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Young Philby Paperback – 27 Mar 2014

4.5 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Product details

  • 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)
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Product description

Review

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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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Young Philby is, unsurprisingly, the story of Kim Philby, Soviet double agent. But the story is surprising.

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.
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By Rowena Hoseason HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on 21 Jan. 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
Ambiguity is all-important in this absorbing insight into Kim Philby’s early activities; entirely fitting for an exploration into the intrigue of international espionage. This slim novel is narrated like a kiss-n-tell unauthorised biography, with events being revealed through the words and deeds of Philby’s contemporaries. Many of the episodes and escapades have the ring of historical verisimilitude about them… yet the whole book is one giant ‘what if?’ It all feels perfectly plausible, such is author Robert Littell’s skill at blurring the boundary between actual events and imaginary happenings.

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.
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Format: Hardcover
If the infamous traitor Kim Philby, a Soviet "mole" inside the British establishment for almost 30 years, gave a masterclass in avoiding arrest and punishment, then in Young Philby, Robert Littell gives a masterclass in writing a spy story about his early life. This will come as no surprise as Littell, often labelled "the American John Le Carre", has long been recognised as an expert in spy fiction and his magisterial fictional history of the CIA The Company: A Novel of the CIA is a classic of the genre.
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!
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Format: Hardcover
Not very long, but an informative and interesting read about the beginnings of Philby's career as a traitor, which I knew little about. The format - written as contributions from various people in Philby's life as supposed letters, diaries, memoirs etc, works well and gives variety. As another reviewer has noted, there are some anachronisms - some words which a 1930s Englishman would never have used, and some which are straightforward Americanisms. A pity because much of the dialogue and text is convincingly idiomatic. A couple of hours work by an English editor (preferably aged 50+) would have eliminated these solecisms. But overall a very good book and I am encouraged to read more of his work.
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