Top positive review
4 people found this helpful
A really good insightful book.
on 7 March 2017
I'm a bit of a fan of Ben Macintyre and have read quite a few of his factual books dealing with various historical issues related to war and spies.
This is a good example and deals with the most famous spy, yet revealed, in MI6. What struck me straight away was how Philby and his best friend Elliot were recruited into the intelligence services by the old boy network of the 'elite' assuming 'our sort of people' could do no wrong so didn't need vetting or screening. It's a theme that Macintyre returns to frequently and makes me feel that these clubbable snooty people got the betrayal they, though not the country, deserved. Philby betrayed secrets to the Soviets for years having been a committed communist since his university days, his betrayals cost the lives of 100s of agents at the hands of the KGB. Even when he was suspected of being a double agent the reluctance of his bosses and colleagues to believe it simply because of the "But he's one of us" mind set is staggering. After eventually being sacked (but NOT punished) with a golden handshake he was later reemployed at the instigation of his best friend and fellow spook Elliot who loyally (personally or ideologically?) refused to accept his guilt until the evidence was too overwhelming even for this besotted idiot to ignore. Macintyre tells the story in an easy to read accessible way that is far away from the dry histories (heavily redacted) that are usually written on this and similar subjects. Philby was, according to his contemporaries, a man of huge charm who could make and keep friends easily and Macintyre emphasizes this frequently. I suspect this is an excuse made by people, in hindsight and as an attempt to save face, who were taken in by Philby.I watched a BBC dramatization of this book on Netflix, an interview was shown given by Philby to deny his betrayal to the assembled press this showed a totally charmless and slightly seedy sweaty man who would not have convinced any modern journalist for a moment. It succeeded because of the mindset prevalent at the time that the 'officer class' could not be doubted by the common man and must be deferred to.
Do read this book and reach your own conclusions as to whether he got away with his betrayals with the connivance of his colleagues or simply because they were, to a man, idiots who simply closed ranks to support one of their own and to protect their own jobs and self esteem.
As you may have realized the book raised as many questions as it answered for me and this is all too the good.