Ben Macintyre Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Ben Macintyre

Ben Macintyre

An interview with Ben Macintyre

A Q&A with Author Ben Macintyre about A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal 

What inspired you to turn your hand to Kim Philby—greatest spy of the Cold War—and, in particular, through the lens of his closest relationships and greatest betrayals?

A Spy Among Friends was born out of a conversation with John le Carré some years ago, in which I asked him—while walking on Hampstead Heath—which was the best untold spy story of the Cold War, and he replied unhesitatingly, "The friendship between Kim Philby and Nicholas Elliott."

Did you make an effort to read other books or watch movies about Kim Philby before you wrote this book? Are there any others you'd recommend after reading A Spy Among Friends?

There are several excellent books about Kim Philby, and almost no good films. Of the straight biographies, Phillip Knightley's Philby: KGB Masterspy is probably still the best, having the benefit of several interviews with Philby before his death. Oddly, Philby has inspired more great fiction, on the page and on-screen, than good nonfiction.

Where (or how) did you conduct most of your research, and did you encounter any difficulties or roadblocks along the way?

My research was a combination of archival research, gathering material from private sources, and interviews with individuals, including some in the intelligence services. The principal roadblock is the fact that MI6 has not released its Philby files, and probably never will. MI5 [the security service], however, is much more open, and a quantity of new material relating to Philby has recently been released.

In the research you did for this book, what single fact or story most horrified you?

The sheer extent of the bloodshed Philby unleashed by betraying Operation Valuable, the inaptly named mission to insert insurgents into communist Albanihundreds were killed, and many entire families were wiped out.

Do you think Philby's betrayal had lasting effects on either the British secret services or their relationship with our own CIA?

Certainly. The intelligence relationship between London and Washington, so warm and valuable during the war, went into a sharp decline as a result of the betrayal by Philby and the other Cambridge spies: the CIA never saw MI6 (and MI6 never saw itself) in quite the same light again.

What's the most exciting thing that has happened to you as a result/part of your career as a writer?

For this book, being able to explore Kim Philby's abandoned and derelict apartment in Beirut was probably the most atmospheric moment of the research process. I stood on the balcony, pitted with bullet holes from Lebanon's civil war, from which he signaled his Soviet controller that he needed to flee. The next day, he absconded to Moscow.

What would you be doing if you weren't a writer?

I would love to think I would have made a good spy, but on reflection, having been immersed in this world for nearly eight years, I think I would be hopeless at intelligence work—an inability to keep a secret being one of my main failings. I suspect if I did not write, I would be teaching history.

What "comfort" books do you keep in order to re-read when you are in need of something really good?

When I am writing, I find that I dip back into John le Carré, who provides just the atmospheric lift and inspiration I need. For pure, unadulterated relaxation and pleasure: Wodehouse, Waugh, and William Boyd.

What's next for you?

Almost certainly, more spies. I have found that writing about real espionage offers an extraordinary backdrop for exploring all the concepts that fascinate us in fiction: loyalty, betrayal, friendship, politics, and love. The history of intelligence is opening up as never before, as more and more secret material is released into the public domain.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Books by this Author

Books by Ben Macintyre at BookBrowse
Agent Sonya jacket The Spy and the Traitor jacket A Spy Among Friends jacket Agent Zigzag jacket
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

All the books below are recommended as readalikes for Ben Macintyre but some maybe more relevant to you than others depending on which books by the author you have read and enjoyed. So look for the suggested read-alikes by title linked on the right.
How we choose readalikes

  • John Altman

    John Altman

    John Altman is a musician and freelance writer living in New York City. A graduate of Harvard, he comes from an extended family of writers, including the novelists Karen Bender, Aimee Bender, and Robert Anthony Siegel.

    In... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    A Spy Among Friends

    Try:
    A Gathering of Spies
    by John Altman

  • Scott Anderson

    Scott Anderson

    Scott Anderson is a veteran war correspondent who has reported from Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Northern Ireland, Chechnya, Sudan, Bosnia, El Salvador and many other strife-torn countries. A frequent contributor to the New York ... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    A Spy Among Friends

    Try:
    The Quiet Americans
    by Scott Anderson

We recommend 39 similar authors

View all 39 Readalikes

Non-members can see 2 results. Become a member
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more


Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: All That She Carried
    All That She Carried
    by Tiya Miles
    For Rose of Charleston, South Carolina, it was an ordinary day until it wasn't. When it turned out ...
  • Book Jacket
    Migrations
    by Charlotte McConaghy
    Migrations, Australian author Charlotte McConaghy's literary fiction debut, earned a notably high ...
  • Book Jacket: The Forest of Vanishing Stars
    The Forest of Vanishing Stars
    by Kristin Harmel
    Kristin Harmel's historical novel The Forest of Vanishing Stars was very well-received by our First ...
  • Book Jacket: African Europeans
    African Europeans
    by Olivette Otele
    The nexus of Africans and Europeans is not a recent historical development. Rather, the peoples of ...

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
All the Little Hopes
by Leah Weiss
A Southern story of friendship forged by books and bees, in the murky shadows of World War II.

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Sunset Route
    by Carrot Quinn

    A beautiful memoir about forgiveness, self-discovery, and the redemptive power of nature.

Win This Book!
Win The Debt Trap

The Debt Trap
by Josh Mitchell

"A meticulous, eye-opening history of the US student debt crisis."
—Publishers Weekly

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

A T I A Teapot

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.