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Best-selling novelist Robert Littell employs all his considerable skills in telling the story of Kim Philby through the eyes of more than 20 true-life characters. As each layer is revealed, the question arises: Who really was this man?
When Kim Philby fled to Moscow in 1963, he became the most infamous double agent in history. A member of Britain's intelligence service since World War II, he had risen to become their chief officer in Washington, D.C. after the war. The exposure of other members of the group of double agents known as the Cambridge Five led to the revelation that he had been working for Russia for even longer than he had been part of MI6. Yet he escaped, and spent the last 25 years of his life in Moscow.
In Young Philby, Robert Littell tells the story of the spy's early years. In the words of his friends, lovers, and Soviet handlers, we see the development of a fascinating, flawed man who kept people guessing about his ideals and allegiances until the very end.
--especially if Lee is not among your favourite narrators It's got the ingredients of a good Littell history-spy puzzle, related in interviews and stories by Philby's acquaintances, colleagues and lovers, but I did not enjoy the listen.
I can usually lose myself in Littell's mixture of history and espionage, but I found the narration pulling me out of the story and accentuating the sometimes clumsily related historical background.
Littlell's dark humour becomes silly with the -- to my ears anyway -- goofy accents and poorly voiced women.
I like John Lee in small does, in the right listens. This wasn't one of them.
Listen carefully to the sample!
24 of 30 people found this review helpful
It has been awhile since I've read Robert Littell. This wasn't one of his best novels (*** 1/2), but it was still fascinating. At its core, 'Young Philby' is an ahistorical, fictionalized telling of the early life and background of Kim Philby, the most famous of the Cambridge Five.
Littell's fictionalized account imagines the possibility that Philby was actually more than just a double agent. I would tell you more, but then I would have to kill you. Anyway, 'Young Philby' was well-written, well-developed, and nuanced enough to make Littell's argument credible.
14 of 19 people found this review helpful
Littell takes a handful of historical facts and rumors and fleshes them with characters and dialog that support his thesis: a completely different understanding of Kim Philby.
If you don't know much about our history's version of Philby, you should take the time to learn a bit, maybe through Wikipedia, before undertaking this novel. You really need to know what's different in this telling.
It's an interesting idea, this alternate Philby. Whether or not you'll be entertained by it depends a lot on how invested you are in the subject matter. There's certainly nothing in the telling of the tale that's compelling. There's no real passion or fire in any of the characters, no meaningful dialog, nothing at all entertaining except the explanation of Littell's theory of a different Philby.
Fans of Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther series will see that John Lee has exactly one style for rendering foreign intrigue. A few times in this reading I expected Bernie to pop out of the background and get beat up or something. Nonetheless, Lee's style is a good one, a bit over the top with some of his voice characterizations, but easily up to the task of this tale.
I've listened to all of Littell's Audible productions to date (including almost two days of "The Company!) and I regret to say that this book will not be winning him any awards.
4 of 5 people found this review helpful
I was prepared for a book that I wouldn't enjoy as much as Robert Littell's masterpiece, The Company, and I also feared I wouldn't like it much at all, ruining him for me. However, I was pleasantly surprised. I thought it was about Philby as a fairly young boy, to show how he took the path he did. There were some elements of that, but there was still a lot of intrigue, a lot of spycraft, especially as the story progresses.. Do hang on to the very end if you're enjoying it at all. You must!
I also enjoy going back into a time before we know how things turned out and can see the sense in people's choices through that lens. Who could have said how far the revolutionary zeal in the U.S.S.R., for example, would spread? I never thought of Philby as making choices in an anti-fascist period, when all of Stalin's horrors weren't known and people feared the rise of Hitler.
The book's format, with the story presented through interviews worked for me as well, as did John Lee's narration. A large amount of the book was read with dialects, which could be a bit distracting, but he pulled it off.
It was a great book and definitely a new approach to a familiar subject.
3 of 4 people found this review helpful
Would you listen to Young Philby again? Why?
Yes, it is worth listening to a couple of times since the story is quite dense, and, the accented narration is so poor that it needs to be listened to a couple of times just to get the story despite the accents.
What didn’t you like about John Lee’s performance?
The accents! So badly done and so unnecessary. The story is very strong, very well put together, it just does not need to be "acted". I know that I would prefer a straight narration from John Lee
Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?
It has lots of tie in's to historical facts; addresses the James Angleton's role in the whole Philby affair; put McLean, Burgess and Blunt into an interesting perspective and is generally a great (probably fictitious) backgrounder to the Cambridge 4 (5 or 6).
Any additional comments?
Mr. Littell's stories are very well researched and written. This one is no exception and deserves a listen despite the narration.
4 of 6 people found this review helpful
This is a 7+ hour book, and I'm guessing that 4-5 hours of it is narrated in thick foreign accents ... a very grating experience after the first hour ..... the story is pretty well told, but for some unknown reason, it doesn't tell the tale of all the agents of america and great britain whose lives were ended as a result of the double dealing of harold kim philby. too bad he was so good at fooling people, including the cia head of counterintelligence, jim angleton ..... and too bad this book, even though it encompasses 1928, does not mention the creation of the muslim brotherhood in that year and its use as nazis welcomed by hitler and how philby and his "sainted father" (a convert to islam) persuaded america and great britain to take in the muslim brotherhood after they had been exiled from egypt by nasser ..... that philby legacy still has america in its thrall despite the MB's barbaric treatment of girls and women ..... yes, kim philby was a nasty piece of work, and this book soft pedals his story in a way that Littel's earlier book, "The Company" does not. In fact, The Company is a much better book with a much, much better narration.
2 of 3 people found this review helpful
Where does Young Philby rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?
A favorite, with me being a fan of spy novels, fictional or otherwise.
Who was your favorite character and why?
Philby. Poor fellow was in over his head in my opinion.
What about John Lee’s performance did you like?
Everything. He's quite good with accents, and gives life to many characters, even to Stalin himself during one sequence.
Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?
Any additional comments?
A must-have for people wanting to learn more about Kim Philby, I hope.
The book can be a bit long and drawn out, however if you have ever worked with the English it’s typical. Despite this, the story line still keeps you interested. You are given a window into Philby’s life, with full view of the exciting and mundane. Your time is rewarded at the end with a twist I had never considered.