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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No Secret: Stella Rules, Britannia
I purchased this book after hearing an interview with Ms. Rimington on BBC 4, and I must say, I found her engaging both on the radio and in print. She is a talented writer, whose eventful life--from childhood during the blitz, through her days as a diplomatic wife in India; her experiences as an archivist; and her almost accidental career in MI5 [the old-school-tie male...
Published on 14 Mar. 2008 by F. S. L'hoir

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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too heavily censored for interest
As the book progressed my disappointment grew at the content. I expect autobiographies of high achieving people who think the world revolves around them to fill the first few chapters with decidedly uninteresting personal history - although my theory that achievement arises from hardship or trauma in childhood - was born out. Stella is interesting about the fear and...
Published on 14 Mar. 2009 by M. Hillmann


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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too heavily censored for interest, 14 Mar. 2009
By 
M. Hillmann "miles" (leicester, england) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Open Secret: The Autobiography of the Former Director-General of MI5 (Paperback)
As the book progressed my disappointment grew at the content. I expect autobiographies of high achieving people who think the world revolves around them to fill the first few chapters with decidedly uninteresting personal history - although my theory that achievement arises from hardship or trauma in childhood - was born out. Stella is interesting about the fear and privations of a wartime child who lived through the blitz in Liverpool and Barrow and about the effects of the first world war injury on her father. But this book never flowered.

Some of the descriptions of the reaction of the KGB on a visit to Moscow post fall of the Berlin Wall are interesting and the difficulties of operating a Security Service in a democracy are thought provoking. Where do you draw the line between acceptable domestic protest and actions designed to undermine democracy and elected government - for example at the time of the miner's strike and Aurthur Scargill versus Maggie Thatcher? Some of the management issues of running and organisation like the MI5, I found interesting. Her complimentary comments on Whitehall and the calibre of civil servants and the difficult job they did were refreshing.

But there is so little about the IRA campaign which clearly became the major preoccupation of the MI5 post Cold War or of the growth of concern of terrorism (although she retired before Al Quaeda hit the headlines).

It is only when you read the Postcript that you realise why it is such an unsatisfactory book. For the ex head of MI5 to write an autobiography was a cause of agonising in Whitehall. The book clearly spent 6 months being circulated in government and civil service circles with everybody cutting out the bit they did not like or they regarded as compromising.
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No Secret: Stella Rules, Britannia, 14 Mar. 2008
By 
F. S. L'hoir (Irvine, CA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Open Secret: The Autobiography of the Former Director-General of MI5 (Paperback)
I purchased this book after hearing an interview with Ms. Rimington on BBC 4, and I must say, I found her engaging both on the radio and in print. She is a talented writer, whose eventful life--from childhood during the blitz, through her days as a diplomatic wife in India; her experiences as an archivist; and her almost accidental career in MI5 [the old-school-tie male bastion which she penetrated with panache]--is related with considerable charm and humor (essential requirements for being an effective spy).

On the back of the book, under a series of rave blurbs is a negative one by an individual of the male persuasion, whose non-endorsement guaranteed my determination to read the book. And I quote: "The most effective Secret Service is the one which is secret. She should shut up."

Well, that horse was stolen from the barn years ago, and the service that once dared not speak its name has long since--thanks to ex-intelligence officers writing their memoirs right and left--become the service that will not shut up!

Stella Rimington, the intelligent woman who made it to the director-generalship of MI5, adds a refreshing perspective to the male-dominated literature of British intelligence.
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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No hesitation in recommending as a biography, 11 Oct. 2002
By 
Mike (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Open Secret: The Autobiography of the Former Director-General of MI5 (Paperback)
This is a biography of the woman who ran MI5. It isn't a novel by Tom Clancy and it isn't a full analysis of the structure and methods of the Security Services.
It gives insight into the mind and values of the woman who was very successful within the security services of the 1970's and 1980's. She shows modesty and commitment - rising from part-time Office junior to Head of the Service via hard work and personal sacrifice (especially family relationships and financial).
The book tells us much about English attitudes, the cult of the 'Amateur,' and how many fall by the wayside on the path to the top - lacking commitment or realising that the effort is not justified by the reward.
It will make you question how and why people get to the top in British politics and administration. Americans, in particular, will be stunned by her candour (and poverty)
We need more books like this - real biographies talking about genuine biographical issues as opposed to post-rationalised self-promotion. With more women taking the top roles in Society, let's hope we will get these more honest stories.
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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as gripping as you may think, 27 Sept. 2001
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I expected more insight into the workings of MI5 than this book provides. You have to remember when buying this book that this woman has lived a life that is far longer than the time spent in MI5, and well over half of the book is dedicated to that life. Whilst I found it a pleasant read, it wasn't the gripping tale of machinations within MI5 that I'd hoped. I suppose it was only to be expected, as it would never have found it's way to the publishing house if it contained anything meaty about MI5.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A Very Damp Squib, 21 Nov. 2014
By 
C. E. Utley "Charles Utley" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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I vaguely remember the fuss when Dame Stella Rimmington's autobiography was published. There were two camps. The defenders of freedom of speech insisted that she had a perfect right to tell all about her time as Director General of MI5 whatever damage that might do to national security. The old guard were furious that she had turned her back on the secrecy which ought to be paramount in a decent intelligence service. I suppose, on balance, I was on the side of the old guard. It seemed rather seedy of Dame Stella to seek to make money out of her secret public service. But I hadn't read the book and wasn't really qualified to judge.

I have now read it. I realise I was wrong to side with the old guard. Nothing damaging to the security of the state is to be found here. Indeed, this is an extraordinarily dull book which tells us absolutely nothing new about MI5, though it does, I think, tell us a little about Dame Stella herself.

We start with an incredibly banal account of her childhood before, during and after the war. All the usual stuff is there. Children were much freer to roam around enjoying themselves. Parents didn't think twice about allowing young children to make their own way to and from school. Bananas were very exciting when they appeared after the war. It's all there, everything we've read endlessly in other memoirs. The only difference is that it is told in a very wooden way. Then there is all the dreary nonsense about how clever she was to get into Edinburgh University to read English, despite being a girl, and come out with an almost unheard of second class degree (her assumption, unstated, that women were not capable of doing better than a second doesn't really fit with the main theme of the book, which is that women are vastly superior to men).

We move quickly on to follow Dame Stella's early career as an archivist and then get to her marriage to John Rimmington (plainly a long suffering man). She and her husband go to India, where he has a junior diplomatic posting. While there, she is asked to perform some minor tasks for the resident MI5 man. When they return to England she decides to offer her services to MI5. She is taken on, but is frightfully cross because women are given the most menial jobs. She is all too conscious that she is vastly superior to all the men in the service. But she sticks it out.

Finally, she persuades her bosses that, despite her sex, she can be promoted. But, even then, there are lots of tasks which she is not allowed to perform because she is a woman. In between all these rather tedious attempts at feminism we are given startling information such as that MI5 spent a lot of time on the cold war and, later, fighting Irish and international terrorism. Quite what they actually did is never revealed.

There is an illuminating (and slightly defensive) passage about the awful Peter Wright (author of Spycatcher). He is portrayed as the devil incarnate for writing a book about his time in MI5. She is, of course, right to be so cross with Mr Wright, but her assertion that all whistle-blowers are evil is plainly quite insupportable.

By the time we get to her period as Director General we are told almost nothing of any interest at all.

This really is a very dull book. I suppose I can understand why the authorities were so upset that it was published. They will have been concerned about the precedent being set. But there is nothing in it of any concern.

Dame Stella's novels, I suspect, give a much better picture of MI5 than is to be found in her autobiography.

Charles
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars If you're expecting James Bond - dont bother., 3 Feb. 2002
Unlike several reviewers buying this book I didn't expect the inner secrets of MI5 to be revealed....I expected to read about an ordinary woman who ended up living an extraordinary life. And I wasn't disappointed. I found it an interesting account of how the establishment has changed over the past few decades from the point of view of someone who just happened to be there. A good read
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Slow start but very worthwhile, 21 Dec. 2007
This review is from: Open Secret: The Autobiography of the Former Director-General of MI5 (Paperback)
Despite the headline I have given, this book is interesting throughout. The reason I have said it starts slowly is that the first part of the book does not deal with Ms Rimmington's time working for MI5.

Nevertheless the book as a whole is a fascinating autobiography. Her career is so different to mainstream careers that it is worth reading for a small insight into the world of the intelligence services. As one of the other reviewers comments, some of the incidents described in the book are rather "everyday" but, unlike that reviewer, I think such incidents make Ms Rimmington sound more down-to-earth and consequently credible than would otherwise be the case.

I also do not think the book is harmful, but instead, to the extent it deals with Ms Rimmington's time at MI5 it sets out in a clear and concise way the political and societal contexts in which MI5 operates have changed dramatically since the 1960s. In fact it is this which makes the book so interesting since, as anyone should have been able to guess before reading it, the book was extremely unlikely to reveal any operational information or anything but the most general details about operations.

My one criticism is that Ms Rimmington's time in charge of MI5 is only briefly described, although perhaps this is unavoidable on security grounds.

Definitely one of the top books I've read this year.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Less threat-analysis, more biographical, 16 Jun. 2003
By 
Curns "curns" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Open Secret: The Autobiography of the Former Director-General of MI5 (Paperback)
The preface to the paperback edition of Open Secret talks of the challenges the security forces face combatting global terrorism. It's an interesting analysis of the problems facing governments and democracies worldwide but, unfortunately, it doesn't really set the tone for the rest of the book. The remainder is less threat-analysis and much more biographical.
The very personal nature of the book, and thus the lack of James Bond style bad-guy chasing, is only a disappointment to those who haven't read anything about it. Open Secret does not set itself up to be a great spy catcher novel. It is the truly fascinating tale of a woman who appeared to join the Secret Service because she couldn't really think of anything else to do and became the "housewife super-spy".
Stella Rimington nicely touches on some of the history if MI5 and its role during the wars (world and cold) without turning Open Secret into a detailed historical work. It's not a technical manual for sleuths either, nor does it contain the great revelations about our Secret Services than some have made out. It is a wonderful insight into the workings of a world that, at least for the part of her time, Stella could not admit existed. She tells of the struggles to bring up a family single-handed while battling the internal workings of a Service that did not expect women to rise to the top. It's a fascinating insight and, perhaps, inspiring to some. Certainly it's a book that, this reader at least, is very glad made got through the censorship.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bought as a gift, haven't read it myself, 12 May 2014
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This review is from: Open Secret: The Autobiography of the Former Director-General of MI5 (Paperback)
Bought this as a Christmas present for my father. He loves these non-fiction books and found it a fascinating and enjoyable read...unless he was just relieved not to receive more socks?!
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2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointingly mundane, 31 Dec. 2014
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Even allowing for the enforced adjustments by petty officialdom, I found this autobiography a monumental disappointment from an otherwise accomplished author. However, it was still a worthwhile read that filtered out a lot of the misconceptions created by the popular novel authors.

If you want something to give real insight into the inner workings of State security this is not the book for you. If you are happy to trudge through boring details of a working mother trying to combat the stuffy world of double standards as found in places like Whitehall, you will benefit from this book.
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Open Secret: The Autobiography of the Former Director-General of MI5
Open Secret: The Autobiography of the Former Director-General of MI5 by Stella Rimington (Paperback - 5 Sept. 2002)
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