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The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 Paperback – 3 Jun 2010

4.1 out of 5 stars 91 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 1072 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; 1st Edition Thus edition (3 Jun. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141023309
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141023304
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 4.7 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (91 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 21,061 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

“Penetrating. . . . Inestimably valuable. . . . Fills in a chapter of history that has been unjustly neglected.”
—"The New York Times Book Review"
“Fascinating and instructive. . . . As complete and thorough as such a history may be and as engrossing as any spy novel.”
—"Los Angeles Times"
“Unprecedented. . . . Weighty, measured and compelling. . . . With this book, the author has done a formidably good job for both the service and the public interest.”
—Max Hastings, "The Sunday Times" (London)
“As gripping as any thriller. . . . Throws new light on an important area of the running of the country, analysing the changing threats to national security over the 100 years and discussing the appropriateness or otherwise of the service’s response. . . . It will be enthusiastically scrutinised by historians, intelligence buffs and conspiracy theorists.”
—Stella Rimington, "Financial Times

"Penetrating. . . . Inestimably valuable. . . . Fills in a chapter of history that has been unjustly neglected."
--"The New York Times Book Review"
"Fascinating and instructive. . . . As complete and thorough as such a history may be and as engrossing as any spy novel."
--"Los Angeles Times"
"Unprecedented. . . . Weighty, measured and compelling. . . . With this book, the author has done a formidably good job for both the service and the public interest."
--Max Hastings, "The Sunday Times" (London)
"As gripping as any thriller. . . . Throws new light on an important area of the running of the country, analysing the changing threats to national security over the 100 years and discussing the appropriateness or otherwise of the service's response. . . . It will be enthusiastically scrutinised by historians, intelligence buffs and conspiracy theorists."
--Stella Rimington, "Financial Times"
"Tantalizing. . . . Meticulous and extensive. . . . This book is unlikely to be surpassed for another 100 years, and until then will be the necessary starting point for anyone who wants to know what, exactly, MI5 is."
--"The Daily Telegraph "(London)
"A tour de force: a dazzlingly detailed account. . . . Andrew [is] remarkably candid."
--"Tulsa World"
"Andrew has demonstrated why he is considered by most of his peers to be the world's leading intelligence scholar. His mastery of sources and ability to write so clearly is second to none."
--"The Raleigh News & Observer"
"Magisterial, authoritative, balanced, readable. . . . MI5 has been well-served by this history and so have future historians, Service staff and the public in general."
--"The Sunday Telegraph" (London)
"[This] book covers everything. . . . It is a striking experiment in openness."
--"Economist"
"Absolutely fascinating. . . . A sweeping and highly readable account of a century of British intelligence."
--"The Washington Times"
"Clearly written, brilliantly organised and extremely readable, not least because of something [Andrew] shares with many of MI5's staff over the past hundred years--a sense of humour."
--"The Times" (London)
"There are plenty of fresh details about celebrated events, behind-the-scenes tidbits about successes and foibles, and dish about infamous people. . . . It's crack for history and spy agency addicts."
--Gerald Posner, "The Daily Beast"
"A ripping read and just the kind of work one would hope for from a well-qualified academic who has been given the run of MI5's treasure-trove of files."
--"The""Guardian "(London)
"Definitive and fascinating. Definitive because, after decades of ill-informed or partial accounts this book fully defines and describes its subject; no future writer can ignore it. Fascinating because the fluent clarity of Andrew's narrative, his eye for colourful individual detail and the sheer interest of his subjects. . . . This book is essential reading for anyone with even the slightest interest in intelligence in the modern period."
--"The Spectator"
"Andrew is an entertaining and authoritative guide through the labyrinth of secret files, with an infectious fascination for the game of counter-espionage. . . . An important part of Andrew's achievement is to narrate with clarity an incredibly complex story in which bizarre and improbable reality often outruns the most rococo fabrications of the spy novelist."
--"The Observer "(London)
"Brimming with some wonderful details. . . . A valuable and important contribution to our understanding of the 20th century."
--"The Independent" (London)

Penetrating. . . . Inestimably valuable. . . . Fills in a chapter of history that has been unjustly neglected.
"The New York Times Book Review"
Fascinating and instructive. . . . As complete and thorough as such a history may be and as engrossing as any spy novel.
"Los Angeles Times"
Unprecedented. . . . Weighty, measured and compelling. . . . With this book, the author has done a formidably good job for both the service and the public interest.
Max Hastings, "The Sunday Times" (London)
As gripping as any thriller. . . . Throws new light on an important area of the running of the country, analysing the changing threats to national security over the 100 years and discussing the appropriateness or otherwise of the service s response. . . . It will be enthusiastically scrutinised by historians, intelligence buffs and conspiracy theorists.
Stella Rimington, "Financial Times"
Tantalizing. . . . Meticulous and extensive. . . . This book is unlikely to be surpassed for another 100 years, and until then will be the necessary starting point for anyone who wants to know what, exactly, MI5 is.
"The Daily Telegraph "(London)
A tour de force: a dazzlingly detailed account. . . . Andrew [is] remarkably candid.
"Tulsa World"
Andrew has demonstrated why he is considered by most of his peers to be the world s leading intelligence scholar. His mastery of sources and ability to write so clearly is second to none.
"The Raleigh News & Observer"
Magisterial, authoritative, balanced, readable. . . . MI5 has been well-served by this history and so have future historians, Service staff and the public in general.
"The Sunday Telegraph" (London)
[This] book covers everything. . . . It is a striking experiment in openness.
"Economist"
Absolutely fascinating. . . . A sweeping and highly readable account of a century of British intelligence.
"The Washington Times"
Clearly written, brilliantly organised and extremely readable, not least because of something [Andrew] shares with many of MI5 s staff over the past hundred years a sense of humour.
"The Times" (London)
There are plenty of fresh details about celebrated events, behind-the-scenes tidbits about successes and foibles, and dish about infamous people. . . . It s crack for history and spy agency addicts.
Gerald Posner, "The Daily Beast"
A ripping read and just the kind of work one would hope for from a well-qualified academic who has been given the run of MI5 s treasure-trove of files.
"The" "Guardian "(London)
Definitive and fascinating. Definitive because, after decades of ill-informed or partial accounts this book fully defines and describes its subject; no future writer can ignore it. Fascinating because the fluent clarity of Andrew s narrative, his eye for colourful individual detail and the sheer interest of his subjects. . . . This book is essential reading for anyone with even the slightest interest in intelligence in the modern period.
"The Spectator"
Andrew is an entertaining and authoritative guide through the labyrinth of secret files, with an infectious fascination for the game of counter-espionage. . . . An important part of Andrew s achievement is to narrate with clarity an incredibly complex story in which bizarre and improbable reality often outruns the most rococo fabrications of the spy novelist.
"The Observer "(London)
Brimming with some wonderful details. . . . A valuable and important contribution to our understanding of the 20th century.
"The Independent" (London)" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Publisher

Where does 'MI5' come from?

MI5 originally stood for 'Military Intelligence [Department] 5'. The Secret Service Bureau (SSB) was formed in 1909 to counter the danger to Britain from German espionage, and the division of the SSB responsible for counter-espionage within the British Isles became Department 5, or ‘MI5’. MI5 was renamed the Security Service in 1931, but is still commonly known as MI5 today.

Where is MI5 based?

MI5's staff, headed by Director General Jonathan Evans, is largely based in their headquarters at Thames House in London. They also have eight regional offices around Great Britain plus a Northern Ireland headquarters. The Service is organized into seven branches, each with specific areas of responsibility, which work to counter a range of threats including terrorism, espionage and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

What happened to MI1 – MI4?

There were a number of departments within the Directorate of Military Intelligence (MI1 through MI19) which dealt with a range of issues. For example, MI1 was responsible for code-breaking, and MI2 handled Russian and Scandinavian intelligence. The responsibilities of these departments were either discontinued or absorbed into The War Office, MI5 and MI6 and, later, the Government Communications Headquarters. What is the difference between MI5 and MI6? The Security Service (MI5) is the UK’s security intelligence agency, responsible for protecting the UK, its citizens and interests, at home and overseas, against the major threats to national security. The Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) is primarily responsible for gathering intelligence outside the UK in support of the government's security, defence, foreign and economic policies.

How realistic is the depiction of MI5 in the television series "Spooks"?

The BBC's "Spooks" is a slickly-produced and entertaining drama, but, like other works of spy fiction, it glamorizes the world of intelligence. The nature of MI5's work can be stimulating and highly rewarding (as the show's strapline declares, it is not "9 to 5"), but the programme does not portray the full range of their activities, nor the routine, but vitally important, aspects of their operations which would not make such exciting viewing. Particularly unrealistic is the way in which the characters in "Spooks" regularly act outside the law in pursuit of their investigations! --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
MI5 is responsible for protecting the United Kingdom against threats to national security, with October 2009 marking its centenary. Until recently it was - logically - clandestine. It now seems to have embarked on a charm offensive with its' doors permanently thrown open. How would Sir Humphrey Appleby - Yes Prime Minister - deal with this? On what basis would he sanction this book "while we cannot be told what we should not know, in the fullness of time at the appropriate junction, proportionate access to the available records will be rigorously considered". In one episode Appleby had to deal with M15, a former head had been a Russian spy discovering that "one of us" was "one of them!" We all have wondered how much was fact, what was fiction?

This book will not tell you, it is a serious study not an expose, its contents selective and well ordered. It requires stamina, a heavy book (by weight and content), 1,000 pages and with it's stern black dustcover not unlike an official government report. It claims to be the first time any of the worlds leading intelligence or security services has "opened its archives to an independent historian." The author is a Cambridge academic and his role as an independent and objective historian made much off. But as it says in the subtitle, this is the "authorised biography" of MI5. I have read many books on intelligence agencies, these have been mostly dismal, much of what they do is mundane, bureaucratic, pointless, expensive, like little dogs chasing their tales it is an incestuous world spies spying on spies. Try Peter Wright "Spycatcher," far from inspirational. What Professor Andrew presents is a strategic, a political overview of MI5 rather than a description of tactical / operational methods.
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Format: Hardcover
I was taught by Prof Andrew at Cambridge University in 2002-3. I recall in one lecture he passed around photocopies of the British government's newly published dossier on Iraq's WMDs. I can remember him saying "You can be certain that if the Joint Intelligence Committee has put this information into the public domain they will be absolutely sure of it". He doesn't seem to have learned.

This book contains huge amounts of information which will be very useful, but it is underpinned by Prof Andrew's faith in the propriety of British intelligence officers. MI5 chose Prof Andrew to write this book because it already knew where his sympathies lie (it is an intelligence agency after all). So that's what you get.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
After a couple of chapters I can see that this book is well written and erudite. It's 1100 pages it going to take a long time to read but I am going to finish it.

It's not a spy story but a history book. The author, to be given so much access must have been thought to be "on side" but he hasn't written a hagiography.

For example, to get this review started I dipped in to see if it had anything to say about the Cambridge spies. It did. It seems that the establishment was so focused towards Germany that is was unable to look elsewhere, the information giving all the clues (including their membership of a Communist society at Cambridge) just wasn't even noticed. Which seems to explain why there were several junior officials that were also spying for the Soviets. The problem was compounded by a document security marking system wasn't much cop. The book reports the general weakness of this aspect of the service up to 1971 until there was a mass expulsion of Soviet Embassy staff.

The author also discusses how the hardest challenge was to get clearance to publish information that affected other government departments - I'd love to know who he was talking about when he wrote "One significant excision as a result of these requirements [relating to the Wilson years] is, I believe, hard to justify" - which translated into English would probably be unprintable. He hasn't taken it lying down, as he then calls upon the relevant Government committee to (in effect) allow him to print a corrigendum.

There's a lot there up to and including a discussion of the terrorism attacks in London and Glasgow. I'm looking forward to finishing reading an extra dimension informing 20th century history.
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Format: Hardcover
Christopher Andrew is a respected UK historian who has witten widely about the UK intelligence services. He is the only historian whom the Spooks would let near their offical archives - and, even, then, he was not granted total access.

This is fine, so far as it goes. But as reviews of the book in "Private Eye" magazine, and in letters to the London "Times" newspaper have pointed out, there is a price to be paid for such access: you cannot write a fully independent account of the Security Service whilst at the same time be chummy with those same services. Andrew's closeness to the Spooks, whilst allowing him access to a wealth of sensitive material, has at the same time compromised his independence and objectivity. The reviews of the books have pointed out massive gaps in the MI5 story which no fully independent researcher would have allowed to have gone unchallenged and unacknowledged.

That said, the book is the best and fullest account of the Security Service to date. But, given the above caveat, it should be read with caution.
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