A Spy Among Friends

Ben Macintyre has written another excellent book. A Spy Among Friends is the story of Kim Philby, British spy and the highest person in MI6 (the British version of the CIA) to spy for the Soviets. Philby’s gift was that he was charming and charismatic. He befriended many, many people in the spy world and he was able to ply from the many, many secrets that he then passed to the Soviet Union.

Philby grew up privileged. His father as a huge personality and an expert on the Middle East. Philby went to the best schools. He got into MI6 through a request to a friend. From there, he advanced in the organization, earning the trust and respect of many. He betrayed that trust repeatedly.

Macintyre tells a story about the Soviets asking Philby to obtain the names of British Agents inside the Soviet Union during World War II and when Philby comes back and says there are none, the Soviets (during the height of Stalin’s paranoia) do not believe him. Even though Philby states that the focus was on Nazi Germany. It is almost comical how the Soviets handled Philby at the beginning.

Macintrye tells and engrossing story, full of rich detail and language. I had to stop several times to look up words. I LOVE that. More than the vocabulary lesson, however, this book is a lesson in what happens when people ignore the obvious signs that things are not right. (Look to the missed signals about 9/11 to know this still happens.) Even though signs were point to Philby being a Soviet asset, nothing was done for a very long time.

I found the end of the book most fascinating. The British finally caught on that Philby was a Soviet spy. They did not immediately arrest him and sent his friend to Beirut to confront him. The Brits let him walk away and defect to the Soviet Union where he lived out the rest of this life. Macintyre presents a good argument that the Brits let Philby defect because they could not stand putting the man on trial in the public and letting out (1) British spy secrets and (2) admitting how far into MI6 the scandal went.

If you are a fan of spy novels, the Cold War, and superpower spying, this is the book for you. It is a well-written history of the most embarrassing double agent in Britain’s history.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a review. I was paid no compensation for the review. This review reflects my opinions of the book.

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