Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “A Spy by Nature (Alec Milius, #1)” as Want to Read:
A Spy by Nature (Alec Milius, #1)
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

A Spy by Nature (Alec Milius #1)

3.50  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,530 Ratings  ·  153 Reviews
Alec Milius,arecent graduate of the London School of Economics,is young, smart,and a bit of a slacker, stuck in a shady job and suffering from a lack of direction.So, when an old family friend offers to put him up for a job in British Intelligence, Alec begins the rigorous selection process for SIS or MI6.Though he doesn't officiallymake the cut, he is funneled into a prim ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published November 11th 2008 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published 2001)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about A Spy by Nature, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about A Spy by Nature

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,550)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Apr 23, 2013 Bill rated it did not like it
Shelves: thriller
The Dumbest Spy in the World

Cummings, C. (2001). A Spy By Nature. New York: St. Martins

The protagonist is a recent college graduate in London who works in a dead end telemarketing job and feels his life drifting. He applies for a job as a spy and apparently does well in the application, but is ultimately rejected without explanation. Or is he really? A retired MI5 acquaintance mysteriously invites him to join his international oil firm as a clerk, with a covert mission to spy on a competing Amer
Mickey Hoffman
Dec 04, 2012 Mickey Hoffman rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book after two of the author's other books. Had I read this one first, I wouldn't have read another. It's not often I get to the end of a book and want to scream, but this book has an ending that makes no sense to me. In addition, the main character is completely unlikeable.
Mal Warwick
May 29, 2011 Mal Warwick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A Spy by Nature, Charles Cumming’s first novel, is the semi-autobiographical precursor several subsequent espionage stories that have caught the attention of reviewers and the reading public alike. The Trinity Six, the most recent, was a deft and ingenious reimagining of the familiar story of the five aristocratic Cambridge graduates whose greatest fame came when they defected to the Soviet Union after many years of undercover work in Britain.

In A Spy by Nature, Cumming tells a version of his ow
Michael Layne
May 04, 2013 Michael Layne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: espionage
I had mixed feelings about this novel as I found it difficult to read quickly. I just couldn't get into a rhythm with the story. The characters were OK. The plot was OK. But the language was..something. Eloquent? Beautiful? Not sure what the correct word is to describe it. After a few chapters, after getting over the fact that I couldn't rip through the book, I started to become very impressed that the language was ensnaring me, not allowing me to bludgeon through it. I started looking forward t ...more
Lauren Doolin
Mar 24, 2016 Lauren Doolin rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I really, strongly disliked Alec, the main character. He came across as a whiny, petulant child throughout the book; he routinely blamed his own troubles on someone (anyone!) else; and his thoughtless actions caused serious consequences for people he claimed to care about.

I kept reading because I kept expecting something to happen, and it never really did. The ending just seemed kind of flat- there was very little in the way of a climax, and no real resolution in the final pages.

The author's w
Feb 28, 2009 Anita rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: espionage
This is an ironic tale which asks the reader to believe a purportedly honest account by a perpetual liar. Alec Milius recounts his experience as a young man compelled to lie who ultimately ends up in an occupation that makes the most of this natural inclination. He’s bright but unformed, and while spying for a British oil company he sinks into a quagmire where everyone’s a liar and nothing is quite what he expected. Due to his naivete, he finds himself in more and more precarious circumstances u ...more
May 15, 2012 Beth rated it really liked it
This novel follows Alec Milius, a young man of 24, through a period of three years. The book is divided into three parts, labelled simply 1995, 1996 and 1997. When we first meet Alec, he is stuck in a dead-end job, has lost his long-time girlfriend and is filled with a burning desire to make something more of himself. His fortunes seeem to take a complete 180 when an acquaintance of his mother recommends him for a job with MI6 or SIS, the Secret Intelligence Service. And this is the true beginni ...more
Sep 12, 2011 Lucinda rated it really liked it
A Spy by Nature (2001) tells the story of Alec Milius, a young college graduate working at a dead-end job for a small London company selling ads to Central and Eastern European businesses. When Alex is recruited by British intelligence (MI-6) he is sure his life has finally turned around. But MI-6 rejects him. Alec is then offered an assignment as a support agent with a British oil company, tasked with selling false information to American agents working for an American oil company. Loosely base ...more
Aug 25, 2013 Cindy rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I actually picked up this book by mistake, originally thinking it was a Charles McCarry novel. If only. The main character is such a moronic and pathetic character, that several times, I almost gave up on the whole thing, but I held out unfounded hope that somehow the story would turn around. It's difficult to imagine that any espionage agency would ever let him serve. He's dishonest from the very beginning to the very end and doesn't seem to think or care what repercussions his actions might ha ...more
Jan 08, 2012 Evelyn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Alec Milius is a 20-something graduate of the London School of Economics, living in Shepherd's Bush and coasting along with no real goals, marking time at a dead end job when he's recruited by MI6 and offered the chance to make something of his life. What happens next seems like it will be the story of the classic naif who steps into something much bigger than he can ever imagine. But Milius is more cynical, and perhaps more self-deluded than the reader at first believes. And the story's traject ...more
David Hull
Oct 05, 2011 David Hull rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My introductory Charles Cumming's first 'spy thriller' novel concerned me a little that I just might be wasting my money. Au contraire! I found the writing style refreshingly conversational - a very clear, albeit rather detailed - account, as though the writer Cumming (as the protagonist, Alec Milius) were leading the reader, as something of a confidant, through a timeline in his professional 'spying' career, albeit with more spying than thrilling. Good story line, entertaining, engaging and com ...more
Jim Clennett
Apr 16, 2016 Jim Clennett rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I worry that sometimes I'm reading a completely different book to the one that a lot of other people have reviewed...

If this book is, as the cover promises, "taughtly written, cleverly plotted" then either the contents of my copy had been cunningly replaced by a windy, over-long and largely drama-free doppelganger or my understanding of "taught" and "clever" needs some serious work! Aside from the fact that the leading character is so unremittingly unlikeable that I ended up sincerely hoping the
Aug 11, 2015 Anna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you go by this book, being a spy is awfully lonely, depressing and boring. No jumping out of planes or beautiful young people running around trying to seduce you. That’s ok as it’s probably reality. In this book, the British protagonist is rejected from a job with MI-6, but is then recruited to serve as a British industrial spy. He befriends an American couple with ties to an American oil company competing with the British for drilling rights. Of course, things don’t go exactly as planned. Th ...more
D.J. Cockburn
You're 25 years old. You're a graduate in a dead end job. Your delusions of significance are losing a battle with reality. A passing acquaintance tells you he can see a place for you in the Secret Intelligence Service.

What do you do?

If you wouldn't end the call and block the number, you need to read A Spy by Nature because that will become your answer by the time you've finished it.

Charles Cumming introduces us to Alec Milius, a young man realising the world is not his oyster. The novel starts s
May 28, 2013 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: espionage
I almost never re-read a book, but as I have acquired the rest of the series, I thought I needed to go back to the start. I enjoyed this 9 years ago and I enjoyed it again. I will need to rad "The Spanish Game" soon, because I cannot imagine how our hero (?) Alec Milius can begin to rehabilitate himself after this one. Like any good spy book, there are echoes of Le Carre, but that is no bad thing. Taut plotting and crisp dialogue make this an excellent read.
Apr 05, 2008 Nick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great spy book illustrating how espionage has moved in to the industrial sector since the cold war. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, the clever story line, he flawed characters and the general setting in London all lent themselves to my imagination.

Cummings really is the only author that has emulated Le Carre in the true sense of the word in recent years. Go out buy this book and settle down for a good read.
One of the worst endings since Russo's 'Empire Falls'. The protagonist is unlikable, inconsistent and quite frankly an egotistical pansy, if that combo can exist. There are a few moments of articulate insight into young career angst, but not enough to save this or sell it.
Set during the run up to Blair's election as Prime Minister this was a fairly tepid espionage thriller. The plot just did not do a lot for me and the main character annoyed. Listened to the audio version read by Simon Vance who was the best part of the whole endeavor.
Jane Branson
Aug 09, 2014 Jane Branson rated it liked it
An enjoyable thriller. I found the main character intriguing. His obvious unreliability didn't seem to translate into real drama that the reader could get worked up about it, and the only two characters he really cared about never quite made off the page so it was hard to care too much when things went awry for them. This novel also suffered from an unsatisfactory resolution, in my view. This dilemma besets all good thrillers: how to tie up all the threads that have kept you hooked, without a co ...more
Jo Reason
I was looking forward to this one as I enjoy a good spy book, but there is something missing in this. So far it just plods along, and there are parts where it seems like chit lit, and after having read the bio of the author Charles Cumming it could even be a bit of an autobiography. Unfortunately things take way to long to get going, and fortunately, I seem to have plenty of patience as it was a very quick read or I would have given up reading. After the 200 pages or so, it does get a little bet ...more
Denise Dougherty
Interesting British point of view in pre-9/11 industrial espionage: What were the CIA and MI6 doing before 9/11? Central character is an immature 25 year old whose too-late reflections add an interesting edge to this somewhat dark tale about (IMO) an organization caught between the "old days" and the new tech age.

Can't quite decide about this story but it was unusual enough to seek the next in the Alec Milius series. Charles Cumming tells stories from a rather (IMO) jaded & bleak perspectiv
Max Everhart
Sep 30, 2014 Max Everhart rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The layered characterization of the protagonist is what makes this book worth reading. This isn't a James Bond type spy book. If you're looking for explosions and car chases and dalliances with beautiful, exotic women, you need to look elsewhere. However, if you want to know about the mental and psychological toll that being a spy--in this case, a double agent--takes on someone, then this is the book for you. I see a lot of parallels to be drawn from this novel and LeCarre's The Spy Who Came In ...more
David Manns
Charles Cummings' first novel is an easy-to-read spy thriller set in the dog days of the Major government in the mid-90s. Alec Milius is a twenty-something ex-public schoolboy in a dead end job when he's offered the chance to apply to work for MI6 (or the Secret Intelligence Service as it is properly known). Loosely based on Cummings own experiences we are taken through the exam and interview process as Milius vies with half a dozen other candidates for the chance to become a spy. But the flaw i ...more
Jan 28, 2015 Jonathan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
2 things to say about Charles Cumming's first book:

1. The main character, Alec Milius, is almost impossible to sympathise with in the first of his two outings. Thankfully I read The Spanish Game first as this might have put me off. He is pompous, deceitful beyond belief, careless of other's feelings, quick to over-react, stupidly naïve in some situations and yet incredibly perceptive in others. Some might say this makes him a perfect spy. I think he's a bit of an arse.

2. All the above, stuck int
Sean Randall
I finished this and was all set to give it a three star, average but nothing brilliant rating. Milius is an arse. And yet there were two things that stuck in my mind worth writing about.

The first, and probably less flattering of them, is "You can't live life without turning it into a lie". Kate's harangue, objectively viewed (rather than filtered through Alec's indignity) seems a damn accurate assessment to me, which embarrassingly echoes incidents in my own history of which I am not proud. That
Aug 08, 2013 Speesh rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spies
I think I'm gonna have to swim against the tide here. Or at least against the tide of (what are quite possibly reviews for the hardback version) reviews on the cover and inside of my paperback.

Far from "Eerily good" or "wonderfully assured, tautly written, cleverly plotted", I found this really struggling to make 'so-so'. For me, as well as The Kinks, it's 'a mixed-up, muddled-up, shook up' mess.

It starts out alright, with the main man Alec Milius being recommended for a job with the Intelligenc
Gerald Sinstadt
Apr 29, 2011 Gerald Sinstadt rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime
There is a form of exercise for those of us not in middle youth that entails stretches of jogging interspersed by bouts of recuperative walking. Charles Cumming's first novel has something of that about it. The early pages concern the recruitment process for Britain's Secret Intelligence Services. Alec Milius, the would-be spy, is required to take part in a mock political discussion. Here the book treads water for pages before events conspire to project the pallid Milius forward to the next phas ...more
Apr 07, 2010 Shannon rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Shannon by: Jason Truss
A Spy By Nature was like a cross between The Bourne Identity and Then We Came to the End. In other words, a mix of life in the business world and modern day espionage. The main character is Alec Milius, a recent university graduate whose life is going nowhere fast. He is, like many twenty-somethings, stuck in a dead end job and plagued by a niggling fear that he is doing nothing with his life. So when a guest at a dinner party offers his an opportunity to interview for Britain's Secret Intellige ...more
Michael Martz
Spy by Nature was just OK.... writing was fine, section related to the vetting process for MI6 was interesting, but the rest was pretty predictable. The thing that bothered me the most about this book was the disparity between the supposed high intelligence level of the main character and the bone-headed mistakes and mis-steps he makes throughout the story.

I've read later Cumming novels and they're much better from a story standpoint.
Dan Tynan
This was my third Charles Cumming book, but the first he wrote -- which is probably why I was disappointed with it. I'd read (ok, listened to) Typhoon, which was terrific. Then the Trinity 6, which was good, but not as good as Typhoon. So going back to his first book is like watching a great cyclist back when he was still using training wheels.

The book is dull, frankly. It's very much a straight forward narrative with few twists and turns, and really, it's mostly a series of somewhat tedious co
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 84 85 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • A Spy's Life
  • The Orpheus Deception (Agent Micah Dalton, #2)
  • Potsdam Station (John Russell, #4)
  • After The Rain (Phil Broker, #5)
  • The Prodigal Spy
  • Body of Lies
  • The Berlin Conspiracy (Jack Teller, #1)
  • The Envoy
  • The Sisters
  • Secret Asset (Liz Carlyle, #2)
  • Moscow Sting (Anna Resnikov, #2)
  • An American Spy (The Tourist, #3)
  • The Tears of Autumn (Paul Christopher #2)
  • The Kill Zone
  • Background to Danger
Charles Cumming is British writer of spy fiction. His international bestselling thrillers including A Spy By Nature, The Spanish Game, Typhoon and The Trinity Six. A former British Secret Service recruit, he is a contributing editor of The Week magazine and lives in London.
More about Charles Cumming...

Other Books in the Series

Alec Milius (2 books)
  • The Spanish Game (Alec Milius #2)

Share This Book