The positives about this book are that it's very readable, has some entertaining anecdotes and, for anyone who is completely new to the subject, it provides a breezy overview of the British intelligence services from the end of the Second World War to the present day. The author's journalistic background means that he writes well, has interviewed some of the leading participants and references some of the key books (but very little of the Internet material).
There's decent coverage of the Cold War focusing on the well known figures of Philby and the Cambridge 5, as well as Penkovsky and Gordievsky with some interesting geographical case studies on the intelligence proxy wars in Vienna, the Congo and Afghanistan. The final chapters on the political pressure on the intelligence agencies in the run up to to the Iraq War are a very good summary based on the various reports and accounts of this. The book also weaves in a number of interesting references to writers of spy fiction who were involved in intelligence (Greene, Le Carre and Fleming).
The negatives are that it's much weaker on the 1990s which are pretty much ignored, there's little discussion of the Tomlinson and Shayler controversies for example, and there is practically no material on Northern Ireland which is a major omission given the levels of intelligence activities directed against republican and loyalist terrorism. The post Iraq material is pretty scant and there is no coverage of the Wikileaks revelations and the implications of the Internet for security organisations.
If you're a general reader looking for an exciting history of Britain's spooks, then this is well worth a read. For those wanting more academic or in-depth accounts, I suggest you look elsewhere.
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