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The Greatest Traitor: The Secret Lives of Agent George Blake [Paperback]

Roger Hermiston
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
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Book Description

15 Mar 2014

'Sober, accurate and all the more thrilling for it. The best thing on Blake that we are likely to get for a very long time.' JOHN LE CARRÉ

'At every turn the gripping writing reminds you of a world of spies and betrayal that was so much a part of life in post-war Europe... Superb from start to finish.' JEREMY VINE

***** ‘Hermiston offers a fascinating account of a life in which communism was the only constant. The jailbreak episode is a masterpiece of narrative tension.’ DAILY EXPRESS

On 3 May 1961, after a trial conducted largely in secret, a man named George Blake was sentenced to an unprecedented forty-two years in jail.

At the time few details of his crimes were made known. By his own confession he was a Soviet spy, and rumours later circulated that his actions had endangered British agents, but the reasons for such a severe punishment were never revealed. To the public, Blake was simply the greatest traitor of the Cold War. Yet, as Roger Hermiston reveals in this thrilling new biography, his story touches not only the depths of treachery but also the heights of heroism.

In World War II the teenage Blake performed sterling deeds for the Dutch resistance, before making a dramatic bid for freedom across Nazi-occupied Europe. Later recruited by British Intelligence, he quickly earned an exemplary reputation and was entrusted with building up the Service’s networks behind the Iron Curtain. And, following a posting to Seoul, he endured intense hardship, when captured by North Korean soldiers at the height of their brutal war with the South.

By the time of his release in 1953, Blake was a hero, one of the Service’s brightest and best officers. But unbeknownst to SIS they were harbouring a mole. Week after week, year after year, Blake was assiduously gathering all the important documents he could lay his hands on and passing them to the KGB.

Drawing on hitherto unpublished records from his trial, new revelations about his dramatic jailbreak from Wormwood Scrubs, and original interviews with former spies, friends and the man himself, The Greatest Traitor sheds new light on this most complex of characters and presents a fascinating shadow history of the Cold War.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Aurum Press Ltd; PB Reissue edition (15 Mar 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1781311633
  • ISBN-13: 978-1781311639
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.8 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 106,257 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Roger's latest book, 'The Greatest Traitor', is a biography of the Cold War spy (and KGB mole) George Blake. It's the thrilling story of a complex character who scaled the heights of heroism before descending into the depths of treachery.
Roger's northern roots were the inspiration behind his first book, 'Clough and Revie', the story of the fierce rivalry between those two great football managers. His father and grandfather were sons of Middlesbrough, as were Brian and Don, and the town which led the way in the Industrial Revolution is the third main character in the book's early stages.
Roger was a print and broadcast journalist before turning to full-time writing. He was a reporter and feature writer on the Yorkshire Post before joining the BBC in the early 1990s. The bulk of his career at the corporation was devoted to the Today programme, BBC Radio 4, where he was Assistant Editor from 1999-2010.
His next book - out in 2016 - will be about Churchill's war ministry.

Product Description


‘A gripping portrait of one of the Cold War’s most devastating double agents. A real page-turner.’

(Caroline Jowett Daily Express)

‘Eastern Europe was riddled with spies throughout the 1950s, but no one on either side amassed such a wealth of information to pass on to the KGB as the double agent, Blake. For decades, Blake had run rings round Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service. How did he get away with it; and for so long? The Greatest Traitor and Britain’s mostly closely guarded criminal very nearly had to serve the longest prison sentence (42 years) ever awarded. George Blake’s audacious plan to escape to freedom behind the Iron Curtain by scaling the walls of Wormwood Scrubs came within an ace of discovery. His escape from Wormwood Scrubs in 1966 is thrillingly related by Roger Hermiston.'

(Christopher Hudson Daily Mail)

'An enjoyable romp through the life of George Blake, MI6’s deadliest traitor. Roger Hermiston has produced an enjoyable account of the life and works of a creepily amoral man who still betrays an astonishing ability to duck the consequences of his crimes.’

(Stephen Robinson Sunday Times)

‘Hats off to Roger Hermiston for bringing to life the exploits of this Second World War resistance fighter turned Soviet agent. Hermiston spins a yarn of high adventure, of a life ennobled by wartime valour only to be laid low by the twisted belief in the means justifying the end, even if this meant betrayal of one’s own country.’

(Military History Monthly)

‘The story of Blake’s arrest, confession, sentencing, imprisonment and escape suggests that Roger Hermiston should be writing spy novels. It is gripping in its detail. Even more appealing is Hermiston’s reluctance to sit in judgement on Blake. As he points out, Blake was not brought up in this country and genuinely saw parallels between his own religious beliefs and Communism. As Blake himself pointed out: “The real spies are those who are not paid and do it for conviction”.’


'Hermiston’s account is unlikely to be bettered... He makes good use of hitherto undisclosed material and seeks not only to describe but to understand, surely the biographical holy grail.'

(Alan Judd Spectator)

‘Hermiston’s book tells Blake’s backstory in fascinating detail.’

(Simon Heffer New Statesman)

'One of the most argued-over spy stories of the 20th century is brought thrillingly to life by Roger Hermiston, who avoids the trap of painting his anti-hero only in black and white. Blake was a traitor but also a diligent soldier; he received a 42-year sentence in a trial whose evidence could not be reported. His escape from prison - in a way that would be farcical in any other context - created a kind of legend. At every turn the gripping writing reminds you of a world of spies and betrayal that was so much a part of life in post-war Europe. It makes for a brilliant read: Roger is a brilliant researcher and writer of this painful, colourful chapter in our history; and writes in a way so objective and unslanted that the reader is challenged to decide what to make of his subject. Superb from start to finish.'

(Jeremy Vine)

'The bones of Blake’s story are well known. Hermiston’s account, however, adds well-researched details which bring it to life. The result is a book as riveting and tightly written as a John le Carré novel.'

(Michael Randle Camden New Journal)

'An excellent book that reads more like a spy thriller than a biography'


***** ‘Hermiston offers a fascinating account of a life in which communism was the only constant. The jailbreak episode is a masterpiece of narrative tension.’

(Daily Express)

'Thrillingly described'

(Choice Magazine - Paperback Book of the Month)

About the Author

ROGER HERMISTON is a journalist and was assistant editor on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme from 1998-2010. It was there that he first encountered George Blake, when editing an interview with the former spy in 1999. His first book, Clough and Revie, was an acclaimed dual biography of two of English football's most famous and controversial managers.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
I had heard of George Blake and knew at least that he had a dramatic escape from prison, but was surprised at how much richer his story is, encompassing World War II dramas and a Korean 'death march' as well as the well-known espionage. The author does an excellent job of focusing on the interesting stuff and is quite fair on Blake: he acknowledges the harm he did to the British (and Americans) but seems to accept that Blake had his own set of values.

Overall, a really enjoyable account of an amazing life, and one that is still being lived. It would be fascinating to know what Blake himself, still alive in Moscow, would make of this excellent book.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
What really impressed me about this book was the writer's use of previously written works about the subject seamlessly merged with his own meticulous research. Blake's early life on the continent during WW11 and subsequently in Korea where he was taken prisoner just after the outbreak of hostilities there offers a fascinating insight into the moulding of the man's political leanings. He saw in communism ideological similarities with his Calvinist upbringing in Holland and was convinced he was correct in doing what he did to hasten the dawning of a Utopian era which he viewed as being the only way society should function. He acknowledged but turned a blind eye to the excesses of the communist regime in the Soviet Union but readily embraced the changes that came about gradually after the death of Stalin. This book is a must read for anyone with even a passing interest in espionage and reads very novel like in its's approach to post war life in Europe's spy capital Berlin and beyond. It was almost to easy for Blake to escape from Wormwood Scrubs and reach East Berlin but again the author goes into great detail about life in the prison and the characters Blake met with. I could not put this book down a cracking fast paced read.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good 10 April 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a good read. If you know little about George Blake then you will enjoy this book which is well put together and is well written.

If you know anything at all about Blake then this treads a well-worn path that reveals little new and doesn't have any great depth of research. We have read the majority of it elsewhere, which is okay, though it is easy to spot the sources, but there really should have been more. Blake's period in MI6 is pretty thin and doesn't take into account some of the Soviet material (good on Korea) and the chunk on the escape from prison is too long. But overall an enjoyable read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars THE LIFE OF GEORGE BLAKE 13 Jan 2014
Only knowing about the infamous escape from Wormwood Scrubs in the 1960's,the res of the story about George Blake was a revealation. The book covers in an objective manner, the rise and fall of George Blake, and the reasons he took such as a momentous step to spy for the KGB at the expense of his 'home' country, the United Kingdom. Roger Hermiston quotes exactly from George Blake why he took this momentous step. The book was good because it was factual, it left the reader to make the interpretations of the events, and come to their own conclusions about the affair. This book was well written and did not enter into difficult discussions about ideologies, and the reasons for spying.
Good and entertaining read.
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Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book is a real page-turner. Well written and well researched it shines a light not only on the murky world of MI6 and international spying, but also on some largely forgotten bits of 20th century history in the Korean War. It also paints a good picture of post war Europe and has a good vignette of late 1950s Lebannon. I would thoroughly recommend it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Superb telling of the Blake story. 1 Jun 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Terrific book. It reads at times like a Le Carre thriller but it is at the same time scholarly and painstakingly fair and accurate. I loved it.
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Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A detailed and I believe accurate account of a complex outsider who was labelled the most dangerous traitor of the 20th century.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Hard to put down. 16 July 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I am not a war book reader but I found this book hard to put down, yes its a good book.
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