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The Art of Betrayal: The Secret History of Mi6: Life and Death in the British Secret Service [Paperback]

Gordon Corera
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)

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Book Description

29 Sep 2014

The British Secret Service has been cloaked in secrecy and shrouded in myth since it was created a hundred years ago. Our understanding of what it is to be a spy has been largely defined by the fictional worlds of James Bond and John le Carre. THE ART OF BETRAYAL provides a unique and unprecedented insight into this secret world and the reality that lies behind the fiction. It tells the story of how the secret service has changed since the end of World War II and by focusing on the people and the relationships that lie at the heart of espionage, revealing the danger, the drama, the intrigue, the moral ambiguities and the occasional comedy that comes with working for British intelligence. From the defining period of the early Cold War through to the modern day, MI6 has undergone a dramatic transformation from a gung-ho, amateurish organisation to its modern, no less controversial, incarnation. Gordon Corera reveals the triumphs and disasters along the way.

The grand dramas of the Cold War and after - the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the 11 September 2001 attacks and the Iraq war - are the backdrop for the human stories of the individual spies whose stories form the centrepiece of the narrative. But some of the individuals featured here, in turn, helped shape the course of those events. Corera draws on the first-hand accounts of those who have spied, lied and in some cases nearly died in service of the state. They range from the spymasters to the agents they ran to their sworn enemies. Many of these accounts are based on exclusive interviews and access. From Afghanistan to the Congo, from Moscow to the back streets of London, these are the voices of those who have worked on the front line of Britain's secret wars. And the truth is often more remarkable than the fiction.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Pegasus (29 Sep 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1605985287
  • ISBN-13: 978-1605985282
  • Product Dimensions: 22.1 x 15 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,696,142 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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His analysis is shrewd, his judgement sound...(the book's) strength is to present stories of the secret service's successes and failures within the political and strategic context of the times. (Adam Sisman SUNDAY TIMES)

THE ART OF BETRAYAL tells the history of MI6 in the words of real spies (Mail on Sunday)

A refreshing...(and) compelling read **** (Christopher Sylvester DAILY EXPRESS)

Corera, the BBC's security correspondent, has enjoyed privileged access to key spy players from the past few decades and, writing in an engaging style, he picks up the story of the MI6 at the point where the "official" history grinds to a halt after the Second World War. (Annie Machon SUNDAY EXPRESS)

As a good journalist and a reader of spy novels, Corera presents his material as fast-paced stories, from the covert diplomacy of the Cold War to recent and current security concerns in Afghanistan and the Middle East, and he humanises the grand dramas of a duplicitous trade. (Iain Finlayson THE TIMES)

Highly readable and well-researched account of the Service...Let's hope the current generation of spooks has learnt from past mistakes. (Con Coughlin DAILY TELEGRAPH)

Corera provides a unique insight into how British intelligence has changed since the Second World War and how our spymasters reacted to major crises such as the September 11 attacks and the Iraq war. A fascinating read. (Hanna Tavne THE PEOPLE)

Superb new history of British intelligence (Matthew d'Ancona EVENING STANDARD)

The best post-1949 account of British intelligence I have read...this is as good as it gets. And it's a good read. (Alan Judd THE SPECTATOR)

This book will intrigue anyone with a taste for adventure and an interest in the moral dilemmas of loyalty and disloyalty. (Sir John Ure COUNTRY LIFE) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

The secret history of MI6 - from the Cold War to the present day. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Accessible and Enjoyable 12 Aug 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I enjoyed this book much more than the previous reviewer.

It may not be an academic tome and may contain little that's new to a specialist audience but I suspect that's not the target market anyway. For a general reader like me it was accessible, well-researched and fluidly written.

I always value Gordon Corera's analysis of security issues on BBC News and have enjoyed his Radio 4 documentaries. This book was equally rewarding.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "We'd have been better off doing nothing" 22 Jan 2014
By David Wineberg TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Alan Bates starred in two mildly comic tv films. An Englishman Abroad, by Alan Bennett, told the story of a tawdry, disheveled spy who defected to the USSR. He was irrelevant, ignored and reduced to scrounging bars of soap at receptions. In Tom Stoppard's The Dog It Was That Died, a double-double-double agent tries to commit suicide because he couldn't figure out who he was really working for - or why. Both amusing, but I had no idea how close they were to the truth. Far from the glam world of 007, intelligence is a morass of malign incompetence and paranoia.

The Art of Betrayal is an astonishing depiction of the day to day failings of the intelligence community. They stumble, they fumble, they make it up as they go along, but mostly, they accomplish essentially nothing. Along the way, they betray colleagues, friends, family, and of course, their countries. And still they make no difference to history.

For decades it seemed their primary objective was to get civil servants and spies from the other side to betray their country. Yet they were beside themselves at the thought of it happening among their own. But of course it did, and The Art of Betrayal depicts decades of such betrayal, and all the resources and manpower it took to pull it off or detect it, neutralize it or exploit it. The details are exquisite.

MI6 began in 1909, aimlessly counting things: trains, people, cargo. "Much of the routine work of MI6 was a form of glorified trainspotting." Before World War I, people were paid, for example, to help determine German naval strength by strolling around harbours and noting the vessels there.

Yet 45 years later, when it came to intelligence from inside the USSR, the USA and the UK both had "absolutely nothing".
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars MI6 from the Cold War to Afghanistan and Iraq 16 Jan 2013
By Roman Clodia TOP 100 REVIEWER
Written by a BBC journalist, this is a readable and gripping book about MI6 and the development of Britain's secret service. Though MI6 was born in 1909, this history effectively starts with the post-WW2 Cold War period, and the early chapters set in Vienna read like the novels of Graham Greene and John le Carré, both of whom worked for MI6.

The fall of Soviet Russia in 1991 changed the game, however, and the latter part of the book discusses MI6's search for a new role and identity in a post-Cold War world.

The book is especially good on tracking the involvement of MI6 in Afghanistan where, with the CIA, they helped arm, train and fund mujahideen against the communist government and later Soviet invasion in the 1980s, and there's a nice irony in quoting Thatcher's government on how Islamic groups "`were good terrorists so we supported them. The ANC were bad. That caused her [Thatcher] no problem at all,'".

The final chapter looks at the role of MI6 in the `weapons of mass destruction' debacle which led to the invasion of Iraq, and the impact that has had on the management, role and status of MI6.

Throughout Corera keeps this readable and involving, and maintains a fairly judicious and objective viewpoint. So this is very good political reportage which weaves the personal stories of spies, agents, handlers and bureaucrats together. In some ways, the story of MI6 is also the story of world politics, from the Cold War between global superpowers to international terrorism - and Corera tells it in an accessible and fluent way.

(This review is from an ARC courtesy of the publisher)
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant 12 Aug 2011
Fascinating - a really good look at MI6, full of info and surprises. Paints MI6 as a strange mix of the heroic and macho world of Ian Fleming's James Bond, and the secretive and dangerous world of le Carré. It's thought provoking and relates to events still very fresh - and possibly raw - in Britons' minds, such as Blair's decision to invade Iraq; however it also brings back memories of the Cold War and really emphasises how little we knew about what was actually going on (that hasn't changed, it seems). Really enjoyed it and would definitely recommend it - a superb read.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I'm not really complaining, just warning any other people who buy a lot of books. I didn't realise this book was one I'd already bought in hardback. It was called: The Art of Betrayal: Life and Death in the British Secret Service. Now it's called MI6: etc.....I read a review of it in FT Weekend and bought it on Kindle. Once I started reading it, it seemed familiar, and sure enough, there it was on my bookshelves.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping espionage history 25 Aug 2011
This is a fascinating book written with great verve and aplomb. The history of the Secret Intelligence Service - MI6 as it is familiarly known today - has been charted by many, but few have possessed Corera's narrative style. Particularly enthralling are the sections about the 1950s and early 1960s, when Soviet moles seemed to be emerging with regularity and the KGB appeared all too often to be winning the intelligence war. But the story of perhaps MI6's greatest success from that era - that of the defector Oleg Penkovsky - is the most compelling of all, with Corera recreating with real authenticity the tense, taut discussion (interrogation) between MI6 (and the CIA) and Penkovsky in Room 360 of London's Mount Royal Hotel.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A very good read. Victor
Instructive and revealing. A very good read. Victor.
Published 2 months ago by Rifleman
5.0 out of 5 stars very useful, indeed
A close reading of this book would enable the scholar of intelligence studies to enrich his/hers understanding of certain Cold War episodes.
Published 3 months ago by Panagiotis Dimitrakis
4.0 out of 5 stars A good accessible history for the non expert reader
There is a passage in Le Carre's "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" where the traitor Bill Haydon tells George Smiley that the secret services are the only true expression of a... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Neil Kernohan
4.0 out of 5 stars Bewildering, murky, and endlessly fascinating
Review of the Kindle version

Can this book be described as interesting? Definitely! "Truth is stranger than fiction" may be a cliche but it is a wholly attributable... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Bad Bear Blues
4.0 out of 5 stars One fascinating enjoyable read.
After reading over two dozen books on this and related topics I have to say this is in the top five for style and the top three for content but the number one spot for cohesive and... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Edmund
4.0 out of 5 stars Art of betrayal
Written by a BBC correspondant it was very tightly put together. Very informative and gripping. Topical and entertaining a really well written book that kept one's interest to the... Read more
Published 10 months ago by D
2.0 out of 5 stars UNRESOLVED MI6 AGENTS DEATH
Published 10 months ago by CENTRAL LONDON MAN
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Insight
This book provides a series on insights into the world of secrets and spying but it was a bit disappointing, being neither a full history nor a case by case account. Read more
Published 12 months ago by traveller
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting historical overview
Gordon Corera's history of MI6 is an engaging introduction and overview to the evolution of the Service post-1949. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Giles Carden
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic insight
Thanks Gordon for a great insight into the world of MI6. It made me want to learn more about the characters and intrigue that dominated this secretive organisation.
Published 13 months ago by nazanine moshiri
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