Summary and book reviews of A Spy Among Friends by Ben Macintyre

A Spy Among Friends

Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal

by Ben Macintyre

A Spy Among Friends by Ben Macintyre X
A Spy Among Friends by Ben Macintyre
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2014, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2015, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

Book Summary

Master storyteller Ben Macintyre's most ambitious work to date brings to life the twentieth century's greatest spy story.

Kim Philby was the greatest spy in history, a brilliant and charming man who rose to head Britain's counterintelligence against the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War - while he was secretly working for the enemy. And nobody thought he knew Philby like Nicholas Elliott, Philby's best friend and fellow officer in MI6. The two men had gone to the same schools, belonged to the same exclusive clubs, grown close through the crucible of wartime intelligence work and long nights of drink and revelry. It was madness for one to think the other might be a communist spy, bent on subverting Western values and the power of the free world.

But Philby was secretly betraying his friend. Every word Elliott breathed to Philby was transmitted back to Moscow - and not just Elliott's words, for in America, Philby had made another powerful friend: James Jesus Angleton, the crafty, paranoid head of CIA counterintelligence. Angleton's and Elliott's unwitting disclosures helped Philby sink almost every important Anglo-American spy operation for twenty years, leading countless operatives to their doom. Even as the web of suspicion closed around him, and Philby was driven to greater lies to protect his cover, his two friends never abandoned him - until it was too late. The stunning truth of his betrayal would have devastating consequences on the two men who thought they knew him best, and on the intelligence services he left crippled in his wake.

Told with heart-pounding suspense and keen psychological insight, and based on personal papers and never-before-seen British intelligence files, A Spy Among Friends is Ben Macintyre's best book yet, a high-water mark in Cold War history telling.

Friends: noun, general slang for members of an intelligence service; specifically British slang for members of the Secret Intelligence Service [or MI6].

—INTERNATIONAL SPY MUSEUM

If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friends, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country. Such a choice may scandalize the modern reader, and he may stretch out his patriotic hand to the telephone at once and ring up the police. It would not have shocked Dante, though. Dante places Brutus and Cassius in the lowest circle of Hell because they had chosen to betray their friend Julius Caesar rather than their country Rome.

—E. M. FORSTER, 1938

Preface

There is a voluminous literature on Kim Philby, including the invaluable pioneering work of writers such as Patrick Seale, Phillip Knightley, Tom Bower, Anthony Cave Brown, and Genrikh Borovik. But to many readers Philby remains opaque, like the cold war itself, often alluded to but little understood. Moreover, in ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The retelling of Philby's activities is so entertaining that I had to keep reminding myself I was reading a work of non-fiction and not the latest John Le Carré thriller (who, incidentally, knew the parties involved in the Philby affair and wrote an afterword). The understanding MacIntyre displays of the British intelligence community gained through his many years researching the subject adds a layer of insight that kept me riveted...continued

Full Review (673 words).

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(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

The Spectator (UK)
Ben Macintyre has written an engaging book on a tantalising and ultimately tragic subject. If it starts as a study of friendship, it ends as an indictment.

The Times (UK)
Macintyre's focus on friendship brings an intimacy to this book that is missing from the cardboard stereotypes that populate spy novels and conventional espionage histories…I'm not a lover of spy novels, yet I adored this book.

The Guardian (UK)
Macintyre writes with the diligence and insight of a journalist, and the panache of a born storyteller, concentrating on Philby's friendship with and betrayal of Elliott and of Angleton, his pathetically dedicated admirer at the top of the CIA.

The Observer (UK)
A Spy Among Friends, a classic spookfest, is also a brilliant reconciliation of history and entertainment.

The Mail on Sunday
Other books on Philby may have left one with a feeling of grudging respect, but A Spy Among Friends draws out his icy cold heart…This book consists of 300 pages; I would have been happy had it been three times as long.

The Daily Mail (UK)
To read A Spy Among Friends is a bit like climbing aboard a runaway train in terms of speed and excitement – except that Macintyre knows exactly where he is going and is in total control of his material.

The Daily Express (UK)
Philby's story has been told many times before...but never in such exhaustive detail and with such panache as in Ben MacIntyre's brilliant, compulsive A Spy Among Friends.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Entertaining and lively, Macintyre's account makes the best fictional thrillers seem tame.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Gripping and as well-crafted as an episode of Smiley's People, full of cynical inevitability, secrets, lashings of whiskey and corpses.

Author Blurb David Grann, New York Times bestselling author of The Lost City of Z
Ben Macintyre has a knack for finding the most fascinating storylines in history. He has done it again, with this spellbinding tale of espionage, friendship, and betrayal. Written with an historian’s fidelity to fact and a novelist’s eye for character, A Spy Among Friends is one terrific book.

Reader Reviews

malik ahmed

A Spy Among Friends
It is excellent book

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Beyond the Book

From Spy to Author

Several men have worked for the British Intelligence services and have gone on to have successful writing careers.

John Michael Ward Bingham John Michael Ward Bingham, 7th Baron Clanmorris (aka Michael Ward) (1908-1988) was the author of 17 thrillers, detective and spy novels between 1952 and 1982. He was born in Haywards Heath, Sussex, and educated at Cheltenham College before beginning a career as a journalist. It is rumored that during WWII he was on a train when he overheard people talking in German and taking notes on possible munition factories. Pretending to be German, he spoke with them, obtained their names and places of residence and passed the information on to a friend in Intelligence. MI5 recruited him a short time later and he remained a member of...

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