The Greatest Traitor: The Secret Lives of Agent George Blake Paperback – 15 Mar 2014
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‘A gripping portrait of one of the Cold War’s most devastating double agents. A real page-turner.’(Caroline Jowett Daily Express)
'One of the most argued-over spy stories of the 20th century is brought thrillingly to life by Roger Hermiston, who avoids the trap of painting his anti-hero only in black and white. Blake was a traitor but also a diligent soldier; he received a 42-year sentence in a trial whose evidence could not be reported. His escape from prison - in a way that would be farcical in any other context - created a kind of legend. At every turn the gripping writing reminds you of a world of spies and betrayal that was so much a part of life in post-war Europe. It makes for a brilliant read: Roger is a brilliant researcher and writer of this painful, colourful chapter in our history; and writes in a way so objective and unslanted that the reader is challenged to decide what to make of his subject. Superb from start to finish.'(Jeremy Vine)
'Thrillingly described'(Choice Magazine - Paperback Book of the Month)
‘Hermiston’s book tells Blake’s backstory in fascinating detail.’(Simon Heffer New Statesman)
'Hermiston’s account is unlikely to be bettered... He makes good use of hitherto undisclosed material and seeks not only to describe but to understand, surely the biographical holy grail.'(Alan Judd Spectator)
***** ‘Hermiston offers a fascinating account of a life in which communism was the only constant. The jailbreak episode is a masterpiece of narrative tension.’(Daily Express)
‘The story of Blake’s arrest, confession, sentencing, imprisonment and escape suggests that Roger Hermiston should be writing spy novels. It is gripping in its detail. Even more appealing is Hermiston’s reluctance to sit in judgement on Blake. As he points out, Blake was not brought up in this country and genuinely saw parallels between his own religious beliefs and Communism. As Blake himself pointed out: “The real spies are those who are not paid and do it for conviction”.’(Scotsman)
'An excellent book that reads more like a spy thriller than a biography'(Tribune)
‘Hats off to Roger Hermiston for bringing to life the exploits of this Second World War resistance fighter turned Soviet agent. Hermiston spins a yarn of high adventure, of a life ennobled by wartime valour only to be laid low by the twisted belief in the means justifying the end, even if this meant betrayal of one’s own country.’(Military History Monthly)
'The bones of Blake’s story are well known. Hermiston’s account, however, adds well-researched details which bring it to life. The result is a book as riveting and tightly written as a John le Carré novel.'(Michael Randle Camden New Journal)
'An enjoyable romp through the life of George Blake, MI6’s deadliest traitor. Roger Hermiston has produced an enjoyable account of the life and works of a creepily amoral man who still betrays an astonishing ability to duck the consequences of his crimes.’(Stephen Robinson Sunday Times)
‘Eastern Europe was riddled with spies throughout the 1950s, but no one on either side amassed such a wealth of information to pass on to the KGB as the double agent, Blake. For decades, Blake had run rings round Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service. How did he get away with it; and for so long? The Greatest Traitor and Britain’s mostly closely guarded criminal very nearly had to serve the longest prison sentence (42 years) ever awarded. George Blake’s audacious plan to escape to freedom behind the Iron Curtain by scaling the walls of Wormwood Scrubs came within an ace of discovery. His escape from Wormwood Scrubs in 1966 is thrillingly related by Roger Hermiston.'(Christopher Hudson Daily Mail)
About the Author
ROGER HERMISTON is a journalist and was assistant editor on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme from 1998-2010. It was there that he first encountered George Blake, when editing an interview with the former spy in 1999. His first book, Clough and Revie, was an acclaimed dual biography of two of English football's most famous and controversial managers.
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Top Customer Reviews
Overall, a really enjoyable account of an amazing life, and one that is still being lived. It would be fascinating to know what Blake himself, still alive in Moscow, would make of this excellent book.
If you know anything at all about Blake then this treads a well-worn path that reveals little new and doesn't have any great depth of research. We have read the majority of it elsewhere, which is okay, though it is easy to spot the sources, but there really should have been more. Blake's period in MI6 is pretty thin and doesn't take into account some of the Soviet material (good on Korea) and the chunk on the escape from prison is too long. But overall an enjoyable read.
I say “exciting” because the book often reads like an adventure story or thriller. An idea of this is conveyed by some of the chapter headings: Resistance; Flight to England; Secret Intelligence Service; Captive in Korea; Death March; Secrets of the Tunnel; Berlin; The Unmasking; Prison; Breakout.
What makes Blake interesting is that, like Kim Philby, he was motivated by political principles. He never took a penny from the KGB. He genuinely believed that by spying for the USSR he was advancing the cause of a fairer and more peaceful world. He could see that capitalism was a system based on exploitation, a system which kept dragging the world into economic crisis and war, and a system which had given birth to the monstrosity of fascism. (We see similar developments today.)
But what Hermiston does not discuss is the unfortunate fact that the Russian state that Blake and Philby decided to serve had moved a long way from genuine Marxism. The 1917 Russian Revolution, led by Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolsheviks, had been a genuine workers’ revolution, with working people exercising power through the “soviets” (elected workers’ councils). But by the late 1920s the gains and democracy of the revolution had been destroyed by Stalin and the bureaucratic ruling class that had usurped power and turned Russia into a state capitalist tyranny.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
a superbly written story of the famous British spy who still continues to believe that socialism is the answer to all our woes!Published 8 months ago by Sykes
I thoroughly enjoyed this account of George Blake's life. I had never heard of him and I was totally fascinated with his story. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Noreen Murray
Evan though I remembered the ending I was interested in the background politics. The pace of the book was just right for mePublished 9 months ago by mary Laker
brilliant insight into the life of a complicated man. So many twists and turns to his story, yet making us believe he was not a traitor at heart. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Sarah Fell
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