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The Art of Betrayal: Life and Death in the British Secret Service

3.77  ·  Rating Details ·  330 Ratings  ·  46 Reviews
The British Secret Service has been cloaked in secrecy and shrouded in myth since it was created a hundred years ago. Our understanding of what it is to be a spy has been largely defined by the fictional worlds of James Bond and John le Carre. THE ART OF BETRAYAL provides a unique and unprecedented insight into this secret world and the reality that lies behind the fiction ...more
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published August 11th 2011 by Weidenfeld and Nicolson (first published January 1st 2011)
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Nov 14, 2015 Gram rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The problem with real spy stories is that spies tell so many lies, you end up wondering what's true and what's not. The first half of this book covers mostly the 1950's and 1960's, during which time there was the major disaster of Kim Philby's defection to the USSR and the realisation that he had betrayed Britain for decades. This led to decades of investigations of possible double agents with the British intelligence services - mostly carried out by the spies on their very own colleagues. The d ...more
Sep 06, 2014 Joe rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was very enjoyable to read and I learned a lot of new things. The book rattles along and charts the period from the end of the second world war through to the present. Stuffed full of interesting anecdotes about people and an organisation that is by turns impressive and then absurd.

I hadn’t realised, for instance, the extent of British involvement in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation. Apparently the CIA weren’t allowed to send personnel in, but the book strongly implies MI6 were ver
Very interesting history of the spy game in the U.K. (And by extension the US) after WWII. Well written, sometime complex especially in the sections of Afghanistan but the story of the WMD and the push to war with Iraq were fascinating and very telling. I learned a lot that I had not known.
Katharine Holden
Mar 27, 2013 Katharine Holden rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The exciting title appears to belong to some other book. This book was rambling, disjointed, and not very interesting.
Gheri Sackler
Jul 20, 2014 Gheri Sackler rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
very informative
Mar 14, 2017 Peg rated it really liked it
Fascinating story about the British spy agencies, MI 5 and MI 6, with insights into the US CIA. This is the stuff that spy novels attempt to bring to life. In fact some of the novelists actually were involved in these secret spy agencies. Doesn't do a lot to encourage one to think that these services are always right in their info and assessments. In fact they are frequently way off. Nonetheless this is a very interesting book.
Wesley  Gerrard
They say that truth is often stranger than fiction and this book that I have given a 5 star rating reads very fluently and tells the real story of British secret service agents as they engage in the art of espionage across the globe. True heroes and heroines emerge as you quickly flutter through the pages. From SIS's early war history through to the heavy espionage focus against the Soviets during the Cold War through to the closer to present military escapades in Afghanistan and Iraq, spies are ...more
Dec 26, 2013 Daniel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Corera is the BBC's Security Correspondent and is therefore well placed to bring this unofficial history of Mi6 to life with a speedy narrative flare.

The book is mainly focussed on the post-WWII era and is split into chapters of geographic and thematic significance for the service - the intrigue of post-war Vienna, Kim Philby & the 'Gang of 5', Daphne Park battling Communism and colonial decline in the Congo, double-agents and counter-intelligence in Moscow & Washington, honey traps in L
Michele Weiner
I have often noticed that the Brits and the Yanks are twins separated at birth. We have Reagan, they have Thatcher. We have Clinton, they have Blair. Then we have Bush and they have Blair. (Did Tony change his stripes, or did he just express his feminine side with Bill and his alpha male with George W?) Now we have Obama and they have Gordon somebody. Culturally, we share a lot. I personally can't stomach Dr. Who, though I have tried, but I love Downton Abbey and I first became hooked on House o ...more
Apr 19, 2014 Linda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This book fed my fascination with MI-5 and MI-6, and I enjoyed the interweaving of LeCarre, Fleming and Greene with the reality of the spy world.

"Iraq was the lowest moment for MI6 since the betrayal of Kim Philby. Its intelligence turned out to be wrong and the aftermath of the war a disaster. The myth came ceasing against reality as MI6;s intelligence, on which a case for war was built, was shown to be dud."

"A divide had emerged int he culture of MI6, just as it had among their American
Vikas Datta
May 14, 2015 Vikas Datta rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An exciting account of over a half-century of British clandestine operations including coups like Penskovsky and Gordievsky, debacles like Philby, Blake and Vasall and of course, Iraq and the rest of the life of spycraft in the country... a riveting narrative of the Congo tragedy, the Afghan jihad, of how came about the wholly unnecessary Second Iraq War whose blowback is still being faced.... The strength of this book lies in showing how an unholy closeness to the ruling class and a desire to f ...more
Mar 18, 2015 Tawney rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
A very interesting survey of British Intelligence - primarily MI6 - from the end of WWII up to the WMD fiasco leading to the invasion of Iraq. In Corera's view the intelligence community evolved over time from an elite club of men with cowboy tendencies and too much trust in their own to another arm of government bureaucracy. The book describes plenty of intrigue, plenty of mistakes and quite an assortment of characters - traitors, defectors, double agents, the dull, the cunning and the fascinat ...more
Oct 05, 2016 James rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This was a fairly good book

I had no idea the Brits were so involved in the question of WMD in Iraq

The US media prefers to call george jr a liar.

He may have been an idiot, but I don't think he lied

"the absence of evidence is not absence of evidence"
footnote 96 from press briefing feb 2002

That doesn't make sense
I think I remember it as:
"the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence"

Proves once again that now days, publishers don't edit books
and even the writer seems not to have read the
Apr 28, 2013 Heman rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Interesting history of the MI6 history in (mostly) the second half of the 20th century and the cold war, or at least what is known and has not conveniently burnt down. It turns sort of blase toward the end of the book and the description of the Iraq war. I am afraid this history mostly paints a picture of incompetence with a brave face on. The most interesting parts are the traitors to or for the service.
Mar 04, 2012 Nicholas rated it liked it
This book is a very readable summary of the main episodes of SIS post-war history that are in the public domain. Some parts of it are based on new information such as Golitsyn's unpublished memoir. However, anyone looking for a new revelation about SIS will be disappointed. The parts about Philby, Penkovsky, Golitsyn and Gordievsky are well trodden ground, even if the material is well organised and presented.
Elliot Richards
I started reading this as I was initially intrigued by SIS's Cold War spying, but soon found it somewhat dry and uninteresting, perhaps largely because it wasn't easy to relate to. However fast forward to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and that was much more interesting to read, as was all that followed.

I thought the writing style was heavy and uneven in places; it feels thorough though, clearly very well researched.
Jul 29, 2015 Anne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Enough depth but not too much. Interesting history of MI6 from post WW2 to present day. Loved some of the little throwaways - watchers used to knit sweaters with patterns to indicate troop movements on trains! As always, an interesting view of the "special relationship" between the US and the UK. And, of course, personally interesting since one of the main characters used to be a downstairs neighbor in London.
Jan 31, 2017 Donna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting look at the history of MI6 from post-WWII through the present day. I enjoyed the first 7 of 10 chapters the most as they focused on the Cold War years which is when (80's) I read a ton of spy novels. The last 3 chapters dealt with Afghanistan and the post-9/11 years and while much more topical, they were rather depressing.
Aug 31, 2013 Paul rated it liked it
Solid account of the history of the British secret services from the post-war period to the present day. The episodic form makes the linear time scale difficult to follow at times, but all the major characters are covered, and there is also frequent reference to the better known fictional espionage works and writers.
Steve Gross
Dec 11, 2015 Steve Gross rated it it was ok
Long, sprawling history of MI6. Rather than an exciting recounting of multiple spy adventures, this book drills down into a little too much detail of five or six incidents. Less would have been more. I also winder how accurate it's stories are, especially the 9/11 rehash. Epilogue of long "What's the Secret Service for in 2015?" handwringing.
Karl Øen
Dec 03, 2013 Karl Øen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good, but not indispensable account of the doings of the British Secret Service. It theads some well-known paths, (Burgess/Maclean/Philby & al), some unknown -at least to me (the Congo), but where it really gets going is the more contemporary stuff, from The Russo-Afghan War to the present. That coherent account makes for a thougthprovoking read.
Feb 25, 2013 Jack rated it really liked it
If you like spy novels, I think you'll like this. Gives the real scoop on espionage from the early 1900's to Iraq and Afghanistan. Focuses on MI6, but also has a lot information on the CIA. Very well referenced.
richard burman church
Relevancy supreme

A superb walking tour through the intimate depths of espionage .
A satisfying read for those interested in the historical and cultural mechanisms of clandestine warfare....If you have the appetite, this is not to be missed
Feb 03, 2014 Bill rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
After reading Art of Betrayal don't think the British and American intelligence services were the only major players screwing up. Try The World Was Going Our Way by Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin to get a KGB perspective.
Apr 17, 2013 Rick rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating book, filled with names, places, dates and events that illustrate and illuminate a lot about British Secret Service activities - and that of some other agencies during the Cold War and after it.
Fantastic research, brilliant insight, and exhaustive detail. I find it refreshing to learn the lessons from so much paranoia, mistrust, betrayal, and the inner workings of how to lie, as well as recruit using human weaknesses.
Very informative book but a bit dry to read. Took me several months to finish it, especially because the chapters were so long. But extremely interesting information, so I recommend to anyone interested in spy history and how it shaped events today.
Michael Webb
Feb 23, 2013 Michael Webb rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent, well written, and very readable.
Apr 19, 2014 Rabia rated it liked it
David Luke
Dec 12, 2014 David Luke rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
They say that fact is stranger than fiction and here fact and fiction mirror each other. Fascinating read with every chapter reading like a Le Carre novella. If you like your spies this is for you.
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Gordon Corera is a British journalist. He is the Security Correspondent for the BBC.
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