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Description du produit


Chapter One

Apprentice Spy

One moment Nicholas Elliott was at Ascot Racecourse, watching the favorite, Quashed, come romping home at 7-2, and the next, rather to his own surprise, he was a spy. The date was June 15, 1939, three months before the outbreak of the deadliest conflict in history. He was twenty-two.

It happened over a glass of champagne. John Nicholas Rede Elliott's father, Sir Claude Aurelius Elliott, OBE, was headmaster of Eton (England's grandest public school), a noted mountaineer, and a central pillar of the British establishment. Sir Claude knew everybody who was anybody and nobody who wasn't somebody, and among the many important men he knew was Sir Robert Vansittart, chief diplomatic adviser to His Majesty's government, who had close links to the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), better known as MI6, the agency responsible for intelligence gathering abroad. Nicholas Elliott arranged to meet "Van" at Ascot and, over drinks, mentioned that he thought he might like to join the intelligence service.

Sir Robert Vansittart smiled and replied: "I am relieved you have asked me for something so easy."

"So that was that," Elliott wrote many years later.

The old boys' recruitment network had worked perfectly.

Nicholas Elliott was not obviously cut out to be a spy. His academic record was undistinguished. He knew little about the complexities of international politics, let alone the dextrous and dangerous game being played by MI6 in the run-up to war. Indeed, he knew nothing whatsoever about espionage, but he thought spying sounded exciting and important and exclusive. Elliott was self-confident as only a well-bred, well-heeled young Etonian, newly graduated from Cambridge University, with all the right social connections, can be. He was born to rule (though he would never have expressed that belief so indelicately), and membership in the most selective club in Britain seemed like a good place to start doing so.

The Elliotts were part of the backbone of the empire; for generations, they had furnished military officers, senior clerics, lawyers, and colonial administrators who ensured that Britain continued to rule the waves--and much of the globe in between. One of Nicholas Elliott's grandfathers had been the lieutenant governor of Bengal; the other, a senior judge. Like many powerful English families, the Elliotts were also notable for their eccentricity. Nicholas's great-uncle Edgar famously took a bet with another Indian Army officer that he could smoke his height in cheroots every day for three months, then smoked himself to death in two. Great-aunt Blanche was said to have been "crossed in love" at the age of twenty-six and thereafter took to her bed, where she remained for the next fifty years. Aunt Nancy firmly believed that Catholics were not fit to own pets since they did not believe animals had souls. The family also displayed a profound but frequently fatal fascination with mountain climbing. Nicholas's uncle, the Reverend Julius Elliott, fell off the Matterhorn in 1869, shortly after meeting Gustave Flaubert, who declared him "the epitome of the English gentleman." Eccentricity is one of those English traits that look like frailty but mask a concealed strength; individuality disguised as oddity.

Towering over Nicholas's childhood was his father, Claude, a man of immovable Victorian principles and ferocious prejudices. Claude loathed music, which gave him indigestion, despised all forms of heating as "effete," and believed that "when dealing with foreigners the best plan was to shout at them in English." Before becoming headmaster of Eton, Claude Elliott had taught history at Cambridge University, despite an ingrained distrust of academics and an aversion to intellectual conversation. The long university vacations gave him plenty of time for mountain climbing. He might have become the most celebrated climber of his generation, but for a kneecap broken by a fall in the Lake District, which prevented him from joining Mallory's Everest expedition. A dominating figure physically and psychologically, Claude was nicknamed "the Emperor" by the boys at Eton. Nicholas regarded his father with awed reverence; in return, Claude alternately ignored or teased his only child, believing, like many fathers of his time and class, that displaying affection would make his son "soft" and quite possibly homosexual. Nicholas grew up convinced that "Claude was highly embarrassed by my very existence." His mother avoided all intimate topics of conversation, according to her only son, including "God, Disease and Below the Waist."

The young Elliott was therefore brought up by a succession of nannies and then shunted off to Durnford School in Dorset, a place with a tradition of brutality extreme even by the standards of British prep schools: every morning the boys were made to plunge naked into an unheated pool for the pleasure of the headmaster, whose wife liked to read improving literature out loud in the evenings with her legs stretched out over two small boys while a third tickled the soles of her feet. There was no fresh fruit, no toilets with doors, no restraint on bullying, and no possibility of escape. Today such an institution would be illegal; in 1925 it was considered "character-forming." Elliott left his prep school with the conviction that "nothing as unpleasant could ever recur," an ingrained contempt for authority, and a hardy sense of humor.

Eton seemed like a paradise after the "sheer hell" of Durnford, and having his father as headmaster posed no particular problem for Nicholas, since Claude continued to pretend he wasn't there. Highly intelligent, cheerful, and lazy, the young Elliott did just enough work to get by: "The increased legibility of his handwriting only serves to reveal the inadequacy of his ability to spell," noted one report. He was elected to his first club, Pop, the Eton institution reserved for the most popular boys in the school. It was at Eton that Elliott discovered a talent for making friends. In later life he would look back on this as his most important skill, the foundation of his career.

Basil Fisher was Elliott's first and closest friend. A glamorous figure with an impeccable academic and sporting record, Fisher was captain of the First XI, the chairman of Pop, and son of a bona fide war hero, Basil senior having been killed by a Turkish sniper at Gaza in 1917. The two friends shared every meal, spent their holidays together, and occasionally slipped into the headmaster's house, when Claude was at dinner, to play billiards. Photographs from the time show them arm in arm, beaming happily. Perhaps there was a sexual element to their relationship, but probably not. Hitherto, Elliott had loved only his nanny, "Ducky Bit" (her real name is lost to history). He worshipped Basil Fisher.

In the autumn of 1935 the two friends went up to Cambridge. Naturally, Elliott went to Trinity, his father's old college. On his first day at the university, he visited the writer and poet Robert Gittings, an acquaintance of his father, to ask a question that had been troubling him: "How hard should I work, and at what?" Gittings was a shrewd judge of character. As Elliott remembered: "He strongly advised me to use my three years at Cambridge to enjoy myself in the interval before the next war"--advice that Elliott followed to the letter. He played cricket, punted, drove around Cambridge in a Hillman Minx, and attended and gave some very good parties. He read a lot of spy novels. On weekends he went shooting or to the races at Newmarket. Cambridge in the 1930s boiled with ideological conflict; Hitler had taken power in 1933; the Spanish civil war would erupt in the summer of 1936; extreme Right and extreme Left fought it out in university rooms and on the streets. But the fervid political atmosphere simply passed Elliott by. He was far too busy having fun. He seldom opened a book and emerged after three years with many friends and a third-class degree, a result he considered "a triumph over the examiners."

Nicholas Elliott left Cambridge with every social and educational advantage and absolutely no idea what he wanted to do. But beneath a complacent and conventional exterior and the "languid, upper-class manner" lay a more complex personality, an adventurer with a streak of subversion. Claude Elliott's Victorian rigidity had instilled in his son a deep aversion to rules. "I could never be a good soldier because I am insufficiently amenable to discipline," he reflected. When told to do something, he tended to "obey not the order which he had actually been given by a superior, but rather the order which that superior would have given if he had known what he was talking about." He was tough--the brutality of Durnford had seen to that--but also sensitive, bruised by a lonely childhood. Like many Englishmen, he concealed his shyness behind a defensive barrage of jokes. Another paternal legacy was the conviction that he was physically unattractive; Claude had once told him he was "plug ugly," and he grew up believing it. Certainly Elliott was not classically handsome, with his gangly frame, thin face, and thick-rimmed glasses, but he had poise, a barely concealed air of mischief, and a resolute cheerfulness that women were instantly drawn to. It took him many years to conclude that he "was no more or less odd to look at than a reasonable proportion of my fellow creatures." Alongside a natural conservatism he had inherited the family propensity for eccentricity. He was no snob. He could strike up a conversation with anyone from any walk of life. He did not believe in God or Marx or capitalism; he had faith in King, country, class, and club (White's Club, in his case, the gentleman's club in St James's). But above all he believed in friendship.

In the summer of 1938 Basil Fisher took a job in the City, while Elliott wondered idly what to do with himself. The old boys soon solved that. Elliott was playing in a cricket match at Eton that summer when, during the tea interval, he was approached by Sir Nevile Bland, a senior diplomat and family friend, who tactfully observed that Elliott's father was concerned by his son's "inability to get down to a solid job of work." (Sir Claude preferred to speak to his son through emissaries.) Sir Nevile explained that he had recently been appointed Britain's minister at The Hague, in the Netherlands. Would Nicholas like to accompany him as honorary attaché? Elliott said he would like that very much, despite having no idea what an honorary attaché might actually do. "There was no serious vetting procedure," Elliott later wrote. "Nevile simply told the Foreign Office that I was all right because he knew me and had been at Eton with my father."

Before leaving, Elliott underwent a code training course at the Foreign Office. His instructor was one Captain John King, a veteran cipher clerk who was also, as it happened, a Soviet spy. King had been passing Foreign Office telegrams to Moscow since 1934. Elliott's first tutor in secrecy was a double agent.

Elliott arrived at The Hague in his Hillman Minx in the middle of November 1938 and reported to the legation. After dinner, Sir Nevile offered him a warning--"in the diplomatic service it is a sackable offense to sleep with the wife of a colleague"--and some advice--"I suggest you should do as I do and not light your cigar until you have started your third glass of port." Elliott's duties were hardly onerous--a little light bag carrying for the minister, some coding and decoding in the wireless room, and attendance at formal dinners.

Elliott had been in the Netherlands only four months when he got his first taste of clandestine work and an "opportunity to see the German war machine at first hand." One evening, over dinner, he fell into conversation with a young naval officer named Glyn Hearson, the assistant naval attaché at the embassy in Berlin. Commander Hearson confided that he was on a special mission to spy on the port of Hamburg, where the Germans were believed to be developing midget submarines. After a few more glasses, Hearson asked Elliott if he would care to join him. Elliott thought this a splendid idea. Sir Nevile gave his approval.

Two days later, at three in the morning, Elliott and Hearson broke into Hamburg's port by climbing over the wall. "We discreetly poked our noses all over the place for about an hour" taking photographs, Elliott recalled, before "returning to safety and a stiff drink." Elliott had no diplomatic cover and no training, and Hearson had no authority to recruit him for the mission. Had they been caught, they might have been shot as spies; at the very least, the news that the son of the Eton headmaster had been caught snooping around a German naval dockyard in the middle of the night would have set off a diplomatic firestorm. It was, Elliott happily admitted, "a singularly foolhardy exploit." But it had been most enjoyable and highly successful. They drove on to Berlin in high spirits.

April 20, 1939, was Hitler's fiftieth birthday, a national holiday in Nazi Germany and the occasion for the largest military parade in the history of the Third Reich. Organized by propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, the festivities marked a high point of the Hitler cult, a lavish display of synchronized sycophancy. A torchlight parade and cavalcade of fifty white limousines, led by the Fuhrer, was followed by a fantastic five-hour exhibition of military muscle involving fifty thousand German troops, hundreds of tanks, and 162 warplanes. The ambassadors of Britain, France, and the United States did not attend, having been withdrawn after Hitler's march on Czechoslovakia, but some twenty-three other countries sent representatives to wish Hitler a happy birthday. "The Fuhrer is feted like no other mortal has ever been," gushed Goebbels in his diary.

Elliott watched the celebrations, with a mixture of awe and horror, from a sixth-floor apartment in the Charlottenburger Chaussee belonging to General Noel Mason-MacFarlane, the British military attaché in Berlin. "Mason-Mac" was a whiskery old warhorse, a decorated veteran of the trenches and Mesopotamia. He could not hide his disgust. From the balcony of the apartment there was a clear view of Hitler on his saluting podium. The general remarked under his breath to Elliott that Hitler was well within rifle range: "I am tempted to take advantage of this," he muttered, adding that he could "pick the bastard off from here as easy as winking." Elliott "strongly urged him to take a pot shot." Mason-MacFarlane thought better of the idea, though he later made a formal request to be allowed to assassinate Hitler from his balcony. Sadly for the world, the offer was turned down.

Elliott returned to The Hague with two newly minted convictions: that Hitler must be stopped at all costs and that the best way of contributing to this end would be to become a spy. "My mind was easily made up." A day at Ascot, a glass of fizz with Sir Robert Vansittart, and a meeting with an important person in Whitehall did the rest. Elliott returned to The Hague still officially an honorary attaché but in reality, with Sir Nevile Bland's blessing, a new recruit to the Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6. Outwardly his diplomatic life continued as before; secretly he began his novitiate in the strange religion of British intelligence.

Sir Robert Vansittart, the Foreign Office mandarin who smoothed Elliott's way into MI6, ran what was, in effect, a private intelligence agency outside the official orbit of government but with close links to both MI6 and MI5, the Security Service. Vansittart was a fierce opponent of appeasement, convinced that Germany would start another war "just as soon as it feels strong enough." His network of spies gathered copious intelligence on Nazi intentions, with which he tried (and failed) to persuade Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain of the looming confrontation. One of his earliest and most colorful informants was Jona von Ustinov, a German journalist and fierce secret opponent of Nazism. Ustinov was universally known as "Klop," Russian slang for bedbug, a nickname that derived from his rotund appearance, of which he was, oddly, intensely proud. Ustinov's father was a Russian-born army officer; his mother was half Ethiopian and half Jewish; his son, born in 1921, was Peter Ustinov, the great comic actor and writer. Klop Ustinov had served in the German army during the First World War, winning an Iron Cross, before taking up a post with the German Press Agency in London. He lost his job in 1935 when the German authorities, suspicious of his exotically mixed heritage, demanded proof of his Aryanism. That same year he was recruited as a British agent, code-named "U35." Ustinov was fat and monocled, with a deceptively bumbling demeanor. He was "the best and most ingenious operator I had the honor to work with," declared Dick White, his case officer, who would go on to head both MI5 and MI6.

Revue de presse

New York Times Bestseller

New York Times Book Review Notable Book

An Amazon Best Book of the Year

Washington Post Notable Book

Entertainment Weekly's Best Spy Book of 2014

“Macintyre has produced more than just a spy story. He has written a narrative about that most complex of topics, friendship...When devouring this thriller, I had to keep reminding myself it was not a novel. It reads like a story by Graham Greene, Ian Fleming, or John Le Carré, leavened with a dollop of P.G. Wodehouse...[Macintyre] takes a fresh look at the grandest espionage drama of our era.”—Walter Isaacson, New York Times Book Review

“Superb… Riveting reading.” –Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker

“Macintyre does here what he does best — tell a heck of a good story. A Spy Among Friends is hands down the most entertaining book I’ve reviewed this year.” —Boston Globe

“Macintyre is a superb writer, with an eye for the telling detail as fine as any novelist’s…A Spy Among Friends is as suspenseful as any novel, too, as the clues tighten around Philby’s guilt.”—Dallas Morning News

“By now, the story of British double agent Harold ‘Kim’ Philby may be the most familiar spy yarn ever, fodder for whole libraries of histories, personal memoirs and novels. But Ben Macintyre manages to retell it in a way that makes Philby’s destructive genius fresh and horridly fascinating.”—David Ignatius, Washington Post

A Spy Among Friends is a rollicking book. Mr. Macintyre is full of pep and never falters in the headlong rush of his narrative.”—Wall Street Journal

“Vivid and fascinating...[Macintyre] succeeds admirably.”—Newsday

“A crisply written tale of a classic intelligence case that remains relevant more than 50 years later.”—USA Today

“Excellent...I was thoroughly engrossed in this book, beginning to end. It has all the suspense of a good spy novel, and its characters are a complex mix of charm, eccentricity, intelligence and wit. And it offers a great--and mostly troubling—insight into the behind-the-scenes workings of those we entrust with the most important of our political and military secrets.”—The Huffington Post

“Working with colorful characters and an anything-can-happen attitude, Macintyre builds up a picture of an intelligence community chock-full of intrigue and betrayal, in which Philby was the undisputed king of lies…Entertaining and lively, Macintyre’s account makes the best fictional thrillers seem tame.” —Publishers Weekly [starred]

“Gripping and as well-crafted as an episode of Smiley’s People, full of cynical inevitability, secrets, lashings of whiskey and corpses.” —Kirkus Reviews [starred]

“Ben Macintyre (Double Cross) offers a fresh look at master double agent Kim Philby…Fans of James Bond will enjoy this look into the era that inspired Ian Fleming's novels, but any suspense-loving student of human nature will be shocked and thrilled by this true narrative of deceit.”—Shelf Awareness [starred]

“Ben Macintyre has a knack for finding the most fascinating storylines in history. He has done it again, with this spellbinding tale of espionage, friendship, and betrayal. Written with an historian’s fidelity to fact and a novelist’s eye for character, A Spy Among Friends is one terrific book.” —David Grann, New York Times bestselling author of The Lost City of Z
“Ben Macintyre is one of the most gifted espionage writers around. In A Spy Among Friends he weaves an absorbing tale of deceit and duplicity, of treason and betrayal. With exquisite detail and masterful control, Macintyre unveils the dark and treacherous interior worlds in which spies live.” —Annie Jacobsen, author of Area 51 and Operation Paperclip

“In this spellbinding account of friendship and betrayal, Ben Macintyre masterfully describes how the Cambridge-educated Kim Philby evaded justice by exploiting the incestuous snobbery of the British old-boy network, which refused to believe that one of its own could be a major Soviet spy. As riveting as Macintyre’s earlier books were, this searing portrait of Britain's ruling class is even better.” —Lynne Olson, bestselling author of Citizens of London and Those Angry Days
“Ben Macintyre has written a truly fabulous book about the "fabulous" Kim Philby—the suave, dedicated, and most intriguing spy of the entire Cold War era. Philby and his colorful Cambridge comrades are endlessly fascinating. But Macintyre tells the devastating story in an entirely new fashion, with new sources and an astonishing intimacy.”
 —Kai Bird, Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer and author of The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames 

“I have seldom had a better read than A Spy Among Friends.  It reads like a thriller, a thriller of a peculiarly intricate and at times frightening sort, but you just can’t stop reading it.”  —Lady Antonia Fraser, author of Marie Antoinette: The Journey

“The Philby story has been told many times, but never with such sensitivity. Almost inadvertently, Ben Macintyre, a Times columnist, provides a devastating critique of the British class system and the disasters that result when people assume they know people… A Spy Among Friends is an extraordinary book about a sordid profession in which the most important attribute is the ability to lie…. 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
Macintyre writes with the diligence and insight of a journalist, and the panache of a born storyteller, concentrating on Philby's friendship with and betrayal of Elliott and of Angleton, his pathetically dedicated admirer at the top of the CIA. Macintyre's account of the verbal duel between Elliott and Philby in their final confrontation in Beirut in 1963 is worthy of John le Carré at his best.”The Guardian

“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…[a] spellbinding narrative…Part of the archetypal grip this story holds for the reader is as a case study in the existential truth that, in human relations, the Other is never really knowable. For both, the mask became indistinguishable from reality…A Spy Among Friends is not just an elegy, it is an unforgettable requiem.”The Observer
“Ben Macintyre’s bottomlessly fascinating new book is an exploration of Kim Philby’s friendships, particularly with Nicholas Elliott… Other books on Philby may have left one with a feeling of grudging respect, but A Spy Among Friends draws out his icy cold heart…This book consists of 300 pages; I would have been happy had it been three times as long.” –The Mail on Sunday 
“Such a summary does no justice to Macintyre's marvellously shrewd and detailed account of Philby's nefarious career. It is both authoritative and enthralling... The book is all the more intriguing because it carries an afterward by John le Carré.” The New Statesman

“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 excitementexcept that Macintyre knows exactly where he is going and is in total control of his material.”The Daily Mail
“Philby's story has been told many times beforeboth in biography and most notably in John le Carre's fictional masterpiece Tinker Tailor Soldier Spybut never in such exhaustive detail and with such panache as in Ben MacIntyre's brilliant, compulsive A Spy Among Friends… Reads like fiction, which is testament to the extraordinary power of the story itself but also to the skills of the storyteller…One of the best real-life spy stories one is ever likely to read.” –The Express
 “Ben Macintyre has written an engaging book on a tantalising and ultimately tragic subject. If it starts as a study of friendship, it ends as an indictment.”The Spectator

From the Hardcover edition.

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Exciting read about the 'Strange Case' of Kim Philby, charming prominent british MI6 officer and secretly soviet agent Stanley.
The enormity of damages made during 30 years of deception made the case for a 'fade' in Beirut and retirement in Moskow of that extraordinary traitor.
Based on excellent sources, in particular revelations made to John Le Carré by Nicholas Elliott, himself a seasoned MI6 high ranking officer, who managed to confront and at last unmask the master spy he had discovered behind his best friend.
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The incredible story of a man who betrayed everyone around him is very well written. You can't stop reading it.
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Ben MacIntyre writes more than just a biography. It is an in-depth analysis as to why Philby became a Russian agent and his relationship to fellow spy Nicholas Elliot.

This book will miss the mark for most spy fiction readers. However it is excellent for those that are interested in the real thing.

People that find this book interesting may also like Ace of Spies: The True Story of Sidney Reilly (Revealing History)

Reilly - Ace of Spies DVD ~ Sam Neill
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A thorough investigation into the life of the most cynic western spy (and traitor) of the 20th century, and into the protective shield provided to him by the English upper class.
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173 internautes sur 183 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A Spy Among Friends 16 mars 2014
Par S Riaz - Publié sur
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Ben Macintyre is a great writer and, in this latest book, he has turned his attention to Kim Philby – one of the Cambridge Spies. Historically, this book may not offer much that is new, but it does tell the story from a different viewpoint ; that of his friendships, most notably with Nicholas Elliott. In other words, this is not really a straight-forward biography of Philby, but focuses on his personality and on the Old Boy network that enabled him to evade detection for so long. The book begins with the meeting between Philby and Elliott in Beirut in January, 1963, with Elliott confronting his former friend about his betrayal of his country and trying to obtain a confession. He must certainly have felt betrayed personally too, as he had done much to protect Philby from earlier suspicions by MI5 – defending and helping him when he was in difficulty.

This fascinating account looks at the early life of both men, their meeting during WWII and their career in the Secret Intelligence Service. Kim Philby was, from the beginning, a Soviet agent. Along with the Cambridge Spies; Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, Anthony Blunt and John Cairncross, he was so successful that his Soviet spymasters suspected him of being a double agent. As well as being a close friend of Elliott, he also became the mentor of James Jesus Angleton, an American and one of the most powerful spies in history. The Old Boy network which had brought both Elliott and Philby into the intelligence service meant that while agents were secretive outside of their immediate circle, they were horribly indiscreet within it, trusting on bonds of class and social networking to protect them.

During this book, we read of Elliott’s and Philby’s career, and personal life, including the jaw dropping appointment of Philby as head of the Soviet Section. As the Second World War ended and the Cold War began, Philby was able to inform Moscow of exactly what Britain was doing to counter Soviet espionage and, indeed, their own espionage efforts against Moscow. There is no doubt that Philby’s actions were an odd mix of defiant belief in the Soviet Union and an inability to take responsibility for his own actions. His passing of information to his Soviet masters led to many people losing their lives. Yet, despite his own reluctance to finally defect to Russia (he called himself a ‘Russian’ but lived there as an almost stereotypical Englishman) he was insistent that he had carried out instructions out of a (misguided) loyalty and was seemingly untroubled about the, often terrible, consequences. Also, although he was constantly loyal to Russia, he rarely spoke of politics. It was as though, having decided on his beliefs, he simply put them out of his mind and stayed true to them, despite any conflicting, or disturbing, evidence – such as the disappearance of successive Soviet spymasters that he looked up to and respected.

As Kim Philby’s life descended into the drama of defection, Macintyre asks whether he was, in fact, allowed to escape. Would his possible trial been such an embarrassment to the British government that he was simply given the chance to leave? However, the real core of this book is his friendship with Nicholas Elliott and the two men are almost given equal space. Angleton comes to the fore when Philby is in the States, and is important to the book, but the central relationship was Philby and Elliott. Personally, I found this a really interesting read and there is an enjoyable afterword, written by John le Carre. It is impossible to defend Kim Philby for his actions, but his story – both personal and as a spy – are certainly larger than life. If you have read anything by Ben Macintyre before, you will know that this is a not a dry and academic account, but reads almost like a spy novel. If you were not aware that it is factual, you would assume that this astonishing account was pure fiction – but it is certainly a riveting read and another well written and entertaining book from the talented Ben Macintyre.
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 Kim Philby and the Old Boys' Club 14 août 2014
Par Errol Levine - Publié sur
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
This excellent book by the London journalist, Ben Macintyre, is suspenseful and indeed reads almost like a novel. One has to keep reminding oneself that Kim Philby’s spying for the Soviet Union resulted in hundreds of deaths. Surprisingly, despite the opening of Soviet–era archives in recent years, the book contains no startling new revelations. It does, however, contain much new interesting information about such incidents as “Operation Valuable” (an attempted infiltration of Communist Albania) and Commander Crabb’s attempt to photograph the underside of a warship that brought Comrades Krushschev and Bulganin on a “goodwill” visit to the United Kingdom. Both projects ended in failure due to Kim Philby‘s passing on of information about them to his Soviet handlers.

I don’t think I have ever read such a damning indictment of the English upper class as emerges from this book. Even Gilbert and Sullivan could not have invented more eccentric characters. Their names alone are risible. We have, for example, Hester Harriet Marsden-Smedley, a journalist who first casually suggested to Philby that he might want to become involved with the Secret Services. Then there is Sarah Algeria Marjorie Maxse, a Conservative Party panjandrum and a member of MI6, who recruited Philby on the basis of a report from Valentine Vivian (also known as Vee-Vee), the deputy head of MI6, who knew Philby’s father. Vee-Vee gave the quintessential definition of England’s old boys’ network: “I was asked about him, and said I knew his people.”

We also encounter the grossly eccentric Hillary St. John Bridger Philby, Kim Philby’s father, who converted to Islam and became an advisor to King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia. One can add Helenus Patrick Joseph Milmo a barrister who interrogated Philby and who looks from his photograph like a character out of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Trial by Jury.” Then there is Sir Hughe Montgomery Knatchbull-Hugesson, His Majesty’s Ambassador to Ankara, who developed the habit of bringing home official papers to the ambassadorial residence where his valet, an Albanian petty criminal by the name of Bazna, was able to copy the documents and pass them on to the Nazis.

This book differs from other books about Philby in that it tells the tale through Philby’s relationship with Nicholas Elliott, a Cambridge-educated British spy, who was Philby’s closest friend and strongest defender even after Philby came under suspicion following the flight to Moscow of Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess after Maclean's exposure as a Soviet agent. Mr. Macintyre tries to make a kind of heroic figure out of Elliott. Elliott became Philby’s friend and began to worship him “with a powerful male adoration that was unrequited, unsexual and unstated.” However, it is clear that Elliott was a total dupe and just another eccentric member of the British old boys’ club who overindulged in alcohol and whose main pleasure was the telling of risqué jokes. I do not share Mr. Macintyre’s admiration of Elliott. He did not hesitate during bibulous lunches to relate confidential information to Philby who promptly passed it on to his Soviet handlers.

Mr. Macintyre drops only hints here and there as to why he thinks Philby did what he did. He indicates that Philby was not really an idealist who was committed to the Communist cause. For Philby spying was a kind of game and became in the long run a form of addiction. Mr. Macintyre suggests, correctly I think, that Philby’s famous escape to the Soviet Union from Beirut was no accident. He could easily have been prevented from escaping. However, the old boys were not all that anxious for one of their own to be tried publicly at the Old Bailey where their ineptitude would be displayed before the British public. They preferred the matter to remain concealed by the provisions of the Official Secrets Act. They therefore almost pushed Philby into making his escape.

It is somewhat galling that Philby went unpunished for his treachery. However, in some respects, his exile to the Soviet Union may have been the best punishment of all. Here was this bon vivant who loved champagne, haute cuisine and every other kind of luxury forced to live in the dull, gray and cheerless atmosphere of Moscow. Sadly for him, there were no posh watering spots such as he was accustomed to frequenting in London. Additionally, Philby was an unwelcome guest and was assigned a minder who was there nominally to protect him, but whose actual job was to monitor his every movement. Guy Burgess suffered a similar fate as amusingly depicted in the short BBC Television film “An Englishman Abroad” by Allan Bennett and starring Crystal Browne and Alan Bates.

Ben Macintyre relates a story in which there were no good players. Only J. Edgar Hoover, who has a cameo role in the book, emerges as a person with any common sense and that says it all!
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 A surprising 5 star read 29 mars 2014
Par Chris Thatcher - Publié sur
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
Why surprising? Well it is not the sort of book I would expect to be "unputdownable" but it is.
Kim Philby lives through this book as an enigmatic yet charismatic double agent whose exploits over many years astound.
If you like spy thrillers give this book a try. Ben Macintyre writes great accounts of things that happened but in a way that engages and persuades you to draw in closer. Try his other books too.

My only moan (directed at Amazon not the author) is that if you like to read the notes on each Chapter (as I do) in Kindle this totally messes up the process of tracking your last page read. Something they could no doubt correct but choose not to.
Great book - good read!
2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Suppose he was laughing at fools like us all the time? 1 septembre 2016
Par Hamilton Beck - Publié sur
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
Ben Macintyre has consulted virtually every available source on Kim Philby and selected the best bits for this delightful read. No matter if "A Spy Among Friends" contains few startling insights – there is always room on the bookshelf for well-written, scrupulously annotated research.

Macintyre does highlight one thing perhaps not widely appreciated, though it was previously pointed out by Graham Greene: Philby was among other things an effective manager, a leader who inspired loyalty in his team because he repeatedly demonstrated loyalty to them. While it's true that he came from the right social background, that alone does not explain why for decades he was protected by the solidarity of "a chosen brotherhood." (pg. 185) What's more telling is that he seems to have been genuinely liked by everyone at MI6, even though they separately loathed each other.

Philby may at times have suffered from having chosen to lead a double life, but I suspect he also took some pleasure in disguising himself without resorting to make-up or masks, simply relying on having the right background, a winning personality and conversational skills. A risk-taker without remotely being a Bond-like adventurer, he enjoyed deciding who would get to know how much of the truth, and which version of it. He must also have relished the opportunity to play God, determining who lived or died without his victims ever suspecting that he was the ultimate arbiter. "Victims?" one imagines Philby saying with Harry Lime – "don't be melodramatic."

Macintyre's new angle comes from his refocusing our attention on Philby's relationship with his closest friend – and fellow intelligence officer – Nicholas Elliott. Elliott was perhaps the most likeable member of the well-connected set who enabled Philby to remain undetected, if not entirely unsuspected. Whatever it was that finally convinced Elliott of Philby's treachery (the theory offered here is not entirely believable), it came as a severe shock to his system. Macintyre describes well how shaken he must have felt at suddenly confronting a truth he had so long and so confidently denied. The title of this book is "A Spy Among Friends," but a more accurate one might have been, "Intelligence Agents Have No Friends."

For a more detailed version of this review, see my blog:
4 internautes sur 4 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 You hit me once (we're friends); you gave a kick (we're still friends)... 6 septembre 2014
Par Souvik Mitra - Publié sur
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
This book tells the stories of Kim Philby, Nicholas Elliot &, to a lesser degree, that of the American James Angleton. In the case of the two English spies, it starts off with covering their childhood & college education in a bit of a whirlwind summary & then the narrative eases focusing on their careers in MI6, their various postings, triumphs, soirees, as they rise fast in their careers. By & by, the undercurrents of duplicity catch up with Philby & the story terminates with one last meeting between the two friends, & the aftermath of a lifelong betrayal, now public, follows.

However, what makes this a page turner is the characterization, & the repeated assertion, sometimes overtly so, that ultimately this is a story of friendship. It is a story of friendship, or could have been. The exclusive education, the slightly distant fathers, the appetite for soaking it up like a sponge, cricket at Lord's, a feeling of belonging to the ruling class & associated derision, humour, charm - all of this was common to Philby & Elliott. Yet, their political ideologies were starkly different. And it is basis just this one difference that the web of duplicity was woven & kept getting thicker over time.

Philby himself balances this contradiction in an interesting way. In his mind, he separates the political from the personal & tells himself that it is only if they clashed that he chose politics over the personal, i.e. his friendships are genuine, he is not betraying the people, only the government they work for. He further deludes himself by not thinking about his choice of a career which made the professional clash with the personal all the time. He also continues to believe that the Marxist ideology is a sound one, & the failure of USSR is only the failure of the people executing this ideology. In almost a split personality condition, Philby simply lies to himself & believes it, too. Like others around him, he charms his better self. If nothing else, this, at least, keeps him from falling apart mentally - something not explicitly stated, but I assumed this given his longish life.

This is a top notch read on espionage during WWII & the cold war period, the English society, & the life & methods of a spy. Macintyre does a great job of creating a coherent narrative in spite of the Philby files being classified. Highly recommended.
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