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The Looking Glass War

3.74  ·  Rating Details  ·  5,224 Ratings  ·  248 Reviews
John le Carré's classic novels deftly navigate readers through the intricate shadow worlds of international espionage with unsurpassed skill and knowledge, and have earned him unprecedented worldwide acclaim. THE LOOKING GLASS WAR Once upon a time the distinction had been clear: the Circus handled all things political while the Department dealt with matters military. But o ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published February 26th 2002 by Scribner (first published 1965)
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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le CarréThe Bourne Identity by Robert LudlumThe Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John le CarréThe Hunt for Red October by Tom ClancyThe Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth
Best Spy Novels
62nd out of 804 books — 1,424 voters
The Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John le CarréTinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le CarréThe Day of the Jackal by Frederick ForsythThe Bourne Identity by Robert LudlumThe Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy
68th out of 672 books — 781 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Feb 14, 2012 Szplug rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I cannot recall the exact age I was when I read this minimalist piece perfectly executed by the talented le Carré, but whatever is was—and around 15 years old sounds about right—it served as effective an eye-opener to reality as a set of clamps fixed upon what were previously orbs dreaming away behind sealed lids. At that time, my fictional intake was comprised of a not inconsiderable proportion of espionage thrillers—the sprawling series by Ian Fleming and Robert Ludlum primarily, but sprinkled ...more
Aug 21, 2014 Agnieszka rated it really liked it

Do you know what love is? I'll tell you: it is whatever you can still betray.

If there is something like a literary model of a spy most of us would probably indicate on James Bond .Fast cars , beautiful women, shootings and all that false glamour. And after hard working day - martini shaken not stirred or conversely. Obviously. But not in LeCarre’s world.

Disillusioned , tired and cynical men in the world where goal is indistinct , praise doubtful , morality ambiguous and victory deceptive . Thi
Dr.Srinivas Prasad Veeraraghavan
While the "Smiley" trilogy is rightly feted as one of the greatest Fiction trilogies of the 20th Century, this Novel is my personal favourite of Le Carre's formidable and rather intimidating catalogue.

Strictly meant for lovers of serious Fiction,this is easily the bleakest book that I have ever read in my life. I remember taking a shower at midnight after I was done with it to "cleanse" myself. A hard, bitter,relentlessly cynical and disturbingly realistic peek at the sordid workings of an Espi
For me a difficult book to rate, on one hand I enjoyed it although I came to have a marked contempt for some of the major characters. I felt the novel was a study in human nature and trying to hold on to the glory of past exploits. A clandestine world made up of an old boys club who are happy to throw the lamb to the wolves .....all in the name of glory, I found this to be a bleak and quite dour story, not for the faint of heart.

Well written as you would expect but I thought that is was more ch
Jim Pfluecke
Jun 22, 2011 Jim Pfluecke rated it it was amazing
Man, this is one depressing book. As the author states in the intro, this book is a cynical look at the intelligence/spy world and is almost a parody of LeCarre's first big hit, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.

With subtle (and a few not so subtle) hints of the ridiculous attempts by past-their prime and out of touch military intelligence officers to recover their relavancy and stage one last mission, the book is a slowly building tragedy. You know it is not going to end well nearly from the st
Mar 18, 2012 Andre rated it did not like it
There is a valuable lesson in this book: when an author uses a novel’s introduction to suggest it may be his worst, believe him. Of the four books I’ve written by John le Carré, The Looking Glass War is clearly the worst. le Carré seems to have issues carrying his stories when the plot is not singularly focused, when he is trying to make a negative point about some aspect of British culture. We saw this when le Carré tackled the prep school system in A Murder of Quality, and this time the author ...more
Bruce Snell
May 12, 2012 Bruce Snell rated it it was ok
Book four in the George Smiley series by John Le Carre. This is a difficult book for me to rate. The end result is a brilliant condemnation of bureaucrats and their willingness to put their rules ahead of people. However, to get to that end result, we are forced to read over 250 pages of bureaucracy - and that is as enjoyable as a day wasted at the DMV.

In this case British military intelligence - staffed by a bunch of surviving WWII intelligence officers (remember this is set in 1963) decide to
Andrew Davis
Admittedly, a weakest of John LeCarre's I've read so far. A splint group of MI5 decides to send a war time intelligence officer to East Germany to follow up on some signs of Russian presence in a small town. They choose a polish refugee of german extraction. Most of the book involves his training and politics around the organisation. At the end he crosses the border and kills the border guard on his way. Pretty quickly is tracked down by German intelligence. At the end we learn that the British ...more
Hoàng Nguyễn
Apr 14, 2015 Hoàng Nguyễn rated it it was amazing
'Stop!' Avery shouted suddenly. 'Stop, for God's sake! If anything matters, if anything is real, we've got to hear him now! For the sake of...'

'Well?' Haldane inquired with a sneer.

'Love. Yes, love! Not yours, Haldane, mine. Smiley's right! You made me do it for you, made me love him! It wasn't in you anymore! I brought him to you, I kept him in your house, made him dance to the music of your bloody war! I piped for him, but there's no breath in me now. He's Peter Pan's last victim, Haldane, th
Feb 27, 2015 Anna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
As always, le Carre’s writing is elegant, fluid, and measured, however I did not particularly enjoy this novel. Although George Smiley’s presence hovers over the narrative, he rarely manifests himself. For the most part, the reader follows the exploits of the Department men, whose glory days ended with the Second World War. Twenty years later, they have been sidelined by the Circus and jump at the chance to introduce an agent into East Germany. The narrative follows the genesis of this mission a ...more
Kev Bartlett
Jan 03, 2015 Kev Bartlett rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spy
The Looking Glass War was published shortly after perhaps Le Carre's most famous work The Spy Who Came In from the Cold and is every bit as murky, grim and depressing as the aforementioned (possibly even more so).

The book starts brilliantly in a Finish airport where a British agent (Taylor) anticaptes the arrival of a pilot who, having undertaken a risky flyover, should have some vital information in his possession. From the moment the uneasily dialogue with the aiport barman begins you know th
Srinivas Prasad Veeraraghavan
Oct 30, 2010 Srinivas Prasad Veeraraghavan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
While the "Smiley" trilogy is rightly feted as one of the greatest Fiction trilogies of the 20th Century, this Novel is my personal favourite of Le Carre's formidable and rather intimidating catalogue.

Strictly meant for lovers of serious Fiction,this is easily the bleakest book that I have ever read in my life. I remember taking a shower at midnight after I was done with it to "cleanse" myself. A hard, bitter,relentlessly cynical and disturbingly realistic peek at the sordid workings of an Espio
Jul 26, 2008 Maureen rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: novel, espionage
LeCarre excels at bringing the human condition into his work, and nowhere is it more evident than in these pages. An wartime bureaucratic agency is gradually dwindling away until it is provided with information that the Russians are arming missiles on the East German border. Without resources to track down the intelligence, the agency relies upon a former spy behind the Iron Curtain to act as their agent. They constantly have to llie to him so that he will not discover how close to defunct the a ...more
During WWII, the Department had a mandate to handle all things military while the Circus dealt with political issues. They did their job brilliantly and relive those glory days with great pride. Twenty years later, the Department has become redundant, their budget pared to next to nothing but they still have their pride to uphold. So when they receive intelligence that Soviet missiles might have been spotted close to the German border, Leclerc and crew feel their outdated mandate requires them t ...more
Mar 06, 2013 Kahn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As well as being the fourth George Smiley book, this also Le Carre's fourth ever novel - and still, you'd never know.
Moving outside The Circus, The Looking Glass War is more a political - rather than espionage - thriller, with different departments who should be on the same side fighting for their own interests.
And again, Le Carre draws you in and holds on to you as the plot unfolds.
What is becoming clear as his writing develops is just how masterful he is at pacing his novels.
The first section
Ein etwas anderer Spionage-Thriller, der aufzeigt will, wie stümperhaft und lächerlich Spionage-Aktionen ablaufen können, nur, weil abgehalfterte Beamte ein wenig Aufregung in ihr Leben bringen wollen.

London in den 1960ern: Den ergrauten Kriegsveteranen eines britischen Militärgeheimdienstes liegen aus unsicherer Quelle Informationen über eine Raketenabschussbasis in der DDR vor. Mit ihren altertümlichen, im Krieg erprobten Methoden bilden sie stümperhaft einen ebenso gealterten Agenten für die
Nov 01, 2010 Helen rated it it was amazing
Shelves: espionage
Phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal.

Le Carre at the height of his powers. The Looking Glass War begins twenty years after the end of World War II, telling the tale of an imagined rivalry between the shrunken, decayed remains of military intelligence, and Smiley's legendary Circus, the political wing of British Intelligence.

The book begins with a botched operation; an agent dies. These men are no longer operational, they are playing at a game that has passed them by in terms of manpower, technolog
Mar 28, 2013 Darwin8u rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
A minor le Carré on par with a A Murder of Quality and Call for the Dead, the Looking Glass War explores the pathetic ineptitude, personal and professional betrayals, and the amoral universe of a former military espionage department that has seen better days. With nuance le Carré dissects a dying animal. At times it felt like a strange combination of Philip Roth (see The Dying Animal) meets Robert Littell (see The Sisters). By the end the reader feels betrayed, humanity feels soiled, and nothing ...more
Oct 22, 2013 Tim rated it it was ok
Spies like Us without the humour.

John le Carré followed up the success of The Spy who came in from the Cold with a different take on the spying game - The Looking Glass War. Le Carré turned everything on its head by showing us the bumbling fools of The Department - an old boys club of war veterans who think they revitalise their careers with a dash of espionage. It was not well received.

For me the story could have made a great caper, if John le Carré had the comedy writing chops. But he plays it
Dec 09, 2011 Esdaile rated it liked it
Shelves: espionage
This has been described as an "anti-James Bond" spy story and it is true that its salient feature is not adventure but realism. Very little happens in this book and anyone expecting some kind of pot boiler will be extremely disappointed. There is much that I do not like about the book, its committed and uncompromising indulgence in dreariness almost for the sake of dreariness, the world-weariness with which the entire story seems to be coloured, the humourlessness, the paucity of indulgence and ...more
Sep 23, 2011 John rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011
...he was witnessing an insane relay race in which each contestant ran faster and longer than the last, arriving nowhere but at his own destruction.

For some reason I keep thinking of le Carre as a writer of thrillers, and it's true that his recent crop of novels definitely follow a kind of thriller model, but his earlier novels, like The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and A Perfect Spy, are really high tragedies that use some of the reversals of the conventional spy thriller to ease the delivery
Oct 02, 2009 Mark added it
While Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is often described as "anti-James Bond" spy fiction, I think this one has a better stab at that description. It's a book firmly within the same fictional universe as the others I've been reading by le Carre (George Smiley is a small character in it), but unlike the others the spies in question don't work for the Circus (ie, MI6) but a small somewhat defunct intelligence organization also working for the British government. The book is actually a bit hard to read a ...more
Tom Marcinko
Dec 09, 2012 Tom Marcinko rated it really liked it
Consumer alert: Though this is called "A George Smiley Novel," he appears only briefly in this one.

By this time, JLC readers know it's almost never going to end well. As with The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, the multiple layers of deception and betrayal are breathtaking.

JLC's novels immediately after The Spy... got poor reviews until Tinker, Tailor..., but IMO they are all essential.

~‘A knife’s better in some ways, Fred,’ Leclerc added consolingly, ‘quieter.’~

~‘When we met him he was a man wi
Jun 19, 2015 Donna rated it really liked it
Shelves: suspense
I have only read one other John le Carre book and I remember not being impressed. I liked this one so much better. I loved how his characters aren't super human and the egotistical savior to all. They are normal people and sometimes things don't work out quite right. He managed to insert realistic emotion into this book. I was hoping it was longer when I reached the end.
Paul Pensom
Jan 10, 2011 Paul Pensom rated it really liked it
This was the third of Le Carré's novels set around the espionage services of the '60's (though the fourth to feature Smiley), and it will doubtless suffer from comparisons with its direct predecessor, 'The Spy Who Came In From The Cold'. I think this is a shame, as it's a very accomplished book in its own right.

The story, of a crumbling department desperately trying to recapture past glories, is shot through with a chilling nihilism, and the sad tale spirals to its denouement with all the grim i
Daniel Bratell
Aug 25, 2011 Daniel Bratell rated it did not like it
Shelves: gave-up-on
John le Carré isn't for everyone and specifically, he's not for me. He describes a world that is as alien as it's uninteresting and absurd. I don't doubt it's realistic, but realism isn't always what makes an enjoyable reading experience.

This is one of only a few books ever that I've decided to not read through. Mostly because I was uncertain whether I should ever start it, but decided to have a go hoping it would be different from the previous Carré book I read. It wasn't. Actually, considering
Mar 15, 2015 Tory rated it did not like it
Lamest of the George Smiley books.
Nov 23, 2015 Thomas rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beware the vanity of old men who seek desperately to relive bygone days of glory! In sum Leclerc, head of the "Department," a once vital but now mostly redundant British intelligence outfit, comes across what could be an important piece of information on the enemy. Rather than hand the job off to the more modern and better equipped "Circus" (run by Control and George Smiley, recurring characters in the author's work), Leclerk seeks to handle the job "in house," reassembling a team old veterans p ...more
Robert Morris
Apr 19, 2015 Robert Morris rated it it was amazing
This was great. Le Carré is not the most fast paced of authors, but his treatment of the cold war issues rings true in a way that most cold war fiction does not. This is the fourth of his novels and the successor to the career-making "Spy Who Came In From the Cold" that allowed him to leave his job working for the UK government. If I recall correctly, a le Carré interview I read stated that it did not do as well, and was not as rapturously received. I prefer it to the more famous one though.

Mar 30, 2015 Peter rated it really liked it
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John le Carré, the pseudonym of David John Moore Cornwell (born 19 October 1931 in Poole, Dorset, England), is an English author of espionage novels. Le Carré has resided in St Buryan, Cornwall, Great Britain, for more than 40 years, where he owns a mile of cliff close to Land's End.

See also: John le Carré - Wikipedia
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“Do you know what love is? I'll tell you: it is whatever you can still betray.” 92 likes
“There were times when he confronted his own image as a man confronts an empty valley, and the vision propelled him forward again to experience as despair compels us to extinction. Sometimes he was like a man in flight, but running toward the enemy, desperate to feel upon his vanishing body the blows that would prove his being; desperate to imprint upon his sad conformity the mark of real purpose, desperate perhaps, as Leclerc had hinted, to abdicate his conscience in order to discover God.” 4 likes
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