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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An almost perfect spy?
The biography is aptly titled. Anthony Blunt really was a man with a multi-faceted life - more like a few lives crammed into one - complete with paradoxes and contradictions aplenty. In many ways he was an unlikely spy, and by the same token, an almost perfect one!
This is a meticulously written biography. Carter digs deep and wide with her research and reports...
Published on 29 Dec 2003 by lr-in-it

versus
10 of 27 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Weak and unconvincing
The book is a patchy collection of chapters full of pseudo-literary fluff. Voluminous and abounding with lengthy descriptions it tells very little about the person in question. The book lacks both depth of understanding of Blunt's personality and proper organisation. Poorly researched, as evidenced by numerous blatant historical mistakes, it tells no more than the press...
Published on 8 Nov 2002


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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An almost perfect spy?, 29 Dec 2003
This review is from: Anthony Blunt: His Lives (Paperback)
The biography is aptly titled. Anthony Blunt really was a man with a multi-faceted life - more like a few lives crammed into one - complete with paradoxes and contradictions aplenty. In many ways he was an unlikely spy, and by the same token, an almost perfect one!
This is a meticulously written biography. Carter digs deep and wide with her research and reports back in a calm, measured, credible and lengthy manner. An excellent collage of Blunt is built up. Conflicting views of the man emerge - petty/professional, cold/effusive, insightful/blind, opinionated/persuadable - and this really helps to establish the light and shade in the man's nature. Carter makes human that which could easily have been made monstrous.
The only caution I hazard about this book is that the Pan McMillan paperback version contains numerous, silly typos. Otherwise this is a stimulating, entertaining and sustaining book.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars gripping, 23 Nov 2001
By A Customer
This is an excellent tour de force of the enigma at the centre of the Cambridge Spy Ring. The author offers no glib answers as to why Blunt did what he did. Instead she lets his friends, lovers, enemies and those members of the Security Forces who tracked him down to do her talking for her. She does not condemn or condone so this book lacks moral vigour, though it is none the worse for this. It is a wonderful examination of a man who was brilliant intellectually but feeble and often corrupt in his personal life. I recommend it heartily to anyone who seeks to understand a breed of privileged Englishman who has disappeared under the weight of egalitarianism.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Lives within Lives of Anthony Blunt, 17 Jun 2005
By 
F. S. L'hoir (Irvine, CA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Anthony Blunt: His Lives (Paperback)
Miranda Carter has written a splendid book about Anthony Blunt, appropriately subtitled, "his lives." Reading about the Cambridge Fellow, Soldier, Double Agent, Art-Historian, Director of the Cortauld Institute, Surveyor of the King's/Queens Pictures, etc., etc., is like peeling an onion, or perhaps--more appropriately--opening a Russian Matrioshka doll. As one probes into a deeper layer one discovers yet another persona, and although one might begin to understand Blunt's motives, one never really gets to know who he really was, thanks to his ability to compartmentalize his multifarious activities and interests.
Although I began the book with considerable prejudice, since Anthony Blunt seems to have prospered while his fellow Cambridge spies were living comparatively miserable lives in Moscow, Ms. Carter's sensitive portrayal of this man, whose aloofness stemmed from a fundamental insecurity, changed my mind. She shows us a man who was unwavering in his ideals and loyal to his friends (He waited until 1964--after Guy Burgess had died and Philby and Maclean were 'safe' in Moscow-- to admit his complicity.). She also portrays a tormented man, whose ability to lose himself in his art-history scholarship preserved his sanity and probably saved his life. Publicly disgraced in 1979, stripped of his knighthood and other honors (after a promise of immunity), deserted by all except a few loyal friends, he died soon after. Miranda Carter depicts him as a man who was courageous but tragically flawed.
This book is meticulously researched, so much so that an average enthusiast of espionage literature may find himself adrift among the dozens of friends, acquaintances and enemies whom Anthony Blunt knew, not only Guy Burgess, Kim Philby and the other Cambridge spy protagonists, but also literary figures, including Julian Bell, Louis MacNeice, W.H. Auden; and other personages--who have engendered their own share of speculation--Victor Rothschild, Michael Straight and Goronwy Rees. Precisely because of the plethora of names, the book presents a fascinating glimpse into a fifty-year history of Great Britain from the 1920's onward. And while probably only the most passionate art historians will read every word about Nicholas Poussin and Baroque Rome, the persistent reader will be rewarded by a colorful and witty glimpse into the outrageous life and times of Guy Burgess (Inexplicably no one has written a biography of the wayward spy, but if they do, it should probably be called "My Noisy War"!).
For those afficionados who cannot get enough of the Cambridge Spies (Judging from the numbers of books still being published about them, half a century later, such readers are numerous.), this book is highly recommended!
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Account of a Tortured Existence, 9 Jan 2002
Most books about the Cambridge spy ring adopt a factual tone, concentrating on the details of betrayal: which secrets were passed to whom at which point. Miranda Carter, however, approaches the subject of Anthony Blunt from what one might call a feminine perspective. Her interest is in the aspects of the English class culture that produced a man so apparently contradictory in his behaviour. I use the word 'apparently' because Carter's account of Blunt's intellectual evolution is so carefully and sensitively drawn that we come very close to understanding the forces that divided his gifted mind into quite separate compartments.
Although the author does not take sides, one senses an understanding, if not a sympathy, for this tortured character. The brutality and emotional repression of English public school life are superbly evoked. Carter shows how Marlborough's preference for hearty, sporty, heterosexual extroverts created a de facto group of intellectual rebels who realised that they had no chance of fitting into the expected mould. Rebels like Blunt would later rise to the top of the Establishment while simultaneously rejecting its fundamental principles.
Above all, this is a profoundly sad book. The enduring image is of Blunt, in his seventies, stripped of his knighthood and glittering prizes, shuffling down to his local supermarket and then back to his flat in a dreary Bayswater block. Behind him lie years of academic acclaim, lauded seminars delivered in perfect French at the Louvre, consultations with British Royalty on their art collection: all to end like this. What a tragic waste of a brilliant mind.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Biography at its very best - quite simply superb., 26 Nov 2001
Blunt was as enigmatic as his espionage and for over two decades little of his life was publicly available. With Miranda Carter's level and blanaced biography of Blunt there is plenty to consider.
Not only is this book a testement of exemplary research, sourcing and usage of material, it is also a superbly written and engrossing read in every way. Biography can be slow, dull and grey but Carter not only brings Blunt to life, she presents a balanced review of all the evidence and shows Blunt as he undoubtedly was; able to apply his character to a variety of situations and shield his emotions to great effect.
I defy anyone to read this and think it dull or grey. Blunt is undoubtedly an interesting figure, but in Miranda Carter's hands he becomes as exciting as Bond, as real as your own father and as interesting as any book has ever been.
This book is, by some considerable margin, one of the best I have ever read.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Most Famous Quintet, 28 Nov 2002
By 
taking a rest - See all my reviews
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The individuals who comprised The Cambridge Five have been extensively documented as individuals as well as a group. Miranda Carter's book is worthwhile for it not only brings truly new information to this man's duplicity; she also spends a great deal of time on the man himself. This is a thorough autobiography and not just a spy novel barely elevated to the non-fiction category. Some readers may find the book too long on the man and too brief on his activities as a spy. Anthony Blunt was a traitor, but to limit his long life to that one word is to greatly minimize who this man was. The wide-ranging life he leads together with the positions of influence he held outside of intelligence agencies makes him an even more fascinating character. None of his actions diminish or justify his perfidious conduct; they do make him much more than a one-dimensional traitor to his country.

Most of the spies that are exposed today have often become extremely wealthy for betraying their country. When Blunt was first recruited it was during a time when the Oxford Union Society within the college carried the debate with the motion, "that this house declines to fight for King or Country". In October of 1933 the Labor Party on, "no issue but the pacifist one", according to Stanley Baldwin replaced the Conservatives. And Europe in general was not interested much less enthusiastic about a second world war less than a generation after the first finally ended. Persons notable not only for their fame but also for their gullibility marketed Communism with success including their tours and subsequent spreading of nonsense regarding Potemkin Villages. These folks were believers; they were not making a living. They were supporting something they actually believed in at one time as opposed to those who are on the hunt for their various pieces of silver.

What Miranda Carter meticulously documents is Blunt's life as a nearly unbroken series of either unconventional or anti-establishment choices. There is also a great deal of evidence that as competent an art historian as he may have been, it also appears participating in art fraud was yet another of this man's defects. I found her documentation of his almost ascetic living conditions interesting as well.

There may be something that I am missing but I was amazed with the leniency England treated men like Blunt. In 1964 he admitted to his activities for which he was granted complete immunity. It was not until Margaret Thatcher revealed this deal in 1979 out of either personal anger or thought for political gain was he finally exposed. As the defections of his more notorious comrades had already taken place and England had been greatly embarrassed, it seems odd that fear of further embarrassment would cause them to make a deal with this criminal long after he was a meaningful asset to the Former USSR. Miranda Carter also documents the periods when none of the Cambridge Recruits were believed to be genuine by Moscow, and how vast amounts of information they delivered was never even read.

I have read a number of books on this topic and would recommend this book for anyone who is interested. I expect there will be more books if and when additional documents are found/released, but until then this is the best work I have read on Blunt.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating, chilling read, 6 Jun 2014
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This review is from: Anthony Blunt: His Lives (Paperback)
An almost impossibly accomplished biography by Miranda Carter of Communist spy-turned royal picture keeper Anthony Blunt. Step by gradual step she opens up the closed, compartmentalised, and ultimately tragic life that was Blunt. Intellectual life during the red fervour 1930s Cambridge university is brought vividly to life. Carter does an excellent job in describing how and why British men and women came to betray their country for Communism as part of a general 'anti-Fascist' endeavour. Although she (as Blunt himself later would) fails to convince that their new cause is an way morally different from the repugnant Fascism savaging Europe. It's a story of how one person so compartmentalised his life (into hermetically sealed boxes: accomplished academic, respected art historian, gay man Communist spy and traitor) that at the end what he was left with were fragments rather than a whole. Intellect divorced from emotion; action from principle, and life from morality.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent full biography, 8 Mar 2014
By 
Stephen Bishop (Darlington, England) - See all my reviews
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of a controversial figure, written with sympathy but not rose spectacles. Very good analysis of the many conflicting stories about Blunt and the intelligence web.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent blend of Art and Spying. You couldn't make it up!, 11 Feb 2013
This review is from: Anthony Blunt: His Lives (Paperback)
Just add one more voice to the praise for this very well researched book. I knew nothing really about this man other than he was some sort of spy for the Russians. Having read the book - and it is the best part of 500 pages - I feel I not only know the man (in as much as he could ever allow himself to be known) but I also know about the culture and background which inspired men like him to pass information to the Russians during the war and feel that they were in fact contributing to the fall of Fascism.
The Art World itself was also a closed book to me but is a lot more understandable now. Although the book is very well researched and annotated you do feel that there are still wide areas left untouched or glossed over but I presume this is because of Official Secrets or the unwillingness of so many people not to become involved or speak out. Blunt himself was notoriously compartmentalised and kept one side of him hidden from the other so that even those close to him had no idea he had other sides to his character. A definitive book no doubt and would form the basis for any further research on the man and his work as more information becomes available from the archives. It is also rare that such scholarship and fluid writing blend in the one book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The betrayer betrayed., 3 Feb 2013
By 
Davey (Dorset, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Anthony Blunt: His Lives (Paperback)
As the Cold War receeds from memory, we're in danger of forgetting the context of what Blunt and the other Cambridge spies did; they betrayed their country, their countrymen, their families and their friends in order to support another country and it's ideology. The danger is that since that country, the USSR, no longer exists, and the ideology only lives on in degraded form in a few places (Cuba, maybe Chavez' People's Republic of Venezuala) where there is a danger of seeing it as almost quaint. This excellently written book (which I've re-read after reading Brian Sewell's autobiography) does remind us of the reality. Yes, much of it concerns art history, but that's what Blunt was - both the leading art historian of his day and a spy.

Interestingly, Blunt was both betrayer and betrayed; his exposure, with (the recently elected) Thatcher giving a statement in the house of Common, was clearly in breach of the agreement to immunity when he confessed. The result was an early example of press villification; as Carter puts it, he "... became a kind of screen on which fiction and fantasy were projected". When he asked his lawyer about suing for libel, he was advised not on to the grounds that he had "lost his good name", and that he "had in effect so defamed himself that no further defamation was possible". Seems all too familiar now.
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Anthony Blunt: His Lives
Anthony Blunt: His Lives by Miranda Carter (Paperback - 11 Oct 2002)
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