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MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service 1909-1949 Hardcover – 21 Sep 2010

3.9 out of 5 stars 56 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 832 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; First edition edition (21 Sept. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747591830
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747591832
  • Product Dimensions: 16.6 x 7.1 x 24.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 211,570 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


'Judicious and fluently written history...a fascinating insight into a hidden world, an impressive work of scholarship with terrific photos' --Andrew Lownie, Sunday Telegraph, 26/09/10

`A very fine book...full of episode and personality' --Peter Hennessy, Daily Telegraph, 25/09/10

'A magisterial account of the two wars in particular, viewed via the prism of secret intelligence. Winningly, it also entertains.' --Mark Sellek, Independent on Sunday, 26/09/10

`Jeffery's monograph is extremely valuable... a realistic picture of a splendid British institution' --Oleg Gordievsky, The Times, 25/09/10

`Fascinating...the book is full of examples of the ingenuity and courage shown by all ranks.'
--Douglas Hurd, Guardian, 02/10/10

Book Description

The first - and only - history of the Secret Intelligence Service,
written with full and unrestricted access to the closed archives of the
Service for the period 1909-1949.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This could be entitled "an administrative history of SIS". The cover blurb compares it to the script for a Bond film but nothing could be further from the truth. There are so few operational details that we learn next to nothing about what SIS actually did at agent level. There are two or three exceptions, but even those are told with no attempt at colour or detail, leaving the reader desperate to know more. The bulk of the book is about heads of station and above, tracking careers and the opening and closing of offices and stations,and SIS's relationships with other parts of government. I read this between Keith Andrew's history of MI5 and Aldrich's history of GCHQ, and both have more interest in a few pages than the whole of this book. Read only as a history of the institution and not if you want spy stories.
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Format: Paperback
If war is just the continuation of politics by other means, what is the role of a secret intelligence service, and how does it change in times of declared and undeclared war? That's the question being asked - and mostly answered - by this history of MI6 during WWI, WWII, and the Cold War against Communism, which includes the period 1919-41 as well as post-WWII.

We get here an in-depth look at the heads of the Service, and its role in peace and war: from Boche to Bolsheviks is the title of one chapter, and it might as well have titled the whole book, really, if Jeffrey was trying to write a catchy story rather than an authorised history. There are lots of interesting vignettes here, but little on what you might be looking for - the Cambridge 5, the man who never was, etc: often because this was done by organisations other than MI6. The SOE for example were a wartime sabotage force, not an intelligence service.

At times it's a little dry, but there are interesting thoughts on the need for political independence of a secret service which in turn relies on its being nonpartisan. None of this is dross, or mere noise, but if you are looking for a chronicle of wartime adventure or secret operations and assassinations revealed...alas, this is not the book for you. The cover does say, reads like the script of a Bond film, but really its mostly just the bits where Bond meets with M (itself a play on C) that this book represents.

This is a great work, but be aware what it is not before you buy it.
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Format: Hardcover
Quite apart from the content, this is a substantial book, on thick paper. What relevance is this I hear you ask? Well, this: I feel the book is just too thick - it comes in at over 800 pages including index and borders on the unmanagable. This won't be a problem for anyone who just wants to dip into the book for specific information, but if you want to read the complete story as a narrative, then the Kindle version will suit a lot better.
The book itself is well written and tells the story in an easily accessible style. It should come as no surprise that there is a huge amount of detail, and the book will add greatly to what is known about the Secret Intelligence service.
What has cost the book its fifth star though, is the simple fact that it is an "official" history and has therefore been written under the constraints imposed by MI6 and, although Professor Jeffrey was allowed unrestricted access to MI6's archives, he hasn't released all the information he could have, for example in naming agents. In the foreword MI6s policy on releasing information is set out, and should be read by everyone considering buying this book. The fact that the book is an official history also works against it in that other sources of information haven't been given the consderation they should have.
Personally I would also liked to have seen more on the pre-world war 2 side of things - well over half the book is dedicated to the last 10 years of the period it covers.
All in all though it is a worthwhile addition to the field.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Like its sister book on MI5 this is as detailed as it can be on such a subject as national security, however it is written in such a manner that it is fairly(!) easy to read. However my recommendation is not to try and read it all at once but to do it in bite-size chunks!! What does come through, as in the MI5 book, is that it is a wonder that we got any intelligence at all in the very early days where 'career' diplomats didn't think it was the done thing to spy on other people - much like those admirals who thought the use of submarines was underhand!! In view of the current fiscal problems it is interesting to note that there were money problems with financing MI6, and MI5, even back then. I have yet to finish the book but my impression so far is that the UK was very lucky to get any information at all in the early days and it was down to a very few people with the foresight to see that such an organisation was needed, both in war and in peace time. Also intriguing were the battles between the various factions to gain control of what would become MI6 - Foreign Office, Navy, Army being the main contestants - which took up a lot of time which could have been used more constructively. The book also shows where possible the courage of those actually gathering intelligence in hostile environments, but also where people were keen to sell information on their own country for cash.

A good informative read which gives some idea of what was/is involved in the gathering of intelligence.
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