Summary and book reviews of The Spy and the Traitor by Ben Macintyre

The Spy and the Traitor

The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War

by Ben Macintyre

The Spy and the Traitor by Ben Macintyre X
The Spy and the Traitor by Ben Macintyre
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  • Published:
    Sep 2018, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jamie Chornoby

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About this Book

Book Summary

The celebrated author of Double Cross and Rogue Heroes returns with his greatest spy story yet, a thrilling Americans-era tale of Oleg Gordievsky, the Russian whose secret work helped hasten the end of the Cold War.

If anyone could be considered a Russian counterpart to the infamous British double-agent Kim Philby, it was Oleg Gordievsky. The son of two KGB agents and the product of the best Soviet institutions, the savvy, sophisticated Gordievsky grew to see his nation's communism as both criminal and philistine. He took his first posting for Russian intelligence in 1968 and eventually became the Soviet Union's top man in London, but from 1973 on he was secretly working for MI6. For nearly a decade, as the Cold War reached its twilight, Gordievsky helped the West turn the tables on the KGB, exposing Russian spies and helping to foil countless intelligence plots, as the Soviet leadership grew increasingly paranoid at the United States's nuclear first-strike capabilities and brought the world closer to the brink of war. Desperate to keep the circle of trust close, MI6 never revealed Gordievsky's name to its counterparts in the CIA, which in turn grew obsessed with figuring out the identity of Britain's obviously top-level source. Their obsession ultimately doomed Gordievsky: the CIA officer assigned to identify him was none other than Aldrich Ames, the man who would become infamous for secretly spying for the Soviets. 

Unfolding the three-way gamesmanship between America, Britain, and the Soviet Union, and culminating in the gripping cinematic beat-by-beat of Gordievsky's nail-biting escape from Moscow in 1985, Ben Macintyre's latest may be his best yet. Like the greatest novels of John le Carré, it brings readers deep into a world of treachery and betrayal, where the lines bleed between the personal and the professional, and one man's hatred of communism had the power to change the future of nations.

Chapter 1
The KGB

Oleg Gordievsky was born into the KGB: shaped by it, loved by it, twisted, damaged, and very nearly destroyed by it. The Soviet spy service was in his heart and in his blood. His father worked for the intelligence service all his life, and wore his KGB uniform every day, including weekends. The Gordievskys lived amid the spy fraternity in a designated apartment block, ate special food reserved for officers, and spent their free time socializing with other spy families. Gordievsky was a child of the KGB.

The KGB—the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti, or committee of state security—was the most complex and far-reaching intelligence agency ever created. The direct successor of Stalin's spy network, it combined the roles of foreign- and domestic-intelligence gathering, internal security enforcement, and state police. Oppressive, mysterious, and ubiquitous, the KGB penetrated and controlled every aspect of Soviet life. It rooted out internal dissent, ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Spy stories are seldom conveyed with such accuracy and depth. The Spy and the Traitor might be appealing to readers with an interest in nonfiction books about politics and international affairs, as well as those who enjoy thrillers and crime fiction.   (Reviewed by Jamie Chornoby).

Full Review Members Only (756 words).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In a feat of real authorial dexterity, Macintyre accurately portrays the long-game banality of spycraft - the lead time and persistence in planning - with such clarity and propulsive verve that the book often feels like a thriller...Macintyre has produced a timely and insightful page-turner.

Library Journal
Starred Review. Fans of narrative nonfiction, the Cold War, spy stories, foreign relations among the United States, England, and Russia, and Macintyre's previous works will greatly enjoy this incredible true account.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Oddly timely, given the return of Russian spying to the front pages, and a first-rate study of the mechanics and psychology of espionage.

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Beyond the Book

The Rise and Aftereffects of Communism in the Soviet Union

Communist propaganda poster depicting a capitalist attempting to bribe a Soviet worker while holding a bayonetThe Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War by Ben Macintyre untangles the case of Soviet Union/KGB agent turned British/MI6 spy, Oleg Gordievsky. However, little attention is given to why and how The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was formed and to what extent its realities aligned with the communist framework envisaged by its founders.

Going into the 20th century, Russia struggled with extreme inequality under a Tsarist autocracy. A primarily agricultural nation, industrialization slowly trickled into Russia in the late 19th century, which furthered class conflict. In this society, social structures were fixed and rigid, with a small ruling/upper class and teeming underclass of serfs. Void of ...

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