qatsi (qatsi) wrote,

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Book Review: A Spy Among Friends - Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal, by Ben Macintyre
I was given this book as a New Year present, but at the time I was reading Le Carré's Smiley versus Karla trilogy, so I put this aside for later. It's proven to be a surprisingly readable and entertaining book. As a well-known subject, I suppose the author has to seek some new perspective (although he makes it clear in the foreword that he does not anticipate this is the "last word" on Philby), and interestingly he has chosen perhaps a strand that reflects on Le Carré's fictional duo of Haydon and Prideaux, by writing on Philby's career-long friendship with another spy, Nicholas Elliott. So, although the book does discuss Burgess, Maclean and Blunt, they are only part of the story; and instead we learn also of Elliott's career from the 1930s, running wartime and post-war networks across Europe. Among an array of characters in or around the prototype SOE, there's a mention of the splendidly-named Lieutenant-Colonel David de Crespigny Smiley. But of course all the derring-do is rather flattened, particularly in the early post-war years, by Philby passing on information to Moscow. Suspected by MI5 after the Burgess and Maclean episode, Philby was put out to grass, but only jumped in 1963 when the evidence from Soviet defectors began to mount again. With hindsight the case seems obvious, but MI6 ran somewhat as a club and was blind to the evidence, possibly in some cases out of career self-interest.
Tags: books, europe, history
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