10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
The Most Famous Quintet,
This review is from: Anthony Blunt: His Lives (Hardcover)
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.