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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.
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on 13 July 2017
This is the best book I have read in recent times, the descriptions of the Cambridge spies was fascinating and the relationships between them was not as I thought but more distant. The way in which Kim Philby rationalised the terrible effects of his espionage made him seem so cold but I suppose it is not unlike the bomber who spreads destruction from an aeroplane and does not see his victims. The drinking habits of the spies makes me wonder how they kept hidden and how they survived although Burgess succombed to liver disease. The focus on the individuals and relationships rather than on the political background but the old boy network which enabled them to enter into espionage and protect them from detection would not be emulated today (I hope?)
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on 4 June 2017
This is not another dull historical treatise on cold war espionage or an examination of the minutiae of cold war secrets, as many books on this period have been. By focusing on the intimacy of Philby's relationships with colleagues within MI6, MI5 & The CIA, MacIntyre instead shows us an aspect of spying which is often overlooked - those who are really good at it are usually also very likeable and attractive people. We may not always see it, but that's why we like a good spy story. Well written, gentle book, with a hint of steel - the reader is taken in by Philby's charms, just as Elliot and Angleton were: but MacIntyre doesn't let you forget how many lives Philby's mendacity cost. A worthy addition to the Cambridge Spies canon.
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on 2 July 2014
Although I was aware of the Cambridge spy ring, this is the first detailed account I have read. The facts alone would make it interesting, but in the hands of such an accomplished writer, it is totally enthralling. The book is mainly about Kim Philby, but there is a huge amount of information about spying in general - although the story always comes back to Philby and the friends whose loyalty he so ruthlessly exploited.

Wisely, Macintyre doesn't delve too deeply into Philby's motivation. He simply describes his behaviour (and where possible, quotes directly from him) and allows the readers to form their own judgement. However, he is brilliant at explaining how Philby got away with it for so long. Doubtless he was clever, and luck played a part too, but close friendships arising from a shared background made it impossible for most of his colleagues to suspect him.

I knew nothing of Philby's unmasking or the events that followed and I found Macintyre's account as gripping as the best spy novels. However, if this had been the plot of a novel it would have seemed too far-fetched. With the wisdom of hindsight, it seems obvious that Philby was guilty, but his membership of the 'old boy network' gave him an aura of innocence that men of a similar background simply could not penetrate.
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on 12 January 2016
A thoroughly enjoyable and fascinating read. A quite astonishing story and one which I am so pleased to have finally read. Though I remain bemused and frankly aghast the establishment allowed such events to take place, and even worse that Philby was essentially 'encouraged(?)' to 'escape' & subsequently live out his life in luxury in Moscow; depressed or not. Though depressed he certainly deserved to have been, given the intolerable loss of life he was unquestionably responsible for, and for which his ignorance,arrogance and deluded pride ensured he never displayed remorse for. A highly recommended read about a repulsive man - indeed men!
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on 28 March 2017
Seemingly new data was available to be used by the author, Ben Macintyre. It becomes clear that Philby was not simply two-faced, but having
a hidden belief in Communism together with no understanding of why and how Britain fought a war. The book shows how Philby was able to
use his above-average skills combined with low cunning to work against his native country. He is shown to have been a leader of others.
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on 2 June 2016
Proving it's who you know not what you know. Well scripted along with character assessment made you wanting to learn more.
The way the author succeeded in making you believe that everyone who was somebody knew each other.
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on 17 June 2017
Yet another excellent book from Ben Macintyre. He engrosses the reader into this secret world making you feel as though you are part of the story.
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on 8 March 2017
A 'hard to put down' book.
The detailed description of friendships makes you feel the betrayal of them even more acutely and empathise with Elliott.
I felt that there were a couple of false endings in the book, a bit like false summits but this only served to add to the mountain of deceit and left me, the reader, aghast at the nerve, coldness & complexity of Philby.
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on 4 June 2017
I have long thought that the most dangerous enemy is the one you don't know about, and Ben Macintyre illustrates this admirably with his well researched and well written book. It deserves to be shelved next to Machiavelli's " The Prince".
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