Monday, August 11, 2014

Book Review: A Spy Among Friends

This book is a bit of a slow-starter. The cast of characters is immense and it feels like you're introduced to about a cast of 300 in the first thirty pages (yes, I am exaggerating for effect).

That said, it would be difficult to make the story of Harold "Kim" Philby and the Cambridge Five spy ring boring. Macintyre is a strong writer and he handles this material with ease.

Unlike previous Macintyre books I've read (Agent Zigzag and Operation Mincemeat, among others), this book contains less humor. The humor is there, in places, but it's altogether a more serious work because the cost of Philby's betrayal was high, both in human lives and politically.

This work deals primarily (though not exclusively) with the relationship between Philby and Nicholas Elliott, a fellow MI6 officer. Elliott would have considered himself one of Philby's best friends and yet he was completely surprised by Philby's duplicity.

Philby's betrayal of his family, his country, and his friends is still hard to understand. Macintyre does as good a job as anyone at trying to unravel the tangled web woven by this one difficult, yet apparently charming, man. Philby's dedication to communism seems abrupt and yet he remained dedicated to the Soviet Union, despite the passing of time and all the evidence of the harm he was doing. With some items still classified by MI5, MI5, The CIA and the FBI (not to mention files held in the Kremlin), one suspects there will continue to be books published about Philby for some time to come.

Recommended for: history buffs, anyone who has seen "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," or similar stories. Just remember that this one, unlike a James Bond movie, is true.

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I received a copy of this book for review from Blogging for Books, opinions are my own.
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