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on 21 December 2013
Review of the Kindle version

Can this book be described as interesting? Definitely! "Truth is stranger than fiction" may be a cliche but it is a wholly attributable truism here. Its pages unleash a tsunami of plots, sub-plots, counter-plots, their myriads of characters replete with far from "normal" personalities - from the cricket-bat straight to the mind-boggling treacherous, slyly devious, and outlandishly dodgy.

That human beings can indulge in wheeling and dealing, double and triple crossing, cunning, trickery, and legerdemain - either as a lifelong habit or as a passing whim - at times beggars belief. For all their stunning subterfuge and chicanery, these individuals are often painted as being "quite ordinary" - which perhaps challenges the mental model of us lesser mortals then.

Putting the content together and making sense of it, however, at times resembles an exercise in lesser tradecraft - piecing together the loose fragments of story, anecdote, "official" versions, fairy tales, and apocrypha into a seamless picture becomes an exercise in patience, purpose, and sheer pertinacity.

Why?

Well, the one feature missing from the narrative is any hint or inkling of chapter structure. Each chapter is as dimly-lit as the post-war Vienna where the reader enters Mr Corera's murky world. There are no route maps, no landmarks, no signposts, and, unlike Vienna, definitely no lampposts. The terrain is completely featureless, devoid of focal point. The author has created an apparently never-ending script leading the reader from adventure to misadventure, with forays off right and off left into calamity and the occasional triumph.

In each chapter, you start at the beginning and work through a seemingly limitless series of tales. Like the spies in the text, you hope to find some connecting bridges (or at least doors) from one scenario to the next. If you stop to take stock (or come up for air) - you will be forced to retrace some of your steps to remind you how you arrived at your current unknown location.

Perhaps this is Mr Corera's intention - if it is difficult for a spy to make sense of a narrative then likewise for the humble reader. Perhaps spies are trained (well sometimes) to deal with tedium - unfortunately "average reader" is not. A few headings and sub-headings would not go amiss - especially in Chapter Ten.

Ah! Chapter Ten! Therein lies a tale! If ever you thought that politicians were a bunch of unprincipled, unethical, self-promoting, aggrandising thrill-seekers - the final chapter will remove any doubt. If ever you had doubts about going to war in Iraq or into just one of the many wars in Afghanistan, your unease and lack of certainty will be removed.

There is a quote in an earlier chapter that "...absolute morality, absolute ethics just does not exist in affairs of the state". As ordinary citizens, perhaps this is our mistake when judging politicians. However it is a very uncomfortable thought that "one law for them and one law for us" not only exists but is actively pursued as a matter of policy.

It's a cracking book. But, editors, please put in a few indicators and and switch on the lights from time to time!
5 people found this helpful
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on 1 January 2013
This book I found as thrilling as any Le Carre spy novel - and that author as a once-agent, with Graham Greene and others, get several mentions - and it gets right to the core of the British Intelligence services. It seems to indicate that the Cambridge Five and other old school tie disasters in fact led to a toughening and professionalism that would make MI6 (and most likely its sister service MI5) the best there is - comparative to resources - or bangs for bucks - in the world today.
Wonderful look behind the scenes for all spy buffs.
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on 17 June 2013
A well researched and well-written insight into the British secret service. All those events that made the news over the last 50 years or so are revealed as they really were, which is fascinating. I haven't quite finished it - am now on the Iraq war, and the WMDs. I have understood a great deal more about the decisions to go to war, and what made the leaders of the nations so determined to topple Saddam Hussein.
At least one of the people whose life story is told, was known to me. I am proud to have known them.
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on 9 July 2015
Corera has a significant grasp of detail that gives a clear view of well known events from the past 50 years or so. For example the struggle for African influence by MI6 during the Congo power struggles throws a stark illumination on the communism vs capitalism of the time. Hugely educational and an enjoyable read.
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on 18 December 2013
After reading over two dozen books on this and related topics I have to say this is in the top five for style and the top three for content but the number one spot for cohesive and intelligent writing. My advice is to hope to read this one first.
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on 13 November 2013
Written by a BBC correspondant it was very tightly put together. Very informative and gripping. Topical and entertaining a really well written book that kept one's interest to the last page! Recommended!
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on 22 January 2015
A well written book on SIS i look forward to reading any others this author should write in the future if they are like this one
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on 10 July 2013
Am reliably told that this book is a real eye opener for anyone interested in the world of spies. The offspring was very impressed, trouble is i now have to buy more similar books!
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on 19 August 2013
Gordon Corera's history of MI6 is an engaging introduction and overview to the evolution of the Service post-1949. I particularly enjoyed the stories of double agents, the characteristics and the descriptions of the motivations they had (not what you might think). I would recommend the book for any novice, who like me wishes to gain an insight into MI6's history as a precursor to reading academic studies such as Christopher Andrews official history.
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on 5 June 2018
made very good gift.
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