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Young Philby [Paperback]

Robert Littell
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
RRP: £7.99
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Book Description

27 Mar 2014
Englishman Harold Adrian Russell Philby, nicknamed Kim, slips onto the Russian freighter Domatova as it quietly sails out of the Beirut harbour. A spy for the Soviet Union, he flees the Lebanese capital with just the clothes on his back and uncertainty over his fate in Moscow. Will he be welcomed as a senior Soviet intelligence officer? Will the Great Game hes so keen on playing have a third act? Or will the Heart of Darkness have a more sinister purpose? Impossible to put down, Young Philby paints a vivid picture about one of recent historys most fascinating and subtle spies.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd (27 Mar 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0715647431
  • ISBN-13: 978-0715647431
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.8 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 296,336 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


An intriguing and surprisingly plausible new interpretation of what Philby was really up to and who he was working for. A fine book --Daily Mail

Littell combines deep knowledge of spycraft with jovial levity --Guardian

Distinguished writer though Littell is, can he say anything new about Philby or take a new approach to him? The answer to both questions, is yes --Independent

About the Author

Robert Littell is the author of eighteen novels, including the forthcoming A Nasty Piece of Work. He has been hailed as The best American spy writer currently at work (Daily Telegraph), and he has been awarded both the CWA Gold Dagger (for his debut, The Defection of AJ Lewinter) and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for his fiction. His novel The Company was a New York Times bestseller and was adapted into a television miniseries in 2007, produced by Ridley Scott. He lives in France.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterclass 28 Nov 2012
If the infamous traitor Kim Philby, a Soviet "mole" inside the British establishment for almost 30 years, gave a masterclass in avoiding arrest and punishment, then in Young Philby, Robert Littell gives a masterclass in writing a spy story about his early life. This will come as no surprise as Littell, often labelled "the American John Le Carre", has long been recognised as an expert in spy fiction and his magisterial fictional history of the CIA The Company: A Novel of the CIA is a classic of the genre.
Young Philby not only has fascinating subject matter and an authoritative grasp of European history from socialist uprisings in Vienna, through the Spanish Civil War to the rise of Hitlerism and Stalinism, but also shows outstanding narrative technique as Philby's early life is described through the eyes of around a dozen different narrators. This is a short, sharp historical thriller embedded in historical fact, without an ounce of surplus fat on it!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Will the real Kim Philby please stand up? 20 Mar 2013
By MisterHobgoblin TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Young Philby is, unsurprisingly, the story of Kim Philby, Soviet double agent. But the story is surprising.

Set out as a series of testimonials, letters, documents and the like, we see the rise of Kim Philby from multiple viewpoints. We see the thoughts of his KGB recruiters, Moscow Centre, Guy Burgess, MI6 and former lovers. We even, briefly, have Philby's own perspective - frustratingly on his experience as a journalist viewing the Maginot line rather than offering a definitive statement of allegiance. And without giving anything away, the life of a double agent is necessarily complex and allegiance is not a straightforward question. But, as Philby was advised by his first handler, when trying to deceive, stick as closely as possible to the truth.

At times, it is hard to remember that Robert Littell is writing fiction rather than fact. The details feel authentic, the austerity and drudgery of spying feels real. There is a claim on the cover that Littell is the American John Le Carre - and the comparison is apt. Both writers focus as much on the bureaucracy of espionage as on the thrill of the chase. However, and I could be wrong, I don't recall Le Carre using quite such an entertaining cameo of Josef Stalin.

If there are a couple of gripes, it is that the novel is quite short and has many characters and locations. The inevitable casualty of this is characterisation. In the urge to develop Philby as a character, the supporting cast feel somewhat cardboard, leading Philby to have cardboard relationships with them. We never really get a feel for what makes Philby tick, although arguably the novel's main point is that the real Philby was unknowable.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining 17 April 2013
Not very long, but an informative and interesting read about the beginnings of Philby's career as a traitor, which I knew little about. The format - written as contributions from various people in Philby's life as supposed letters, diaries, memoirs etc, works well and gives variety. As another reviewer has noted, there are some anachronisms - some words which a 1930s Englishman would never have used, and some which are straightforward Americanisms. A pity because much of the dialogue and text is convincingly idiomatic. A couple of hours work by an English editor (preferably aged 50+) would have eliminated these solecisms. But overall a very good book and I am encouraged to read more of his work.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Depends Which Way You Look At It 8 Aug 2014
I enjoyed this enormously. I knew Kim Philby's 'official' story - who doesn't - but what really intrigued me here is that Mr Littell's version could be the truth just as easily as the 'official' version could. I liked the way in which the story was told from the viewpoints of different people who were acquainted with Philby personally and professionally across the years; all of the 'voices' were good, but I thought the chapters told by Guy Burgess and Theodore Maly were particularly well done. The descriptions of how one after another of the NKVD officers involved with Philby were caught up in the meat-grinder of Stalin's paranoia-fuelled purges conveyed the arbitrary terror of those times as well as any more scholarly historical work I've ever read.

Just one thing - as others have pointed out, there are a few occasions when Mr Littell's knowledge of British English fails him a little. Sometimes it's too modern for the time in which the scene is set, sometimes it just isn't British English, but American. It's particularly jarring when the words emerge from the mouth of an Englishman of the 1930s - 1950s. Somewhere along the line, some rather more meticulous editing might have solved the problem.

The final scene in SIS headquarters with Philby's 'sainted' father was brilliant; rather than tie the story up neatly, it left the question marks about Philby's real loyalty hanging in the air on the end of queries that will probably now never be answered. The 'official' line and Mr Littell's both seem, to me, to be equally plausible which, I suppose, neatly sums up the essence of loyalty and betrayal and the ambiguity inherent in spying - to a very great extent, it depends on which way you look at it.
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