Anthony Blunt: His Lives Paperback – 11 Oct 2002
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The subtitle of Miranda Carter's remarkably assured debut, Anthony Blunt: His Lives, speaks volumes for the artful spy she brings in from the cold. The so-called "Fourth Man" in the Cambridge spy ring after Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and Kim Philby, Blunt's life embraced a fascinating opposition. On the one hand, he was an exceptional teacher, who inspired and influenced a generation of art historians through his lectures and tuition while director of the Courtauld Institute; on the other, he was a spy who betrayed secrets to the Soviet NKVD (later KGB). This dichotomy of enlightenment and concealment lies at the centre of Carter's spirited inquiry. A product as well as a victim of his times, Blunt's offence was not just espionage, but also his background. Educated at Marlborough, where fellow pupils included John Betjeman and Louis MacNeice, he grew into a louche left-wing homosexual of a familiar Cambridge vintage, a dissident aesthete for whom truth and kinship outweighed loyalty to orthodoxy, and thus the state. When Marxism replaced the Bloomsbury set as the Cambridge de rigeur in the 1930s, Blunt was ideologically seduced by the wildly charismatic Guy Burgess, and became a Soviet talent-spotter, and later double agent. After his sensational public exposure in 1979, he dismissed his activity as akin to "cowboys and Indians", but if his motives remain foggy, Carter makes clear the comic shambles that was British intelligence at the time, more Carry On than John Le Carré, everyone with an agenda, and usually not their own.
Miranda Carter's precocious disentangling of the mesh of half-truths that characterise this period of British intelligence, and its intelligentsia, reaps bountiful dividends. Burgess once sniped that Blunt was holding out for canonisation rather than a knighthood, a remark that reflected his highly principled friend's preference for history over politics, despite his clandestine activities. It is history, though, which has the longer memory, and dictates that he is to be remembered more as a spy than an art historian. Blunt's own account of his duplicitous career is embargoed until 2013, and speculation is markedly polarised as to how much it will reveal. Until then, Carter offers a scrupulously researched, finely balanced assessment of his Russian-doll persona and troubled reputation, while boldly establishing her own as a significant new writing talent.--David Vincent --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"An incredible feat of unmasking and revelation; the result is a meticulous, judicious, and ultimately moving account of Blunt's life....A profound study."--"Newsday "[A] sympathetic, expertly paced and altogether enthralling biography...Astonishingly assured and accomplished. I haven't enjoyed a biography so much since Judith Thurman's Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette." --"The Washington Post Book World "Shrewd...well and sympathetically told." --"The New York Review of Books "[An] excellent case study...Blunt's own evolution [as a spy]...is almost a caricature of the genre, and it is Carter's achievement in Anthony Blunt: His Lives to have promoted it above the commonplace." --"The New York Times Book Review "[An] insightful new biography." --"The Seattle TimesSee all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
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.
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A very informative and well written book here by Mirand Carter. A full and interesting biography.Published 11 months ago by Paul
An absorbing, highly readable, well-researched study of a complicated man who was both villain and victim!Published 14 months ago by Mr C Lawrencce
A study of the life of Anthony Blunt surely lends itself to a somewhat compartmentalized approach; the schoolboy (a contemporary of John Betjeman! Read morePublished 15 months ago by Nigel C.B. Durrant
I loved every word of this biography-Miranda Carter writes so well and brings close the elusive Anthony Blunt. Read morePublished 23 months ago by Finporter
An almost impossibly accomplished biography by Miranda Carter of Communist spy-turned royal picture keeper Anthony Blunt. Read morePublished on 6 Jun. 2014 by Amazon Customer
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.Published on 8 Mar. 2014 by Stephen Bishop
The book is of course all about Blunt but you couldn't do better than this as an overview of the 'spy' story, what was going on, the atmosphere of the time, the motives for siging... Read morePublished on 29 July 2013 by Stanley