The Looking Glass War
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The Looking Glass War

3.75 of 5 stars 3.75  ·  rating details  ·  3,592 ratings  ·  159 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
55th out of 689 books — 790 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
49th out of 517 books — 549 voters

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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

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...more
Jim Pfluecke
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...more
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...more
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 Espio...more
Sep 23, 2011 John rated it 4 of 5 stars
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...more
Paul Pensom
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...more
If anything this is grimier than The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (it's immediate predecessor, I believe). On top of the dirty business of espionage, the main characters are quite clearly incompetent, yet proud with it (it's somewhat reminiscent of the old Fry and Laurie sketches about a cosy spy ring, but with a think layer of hubris spread over). That may sounds like it should be amusing, but it's anything but - it's sad and a bit frightening (I must say, if I'd been reading these books durin...more
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
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...more
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...more
Jul 26, 2008 Maureen rated it 4 of 5 stars Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: espionage, novel
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
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...more
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
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...more
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
Sean Brennan
written in 1963 this is a highly prophetic novel. The portrayal of grey men, living in a grey world with the onset of colour just around the corner.

A British espionage section simply known as 'The Department' which during 'The War' had carried out missions of the utmost importance, but now finding itself mostly 'surplus to requirements' finds itself with the opportunity to once again run their own covert mission.

This is as far away from James Bond as you could possibly imagine, the portrayal of...more
Le Carre claims to have written this book in part as a reaction against the fame he garnered for writing the Spy Who Came in From the Cold. He felt that his fantastic portrayal of the genius of Control and Smiley in Spy had been over the top; an unrealistic portrayal of the intelligence world as he understood it. In the Looking Glass War he looks to set the record straight, portraying a dying agency full of self-important bureaucrats desperately cleaving to a bankrupt ideology, ignoring the moun...more
Zakariah Johnson
The UK's cultural revival, or at least the painful reinvention beginning in the 1960s that eventually led to revival in the 1990s, once the end of the Cold War reintegrated Europe's natural economic ties, was largely a generational movement that succeeded by trimming the dross and jettisoning the ballast. As ever, the "excess" to be left behind included men who'd once been heroes and many of their ideas that had once been integral to their nation's success but which had become embarrassing and e...more
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
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...more
Daniel Bratell
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...more
Gritty spy novel from The Cold War, but it was clinical and very matter-of-fact in its description and outlook. The book was panned when it was first released because it didn't sensationalize spy life and painted a very unflattering picture of the British secret service. However, the book came to be appreciated and lauded as a master class in how to write a "real" spy novel - as in, possessing a total lack of the over-the-top James Bond bluster and casual sex.
Crossposted at Booklikes.

Another excellent production by the BBC of a John le Carre Smiley novel. The question is, of course, who is the enemy? The other country or something else? Well acted audio production. Well worth a listen.
Beautifully written - 'Her mouth was stained and ugly. Leclerc had never seen anyone cry so much; it was like a wound that would not close.' Rich, dense and full of brilliant characters. And very poignant - I could have howled at the amateurism and the bigotry portrayed. I have really enjoyed re-reading this book.
John Le Carré follows up The Spy Who Came In from the Cold with this more realistic take on the mundane, and inane, world of cold war espionage. The brief sparks of idealism occasionally present in the previous book are replaced here by an almost pervading cynicism as rival intelligence agencies compete for resources, with the fading military intelligence operation, the Department, snatching at the flimsiest of leads in an effort to prove their relevance compared to the political intelligence ag...more
From BBC Radia 4 Extra

When word reaches The Department that Soviet missiles are being installed close to the West German border, they seize the opportunity to relive former glories.

Sebastian Geißler
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...more
'The Looking Glass War' is the most difficult book of le Carre's 'Smiley series' to read through, but it's also the most personal and frank look at the Cold War era spy culture that the author has ever given. The novel is dense and slow burning, but it's also the first novel where le Carre fully realizes his power of mood and characterization. He spends time laboring over detailed training methods and aspects of spy craft, isolating his infighting agents and readers alike in the lies and futilit...more
John Le Carré's fourth novel, published in 1965, two years after his famous, ground-breaking "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold," reflects the spirit of the times. The work was released two years after the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, an event which may or may not have played any significant role in the mind of the writer. The Cold War was now in full swing, the Cuban Missile Crisis was long past, and the moral magistrates in the East and the West passively issued their summa...more
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Goodreads Librari...: Please combine editions 3 20 May 23, 2012 04:27AM  
  • London Match (Bernard Samson, #3)
  • The Human Factor
  • Epitaph for a Spy
  • Dark Star (Night Soldiers, #2)
  • Agent in Place
  • The Last Frontier
  • The Tears of Autumn (Paul Christopher #2)
  • Dead Line (Liz Carlyle, #4)
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 forty years where he owns a mile of cliff close to Land's End.
More about John le Carré...
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy The Spy Who Came In from the Cold Smiley's People The Russia House The Constant Gardener

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“Do you know what love is? I'll tell you: it is whatever you can still betray.” 58 likes
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