- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd (27 Mar. 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0715647431
- ISBN-13: 978-0715647431
- Product Dimensions: 15.5 x 1.9 x 19.6 cm
- Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 672,647 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Young Philby Paperback – 27 Mar 2014
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An intriguing and surprisingly plausible new interpretation of what Philby was really up to and who he was working for. A fine book --Daily Mail
Littell combines deep knowledge of spycraft with jovial levity --Guardian
Distinguished writer though Littell is, can he say anything new about Philby or take a new approach to him? The answer to both questions, is yes --Independent
About the Author
Robert Littell is the author of eighteen novels, including the forthcoming A Nasty Piece of Work. He has been hailed as The best American spy writer currently at work (Daily Telegraph), and he has been awarded both the CWA Gold Dagger (for his debut, The Defection of AJ Lewinter) and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for his fiction. His novel The Company was a New York Times bestseller and was adapted into a television miniseries in 2007, produced by Ridley Scott. He lives in France.
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Top Customer Reviews
Set out as a series of testimonials, letters, documents and the like, we see the rise of Kim Philby from multiple viewpoints. We see the thoughts of his KGB recruiters, Moscow Centre, Guy Burgess, MI6 and former lovers. We even, briefly, have Philby's own perspective - frustratingly on his experience as a journalist viewing the Maginot line rather than offering a definitive statement of allegiance. And without giving anything away, the life of a double agent is necessarily complex and allegiance is not a straightforward question. But, as Philby was advised by his first handler, when trying to deceive, stick as closely as possible to the truth.
At times, it is hard to remember that Robert Littell is writing fiction rather than fact. The details feel authentic, the austerity and drudgery of spying feels real. There is a claim on the cover that Littell is the American John Le Carre - and the comparison is apt. Both writers focus as much on the bureaucracy of espionage as on the thrill of the chase. However, and I could be wrong, I don't recall Le Carre using quite such an entertaining cameo of Josef Stalin.
If there are a couple of gripes, it is that the novel is quite short and has many characters and locations. The inevitable casualty of this is characterisation. In the urge to develop Philby as a character, the supporting cast feel somewhat cardboard, leading Philby to have cardboard relationships with them. We never really get a feel for what makes Philby tick, although arguably the novel's main point is that the real Philby was unknowable.Read more ›
Similarly, this is one of those books which hoodwinks the reader as to its ultimate destination. For the first half I spent most of the time admiring the historical detail and the fast-change cast of characters, who parade onto the stage, tell their snapshot of the story and then exit the limelight. Philby himself is always at the centre of the story but – once again, entirely appropriately for a spy – he’s also always slightly out of focus. Each interpretation of his early career adds more colour to the picture but very little clarity.
The brilliance of this book is that none of this is told in the stuffy tones of a history textbook. Instead the plot romps along with bawdy eccentricity, indulging in all sorts of explicit extra-curricular activity with a huge dash of story-telling panache. Every episode of Philby’s life adds complexity and uncertainty to the overall story, veering from gleeful subversion to sexual indulgence to sinister menace as the pages turn. Even though we know the historical facts, Littell still creates an atmosphere of tense uncertainty; a genuine cliff-hanger moment where all could be undone by the whim of a dictator.Read more ›
Young Philby not only has fascinating subject matter and an authoritative grasp of European history from socialist uprisings in Vienna, through the Spanish Civil War to the rise of Hitlerism and Stalinism, but also shows outstanding narrative technique as Philby's early life is described through the eyes of around a dozen different narrators. This is a short, sharp historical thriller embedded in historical fact, without an ounce of surplus fat on it!
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Spoiler alert – like all my reviews, this one presumes you have already read the novel.
There's always a certain frisson involved in reading alternate history, or any... Read more
Grand look at Young Philby... I can't make out if this is terribly well-researched fact (almost a biography) or one of Littells wonderful fictions. Read morePublished 14 months ago by movedbymortensen
As a Philby fan, I liked the premise but didn't actually believe it. Facts were consistent with what is really known. It read well to me.Published on 18 Jun. 2015 by Factotum
I enjoyed this enormously. I knew Kim Philby's 'official' story - who doesn't - but what really intrigued me here is that Mr Littell's version could be the truth just as easily as... Read morePublished on 8 Aug. 2014 by Rosemary
I think that Robert Littell is one of the greatest fiction writers on the planet ranking alongside John Le Carre, and this book is a testimony to thatPublished on 14 May 2014 by A. Miller
Conspiracy theories abound, but this one I enjoyed and almost wished to believe in the conclusion. We shall never know.Published on 1 April 2013 by DRFangen
Great idea & seems hugely plausible when you read the background. Enjoyed it all. Beautifully written & crafted. Made you feel sorry for Philby - quite a feat!Published on 12 Feb. 2013 by kindlegirl