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The Greatest Traitor: The Secret Lives of Agent George Blake Paperback – 15 Mar 2014

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Aurum Press Ltd; PB Reissue edition (15 Mar. 2014)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 1781311633
  • ISBN-13: 978-1781311639
  • Product Dimensions: 19.7 x 2.5 x 14.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 104,380 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

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A reader on 26 Mar. 2013
Format: Hardcover
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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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Michael G on 21 May 2013
Format: Hardcover
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 By Stephen Dorril on 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 By bibliophile on 13 Jan. 2014
Format: Hardcover
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
Roger Hermiston's superb book about George Blake shows us all sides of a fascinating and complex character in a balanced and flowing manner. Blake's story reads like a Le Carre novel,and carries an endorsement from the great man on the front cover. More than just the story of Blake's espionage career it's basically his autobiography. Don't let that put you off if you're only really interested espionage or "spy stories" as it reveals Blake's motivation and inspiration.
Not only is this book very well written,the facts of his escape from prison are related as any fictional prison escape I've ever read,but it's also even handed and shows Blake to have been motivated by the deep seated beliefs of a very intelligent and thoughtful man shaped by what he sees and reads. On reading of his "conversion" it struck me that in today's parlance he would be considered "radicalised" by his experiences,experiences that pushed him towards Communism and a hatred of American foreign policy.
Was he a hero or villain? Having read this book things are not black and white.During his time in Holland during the war he risked his life several times and probably saved the lives of others in Korea.As one of his supporters pointed out he was doing nothing Russian double agents were not doing for their British handlers so if there was illegality they were guilty of it as well.Talking of supporters,Blake appeared to be a respected and charismatic man who attracted admirers wherever he went,from Intelligence community circles to Wormwood Scrubs where he played a big part in prisoner education and gained the loyalty of the inmates.
This book took up all of my free time for two days,the story of a fascinating character well told.
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By John Hopper TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 15 Jan. 2015
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a riveting biography of George Blake, the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) officer who spied for the Soviet Union for several years in the 1950s, was discovered, tried and sentenced to the unprecedentedly long prison term of 42 years, sprung from Wormwood Scrubs five years later, and assisted to flee via East Germany to the Soviet Union, where he still lives today at the age of 92. His has been a fascinating life from its earliest days: the son of a British Jewish father and a Dutch mother, he was born and brought up in the Netherlands and never saw himself as British anyway. He helped the Dutch resistance under the Nazis, displaying a necessary predilection for subterfuge. He joined MI6 in the late 1940s and while working in South Korea was taken prisoner by the North Koreans during the war on the peninsula, when Kim Il Sung's forces at the height of their success swept south and captured the South Korean capital. During that time he offered his services to the Soviets, having become genuinely convinced that communism, for all its faults in practice, offered in principle a better and more just future for humankind. He was always clear that he spied on this basis and never for personal gain, so can be said to be, at one level, a man of principle, despite the damage that his actions caused for Western security and the probable (though not entirely proven) deaths of British agents. It was this feature, plus the length of his sentence, compared to the comparatively more lenient treatment of the Cambridge Five and the atomic spy Klaus Fuchs, that prompted sympathy from him on the inside and efforts by the peace campaigners Michael Randle and Pat Pottle, and petty criminal Sean Bourke, to spring him from prison and assist in his fleeing to the Soviet Union.Read more ›
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