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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)
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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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.
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