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The Spy and the Traitor Reviews

The Spy and the Traitor by Ben Macintyre

The Spy and the Traitor

The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War

Ben Macintyre

4.65 out of 5

8 reviews

Imprint: Viking
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publication date: 20 Sep 2018
ISBN: 9780241186657

'THE BEST TRUE SPY STORY I HAVE EVER READ' JOHN LE CARRE A thrilling Cold War story about a KGB double agent, by one of Britain's greatest historians

1 Prize for The Spy and the Traitor

Radio 4
Selection: Book of the Week

Ben Macintyre's thrilling new history tells the breath taking story of a KGB double agent operating at the height of the Cold War. Passing countless secrets to his British spymasters at M16 over the course of a decade he undermined the Soviet Union's intelligence gathering machine from deep within. Eventually, he was betrayed and what followed was a sequence of events involving ingenuity, duplicity, and fearlessness.

Reviews

4 stars out of 5
Duncan White
23 Nov 2018

"Macintyre brings depth, perspective and storytelling panache"

There are no big new revelations – most of the headline-grabbing stuff came out when Gordievsky published his autobiography Next Stop Execution back in 1995 – but Macintyre brings depth, perspective and storytelling panache... In this sense, Macintyre is doing with Gordievsky what he did with Kim Philby in A Spy Among Friends, injecting new life into an old story... The gripping account of Gordievsky's exposure, interrogation, and escape is Macintyre at his finest: multiple points of view, escalating tension, pungent detail. 
 

4 stars out of 5
Oliver Bullough
7 Oct 2018

"'Macintyre’s prose is elegant and enlivened'"

Macintyre’s prose is elegant and enlivened with occasional asides that are eminently quotable, as well as inevitable nods to the classics of the spy genre, above all John le Carré (one spy is “Our Man in Copenhagen”), but there is a key difference between the old master and Macintyre.
Le Carré’s cold war novels are full of an amoral bleakness; both sides are so worn down by the cold war that there is little if any difference between them. The Spy and the Traitor, however, is in no doubt that Gordievsky was serving a cause that was just and correct with “an adamantine, unshakable conviction that what he was doing was unequivocally right”. His decision to hand the KGB’s secrets over to Britain was a “righteous betrayal”.

  • The SpectatorBook of the Year
4 stars out of 5
6 Oct 2018

"'it has all the drama of a fictional tale and yet also conveys why a single person’s choices can make a difference'"

Spy stories, whether the stuff of fictional thrillers or, as in the case of Sergei Skripal, the real deal — often leave a question nagging. For all the tales of tradecraft and tension, double agents and drama, what difference did one person’s decision to spy really make? That is not the case with Oleg Gordievsky. Gordievsky’s story is remarkable because it has all the drama of a fictional tale and yet also conveys why a single person’s choices can make a difference.

4 stars out of 5
Frederick Forsyth
1 Oct 2018

"It takes an investigator of consummate talent and a narrator of equal skill to unearth one of these triumphs and explain it clearly. Ben Macintyre, who is both, has done exactly that. "

It takes an investigator of consummate talent and a narrator of equal skill to unearth one of these triumphs and explain it clearly. Ben Macintyre, who is both, has done exactly that. The tale concerns the second of the two Olegs, Penkovsky and Gordievsky, whose espionage against the USSR changed history by helping the West to win the Cold War...It helped that the reformist Mikhail Gorbachev was by then in charge, and he wanted more proof before arresting Gordievsky, which provided a few more days. And Margaret Thatcher was in Downing Street. On being informed of the situation, she came out from behind her desk, the baby blues snapping with anger. ‘Of course we must get him out of there,’ she told the head of MI6. ‘He’s one of us.’
So we did, but I will not reveal how. If any spy writer were to put it in a novel, it would not be believed. But, blow by blow, trick by trick, it is all in Ben Macintyre’s book.It takes an investigator of consummate talent and a narrator of equal skill to unearth one of these triumphs and explain it clearly. Ben Macintyre, who is both, has done exactly that. The tale concerns the second of the two Olegs, Penkovsky and Gordievsky, whose espionage against the USSR changed history by helping the West to win the Cold War...It helped that the reformist Mikhail Gorbachev was by then in charge, and he wanted more proof before arresting Gordievsky, which provided a few more days. And Margaret Thatcher was in Downing Street. On being informed of the situation, she came out from behind her desk, the baby blues snapping with anger. ‘Of course we must get him out of there,’ she told the head of MI6. ‘He’s one of us.’
So we did, but I will not reveal how. If any spy writer were to put it in a novel, it would not be believed. But, blow by blow, trick by trick, it is all in Ben Macintyre’s book.

  • The GuardianBook of the Week
5 stars out of 5
25 Sep 2018

"a dazzling non-fiction thriller and an intimate portrait of high-stakes espionage."

Ben Macintyre’s wonderful The Spy and the Traitor complements and enhances Gordievsky’s first-person account. It reveals the dramatic role played by MI6 in recruiting and cultivating a serving KGB insider – and keeping him alive against the odds...The result is a dazzling non-fiction thriller and an intimate portrait of high-stakes espionage.

  • The Sunday TimesMust Read
5 stars out of 5
Dominic Sandbrook
23 Sep 2018

"the tale of Britain’s double agent in the KGB is pure le Carré"

Although none of this will come as a surprise to those familiar with Cold War history, Macintyre tells the story brilliantly. His book’s final third is superbly done, the tension mounting relentlessly as Gordievsky realises the KGB are on to him, survives a gruelling interrogation and triggers a long-prepared escape plan by signalling to his MI6 contacts with, of all things, a Safeway carrier bag. In a mercilessly gripping narrative set-piece, he throws off his KGB leads, makes his way to the Finnish border and ends up hiding half-naked in the boot of a British couple’s car. For Gordievsky, the ending is bittersweet. But as with any good spy thriller, it would be a shame to give it away.

  • The TimesBook of the Year
5 stars out of 5
Michael Burleigh
21 Sep 2018

"a remarkable story of one man’s courage, and of the skill of our much traduced security services"

The fact that parts of The Spy and the Traitor read like a pacey thriller is a bonus, but it is based on serious research, including interviews with Gordievsky and anonymous British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) officers... This is a remarkable story of one man’s courage, and of the skill of our much traduced security services. Ben Macintyre tells it very well indeed.

4 stars out of 5
20 Sep 2018

"'And the daring escape plan that involved a packet of crisps and a baby’s dirty nappy'"

As he has often proved before, Macintyre does true-life espionage better than anyone else. He has a remarkable ability to construct a narrative that is as taut and urgent as it is carefully nuanced. Here the pace never slackens and the focus never drifts, while Macintyre’s insight into his subject’s tangle of contradictions never loses its sharpness. It’s a tough call, but The Spy and the Traitor may well be his best book yet.