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A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal | [Ben Macintyre]

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal

Kim Philby was the greatest spy in history, a brilliant and charming man who rose to head Britain's counterintelligence against the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War - while he was secretly working for the enemy. And nobody thought he knew Philby like Nicholas Elliott, Philby's best friend and fellow officer in MI6.
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Publisher's Summary

Master storyteller Ben Macintyre's most ambitious work to date offers a powerful new angle on the 20th century's greatest spy story.

Kim Philby was the greatest spy in history, a brilliant and charming man who rose to head Britain's counterintelligence against the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War - while he was secretly working for the enemy. And nobody thought he knew Philby like Nicholas Elliott, Philby's best friend and fellow officer in MI6. The two men had gone to the same schools, belonged to the same exclusive clubs, grown close through the crucible of wartime intelligence work and long nights of drink and revelry. It was madness for one to think the other might be a communist spy, bent on subverting Western values and the power of the free world.

But Philby was secretly betraying his friend. Every word Elliott breathed to Philby was transmitted back to Moscow - and not just Elliott's words, for in America, Philby had made another powerful friend: James Jesus Angleton, the crafty, paranoid head of CIA counterintelligence. Angleton's and Elliott's unwitting disclosures helped Philby sink almost every important Anglo-American spy operation for twenty years, leading countless operatives to their doom. Even as the web of suspicion closed around him, and Philby was driven to greater lies to protect his cover, his two friends never abandoned him - until it was too late. The stunning truth of his betrayal would have devastating consequences on the two men who thought they knew him best, and on the intelligence services he left crippled in his wake.

Told with heart-pounding suspense and keen psychological insight, and based on personal papers and never-before-seen British intelligence files, A Spy Among Friends is Ben Macintyre's best book yet, a high-water mark in Cold War history telling.

©2014 Ben Macintyre (P)2014 Random House Audio

What the Critics Say

"No one writes about deceit and subterfuge so dramatically, authoritatively or perceptively [as Ben Macintyre]. To read A Spy Among Friends is a bit like climbing aboard a runaway train in terms of speed and excitement–except that Macintyre knows exactly where he is going and is in total control of his material." (The Daily Mail)

"A Spy Among Friends, a classic spookfest, is also a brilliant reconciliation of history and entertainment… An unputdownable postwar thriller whose every incredible detail is fact not fiction." (The Observer)

"Macintyre's focus on friendship brings an intimacy to this book that is missing from the cardboard stereotypes that populate spy novels and conventional espionage histories… I'm not a lover of spy novels, yet I adored this book." (The Times of London)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.3 (315 )
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  •  
    Michael Eaton West Valley City, Utah USA 07-30-14
    Michael Eaton West Valley City, Utah USA 07-30-14 Member Since 2011

    Fascinated by science.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "The Greatest Spy -- Ever Discovered"
    Any additional comments?

    I must say at the outset that John Lee is the perfect narrator for this book. He is clear, properly British, and adds just enough inflection to what you would expect from a spy story.Ben Macintyre, in turn, has written a book which gives you great insight into the personalities of Philby and those around him. You come away both admiring Philby and deeply detesting him. MI5, during World War II, pulled off amazing stunts of extremely effective trickery against Germany, but then after the war Philby and friends managed to destroy one of the greatest intelligence services in the world. This is his story and one you will not soon forget.Let us hope there are not other, even more capable spies working against us in these current times.

    11 of 11 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Howie Calgary, AB, Canada 08-09-14
    Howie Calgary, AB, Canada 08-09-14 Member Since 2007

    History, historical fiction and mysteries are my faves, but a fan of all genres.

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    "Finally a great read about Philby and his Friends."

    Reads like a novel, John Lee does an excellent job narrating as usual. Highly recommend for anyone interested in this era of history.

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Katherine Georgetown, Ontario, Canada 08-07-14
    Katherine Georgetown, Ontario, Canada 08-07-14 Member Since 2011
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    "Fascinating! Great storytelling!"

    In the hands of Ben Macintyre, I think any story would be interesting, but this was so outstanding it was as if I had heard nothing about Kim Philby before. Aided by John Lee's perfect narration and the seal of approval from John le Carre, this book takes you into the private world of Kim Philby, as much as any book can, with wonderful results. Ben Macintyre is a terrific writer, conveying the subtleties of the British secret service in that time period, as well as the very real damage Philby's subterfuge brought on those both close to him and afar. Best book I've read for awhile!

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Diane Seattle, WA, United States 07-30-14
    Diane Seattle, WA, United States 07-30-14 Member Since 2004
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    "The narrator is incorrectly identified."

    The narrator is John Lee, who has a very distinctive voice and is a terrific voice actor. The info on both web sites; Audible, and Amazon, tell us that the narrator is John Le Carre! Somebody had a mind slippage there.

    27 of 30 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Antoinette Rochester, MN, United States 08-04-14
    Antoinette Rochester, MN, United States 08-04-14 Member Since 2012
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Top Rate True Spy Telling"

    Thoroughly researched bringing in a multitude of viewpoints about the Kim Philby affair. Beautifully written with much delightful English wit and humor tossed in the telling, or quoted from the participants in this incredible (true) yarn.

    One confusing annoyance, created by Audible.com describing the contents of the audiobook: they list the narrator as John LeCarre. It is narrated (elegantly) by John Lee. LeCarre provides a postscript but to my ears it sounds like John Lee reading it.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mike Silver Spring, MD, United States 12-09-14
    Mike Silver Spring, MD, United States 12-09-14 Member Since 2009
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    "Perfect blend of history, analysis, action."

    The first book I've not wanted to turn off at any point in a very long time. If you enjoyed listening to Robert Littell's "The Company" I think this book will appeal to you.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kate Santa Barbara, CA, United States 08-15-14
    Kate Santa Barbara, CA, United States 08-15-14 Member Since 2010
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    "Reads like a spy novel"
    Would you listen to A Spy Among Friends again? Why?

    Probably not--I do not listen to books again (because I have so many new ones to read!)


    What did you like best about this story?

    It was a thrilling book. I wanted to listen to the entire book in one sitting because I wanted to know what happened (even though I knew the story). It really was written like a spy novel.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    It was not so much a scene as a theme that was compelling. The idea that Philby was "one of them" in background and status and therefore was treated with kid gloves which allowed him to continue to commit treason even after he was brought back into MI6 because he was "cleared". And that even when they knew he was guilty, because of who he was, he somehow deserved a lighter punishment than others who were not as bad as he was.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    The epilogue by the author John LeCarre, who had been in MI5 for a period--he met with Elliot (Philby's close friend and MI6 colleague) when they were both older. Elliot's continuing nonchalance about what he allowed to happen, and his recollection of how much he enjoyed being with Philby (Elliot's loose lips when they were drinking allowed Philby to know many secrets) was amazing. It was frustrating to see how the good old boy's club allowed so many to lose their lives.


    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Shane Snyder Otsego, Minnesota 12-04-14
    Shane Snyder Otsego, Minnesota 12-04-14 Member Since 2011
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    "Long Boring Intro, Fulfilling Ending"
    Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

    I found this book to have a long and tedious introduction. Many characters were introduced across multiple disconnected anecdotes and it was hard to keep them all straight. I'm usually a huge fan of histories and biographies but found this one, despite the subject matter, to be rather boring. Some of the tales of derring-do and skulduggery were quite gripping; but most of the time it seemed like filler. I get it: there were a LOT of missions and people directly and indirectly affected by Philby's betrayal. By contrast, the end of the book was fascinating. Once Philby was on-the-run the book seemed to finally get it's feet underneath itself and was off and running.


    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jean Santa Cruz, CA, United States 09-21-14
    Jean Santa Cruz, CA, United States 09-21-14 Member Since 2010

    I am an avid eclectic reader.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Gripping Story"

    I was thoroughly engrossed in this book, beginning to end. It provided insight into the behind-the- scenes working of those we entrust with our most important political and military secrets. Harold “Kim” Philby (1912-1988) during the 1940’s and 50’s was an officer in the U.K. secret intelligence service (MI6). All the time he was spying for the Soviet Union remitting many damaging Anglo-American secrets to Moscow. Hundreds died because of his treachery.

    Ben Macintyre tells the story of Kim Philby a member of the British upper class. His father was linguist who became an advisor of King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia. Philby became a Communist while at Cambridge University. He married Litzi Friedman a Communist of Hungarian Jewish descent. It is claimed she was the one to recruit him as a Soviet spy. Macintyre suggest that although Philby was a sincere Communist, the impelling motive for his treachery was conceit. Cheating people made him feel clever. He betrayed anti-Soviet insurgents in Albania, Georgia, Lithuania, Estonia, Armenia and Ukraine, causing many deaths. The KGB defector Anatoly Golitsyn provided information against Philby in 1962. He made a confession and then escaped to Russia in 1963.

    Ben Macintyre was a journalist with the Times of London. He conducted an enormous amount of research and found new sources of information in the office diaries of MI5’s deputy Chief Guy Liddell which became available in 2012. The book ends with an afterword by John le Carrie who worked in MI6 during the same time as Philby. The book reads like a spy novel but it is a solidly researched true story. John Lee does an excellent job narrating the book.

    7 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Debra B 08-06-14
    Debra B 08-06-14 Member Since 2009
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    "Some answers to a shocking deception"

    This was a fascinating book, and answered a number of questions I'd always had about Kim Philby. For one thing, just how does that work, exactly, going to MI6 everyday and pulling a lie of that magnitude over everybody's eyes, day after day? This book lays it out as well as any I have read about real-life spies, and it goes a long way to connecting the dots of character and action. It read like a spy novel, although it was unexpectedly depressing in parts, because unfortunately, this is all real.

    Ben Macintyre did a good job keeping an objective tone throughout. He challenged some of Philby's beliefs and assumptions, but when he did, it came across as reasonable inquiry.

    6 of 7 people found this review helpful
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