gives a real insight into the lives of Kim Philby and the Cambridge spies. Read more
Published 4 days ago by p e troughton
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read
Excellent read, Ben McIntyre is a fabulous writer. Gripping.
Published 5 days ago by Mr. S. K. Moyser
5.0 out of 5 stars Best value!
Service: Excellent, really good value, book was as good as new. Thank you. Book: I am only 100 pages in, but it is fascinating.
Published 7 days ago by Henharrier
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 7 days ago by j moorhead
5.0 out of 5 stars So interesting
Ben MacIntyre never fails. His books are always fascinating.
Published 8 days ago by Helen Stevenson
2.0 out of 5 stars This is terribly disappointing. MacIntyre always writes with flair but...
This is terribly disappointing. MacIntyre always writes with flair but he has nothing new to add to the Philby story, which has been very well and thoroughly explored by many... Read more
Published 8 days ago by Greta Richards
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