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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (The Karla Trilogy #1)

4.02  ·  Rating Details  ·  39,641 Ratings  ·  2,542 Reviews
"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," which first appeared in 1974, is arguably Le Carre's masterpiece and is surely one of the great spy novels of the 20th century. Loosely inspired by the career of Kim Philby, a Russian double agent who worked his way into the upper reaches of the British Secret Service, "Tinker, Tailor" tells the story of donnish, unprepossessing master spy G ...more
Audio Cassette, 0 pages
Published October 8th 1989 by Soundelux Audio Pub (first published 1974)
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Brendan There is no such thing as "the Smiley series," except in the minds of certain Goodreads librarians. This is the first book in le Carré's so-called…moreThere is no such thing as "the Smiley series," except in the minds of certain Goodreads librarians. This is the first book in le Carré's so-called Karla Trilogy.(less)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jeffrey Keeten
Sep 14, 2015 Jeffrey Keeten rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spies
"The suspicious black car did not follow me home. How am I supposed to maintain this level of paranoia with this level of incompetence?" Tweet from jkeeten's defunct Twitter account.

"I don't smoke but I always travel w/ a Zippo lighter in case I have to light a beautiful woman's cigarette or the wick of a Molotov cocktail." Another tweet from jkeeten's defunct Twitter account.

The British Secret Service, resembling a corporation that has suffered sagging profits, has reshuffled key players, ouste
Jan 31, 2012 Jason rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: for-kindle, 2012, reviewed
A few months ago a stylish looking British adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was released in theaters and I was intrigued. But I knew better. Movies are for smart people. If I had to constantly nudge my wife during Superbad to ask questions like, “so who is that guy again?” and “wait, is she the same one from before?” then I had to admit that seeing this movie would only serve to make me feel very confused and intellectually inadequate. I do better with books. Books explain things. Book ...more
May 17, 2009 Manny rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm one of many people who think that Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is the greatest espionage novel of all time. Let's take the obvious things first. Unlike most examples of this genre, it's extremely well-written. Also, having worked in espionage himself, le Carré is able to get the atmosphere right. It feels 100% authentic, and you see that spying is like most other jobs. The greater part of it is routine and office intrigues, though every now and then something unexpected and dramatic happens. ...more

Who can spy on the spies ?

We are at the heart of British Secret Intelligence Service , commonly known as MI6 . For the initiated the Circus .

Tinker , tailor, soldier, spy it’s the look at the firm from the inside . Author himself worked there for many years and thanks to it I have no problems with his credibility . We get to know world of intelligence , its structure , jargon . Babysitters , lamplighters , ferrets , shoemakers , scalphunters . Sounds really crazy .

Intelligence work it is
Patrick Brown
Aug 11, 2008 Patrick Brown rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Patrick by: Robert Newman and Marshall Presnick
Shelves: spy-thrillers
I had read The Spy Who Came In From the Cold on my honeymoon in Paris, and I remember liking it, but not rushing out to get more Le Carre. Well, now I'm going to rush out to get more Le Carre.

I didn't give this five stars because it was a touch slow to get moving. I think if I'd just been able to focus a little more, I would've been into the plot faster. Le Carre has this ability to make every character a mystery. So much is withheld from the reader, and yet the characters are fascinating. I
Dec 28, 2012 Willow rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is not my type of book. I never read stuff like this. I don’t like contemporaries (unless there are vampires or witches in them) and I rarely read mysteries. I loved the movie though (I’m a big Gary Oldman fan) so I thought what the heck, I’ll read the book. After all, it’s not really a contemporary…at least not anymore. The action takes place during the early seventies. So here I am.

First off, I have to say Le Carre writes with amazing detail. These guys aren’t like
Jan 10, 2008 Derrick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Oft billed as the "anti-Ian Flemming," John Le Carre inverts all the typical trappings of the spy-thriller: in place of the handsome, gadget-happy g-man we're given a sacked, middle-aged cuckold whose attention to detail and intellectual virtuosity quietly derail Moscow Central's invisible vise-grip on the Circus.

Note that "quietly," as the tension here is all cerebral, the violence and spectacle off-stage, and the stakes themselves, though no less dire than the fate of the world, are entirely i
Apparently I'm turning into a really shitty reader.

This is the first Le Carré I've read, and whatever, I think I expected a little more James Bond than, well, George Smiley - a name which every single time was mentioned (which was quite a lot) always made me think of his muppet-brother, Guy Smiley. Picturing George as a human and not a muppet made the reading more difficult than I had intended. (See first note about becoming a really shitty reader.)

And in my current mood I wanted some violence.
Oct 27, 2011 Ryan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Veterans of Britain's secret service refer to MI6 as the Circus, and when Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy opens, our hero George Smiley has been kicked out of the show. So Smiley has not retired with dignity, but rather has been ousted for backing a jaded horse. The head of Circus, a spy so skilled that people only knew him as "Control," went out in a blaze of tragedy, and Smiley's career was one of the casualties.

Unknown to most, Control was trying to find a mole. He failed and the Circus has been re
Mar 20, 2012 Trevor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature, mystery
I caught up with a friend a few weeks ago when I had just started this book and he said he had given up on the film and drifted off to sleep as he had completely lost track of what was going on and in the end couldn’t care either way anyway. That was exactly the experience I was having with the book and had thought it was just me. But then, all of a sudden, at about the middle of this one (I imagine just as George was dozing off in the film), the pieces of the jigsaw start dropping into place an ...more
Jan 03, 2008 Kate rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Kate by: Krissa
First off, I understand that Tinker Tailor is a spy novel, and that Le Carre obviously wanted to achieve a certain effect appropriate to the genre, and to keep everything "realistic." But it was jargon-y to a fault, and in keeping its audience as in the dark as its protagonist, it succeeded too well.

Furthermore, its characters never spoke the way they were described - it was always "'could you pass the tea please, that's a boy,' he shouted furiously." And about 95% of the book is written in past
Jun 18, 2007 gaby rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spy
And thus began what would be a year and a half-long obsession with George Smiley and his British Circus. Having now read every last book in which Smiley is even cursorily mentioned, I can say steadfast that this is Le Carre's masterwork. It is a warm, immersive book. It draws you in like a warm sweater, and keeps you suspended weightless and happy in its alternate world. I literally read this book three times in a row before moving on to the next in the trilogy (The Honourable Schoolboy). It is ...more
Matt Brady
May 25, 2013 Matt Brady rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2013
The best espionage thriller I’ve ever read. One of the greatest living British writers hardly needs me to talk him up, but I truly am in awe of le Carré's skills.

The plot is fairly simple. It’s the early 70’s and George Smiley, after a year of forced retirement, is tasked with uncovering the identity of a Soviet mole that has managed to infiltrate the highest echelons of the British secret service. But the amount of depth and complexity that le Carre manages to add to this story is remarkable, a
I freely admit that I am not smart enough to appreciate this book.

The whole thing was way too convoluted for me. First I was in one character's head, then another, then back to the first. Then there was a third character who mostly made cameo appearances and was clearly unimportant, but we spend time in his head too. As if that's not confusing enough, different people narrate different parts of the story as master spy George Smiley (highly distracting name, I must say) interviews different playe
Nov 26, 2014 Feliks rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: genre-thrillers
For quite some time, this was one of the most amazing successes in the genre of espionage fiction. It reined supreme. The reading public had never seen anything quite like it. Everyone knew John LeCarre was a spy writer and that he was 'rather good'. Everyone--absolutely everyone--was aware of the landmark, the juggernaut which he had already achieved some years previously: 'The Spy Who Came in From the Cold'. No one --I think--expected him to equal that triumph; no one expected him to follow th ...more
Jan 21, 2016 ALittleHaze rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The blurb from the back of the book:
"The Circus (aka MI6) has already suffered a bad defeat and the result was two bullets in a man's back. But a bigger threat still exists. The legendary George Smiley is recruited to root out a high-level mole of thirty years' standing - though to find him means spying on the spies."

Do you ever feel like you're just not on the ball? Like you're two seconds behind everyone else?? That everyone else gets things quicker than you and you are always trying to catch
Ben Winch
There’s a rumour going around that this is somehow “more” than a genre novel, that it’ll challenge your shelving such that you’ll pull it out and won’t know where to put it back again. Well I’m sorry to say but there’s no way it’s throwing my shelves out of whack. Genre concerns – plot, suspense, intrigue – are front and centre, characters drawn only to the degree necessary for the whodunnit and relationships between them shallowly explored. Which isn’t to fault it – it’s gripping, and I liked i ...more
Thomas Briggs
Dec 31, 2013 Thomas Briggs rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Not for the cursory reader, this book presents an enigmatic quest by that least dashing of protagonists, Mr. George Smiley, late of the Circus (MI6). The reader is dropped, as in other LeCarre novels, into the middle of the story, and must piece together the story from Smiley’s own memories and those of others who, in one way or another have been exiled from their life’s work . Gradually, Smiley finds that the promotion of an incompetent to the leadership of the service, and the banishment of th ...more
Jul 15, 2009 Chloe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of Graham Greene's The Human Factor
Recommended to Chloe by: Ted Graf
When it comes to the spy novel, John le Carre is the undisputed master. The man can fill a typically unexciting scene, say of a character reading letters, with enough suspense and tension to leave the reader tight-lipped and breathless as they hurriedly flip to the next page. His spies are not the supermen of Hollywood like Bond and Bourne, but instead are unathletic, unassuming people who tend to either resemble washed-up pugilists or sallow-cheeked bank clerks.

Le Carre's George Smiley is the e
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is my second John le Carré novel, the first being The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (which I may need to read again). I remember never really feeling the need to go out and read some more, which would have been a huge mistake. My reasoning for reading Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was mainly came from the need to have the book read before seeing the movie adaption. John le Carré does a great job writing complex spy plots, but sometimes it gets too confusing and makes ...more
It was enjoyable - but what a mess!

Structurally it was a catastrophe for me. It's part of a series, but I went in thinking it was fine reading it on its own, and it is, in a way. Smiley's case isn't linked to any previous novels - but I think some of the backstory that kept popping up here would have come across less confusing had I read any of the other books previously. As it was now it felt unfitting and interrupted in the most frustrating places, which was a downer.

The spy stuff is really go
Apr 20, 2008 danny rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spystuff, fiction
I've read and re-read this probably half a dozen times. Absolutely the finest most textured espionage novel EVER written (including Le Carre's other espionage masterpiece "The Spy Who Came In From The Cold"). Honestly, you need a scorecard to keep the characters and plot line straight. Loosely based on the British spy scandals of the 50s/60s/70s. Too damned good to put down or read once. FYI the BBC television mini-series (starring Sir Alec Guiness) faithfully follows the plot line. Good times t ...more
Alice X. Zhang
Mar 18, 2012 Alice X. Zhang rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Picked this up because of the recent film, which was already grim and complicated enough to require multiple viewings. The book is even more complex (actually makes the movie seem over-simplified, which I didn't think was possible)... le Carre is definitely a master of his genre. Although Tinker Tailor's world is fictional it somehow manages to be almost overly, suffocatingly realistic, an espionage tale that has absolutely none of the flashy glamour that characterizes a lot of modern spy storie ...more
Jun 17, 2012 Anachronist rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A quote to give you some idea what you are dealing with:

“'It is the perfect fix: you see that, don't you, Toby, really?' Smiley remarked in a quiet, rather distant way. 'Assuming it is a fix. It makes everyone wrong who's right: Connie Sachs, Jerry Westerby... Jim Prideaux... even Control. Silences the doubters before they've even spoken out... the permutations are infinite, once you've brought off the basic lie. Moscow Centre must be allowed to think she has an important Circus source; Whiteha
Jan 21, 2015 Ij marked it as abandoned-books  ·  review of another edition
I read over 200 pages before deciding to abandon this book. I only read this far to find out what happened to the characters in chapter 1. It seem not worth it to me to continue this slow read.


This book was included in “1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.”

I own the 2006 edition of “1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.” Peter Boxall is the general editor and the preface was written by Peter Ackroyd. This book has compiled 1001 recommended books, primarily novels which were selected
Nov 22, 2015 thalakii rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Λάτρεψα το χαρακτήρα του Τζιμ Πριντό από την πρώτη εως την τελευταία σελίδα. Όλα τα αποσπάσματα που τον αφορούσαν ήταν για μένα διαμάντια γραφής. Οι περισσότεροι χαρακτήρες ήταν άρτιοι και το βιβλίο δεν είχε τίποτα περιττό. Κατατάσσω άμεσα τον ΛεΚαρέ ανάμεσα στους μάστερς του γραψίματος και θα επιστρέψω σύντομα στην τριλογία του Κάρλα.
Jeremiah Genest
Oct 14, 2007 Jeremiah Genest rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spyfi
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is not only le Carre's masterpiece, not only perhaps the greatest spy novel ever written, but it is also a great work of serious fiction. Few works of fiction examine so many types of betrayal: of country, of friends, of lovers, of ideals. In none of the espionage master's other works are so many layers of meaning revealed, all inseparable from a highly entertaining cat-and-mouse adventure yarn. The story of supposedly retired spy George Smiley's efforts to ferret ou ...more
Ne. Tiesiog ne. Žiūrėjau filmą, atrodė lyg ir nieko, be pusės nesupratau, o dabar visiškai nieko neprisimenu. Galvojau, kad prastai žiūrėjau, bet dabar skaitau knygą, matau, kad čia viskas tas pats - nuobodi kaip velnias, neįdomi, ir jau viską pamiršau. Ir dar Gary Oldmanas visalaik prieš akis šokinėja (čia šiaip būtų pliusas, bet šiuo atveju - ir jis erzina). Žodžiu, nepatiko man baisiai, neskaitykit.
I never had much of a desire to read TTSS. I knew about John Le Carre, and his books were heavy on my parents' bookshelves, but I never really felt moved to read them. Then I saw the preview for the new movie (2011/2012).

It stars Gary Oldman, Mark Strong, John, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds, and Tom Hardy.

And you know if it's British it will have all those actors(male and female) that you know, including in this case Owen of the Sheep from The Vicar of Dilby.

As S
I like George Smiley. Maybe I should note that Smiley looks nothing like Gary Oldman. Maybe I shouldn't think about cinema, the way Operation Testify was shifted from Brno to Budapest. Maybe i should just think about George Smiley. It is probable that I prefer Smiley to the novels of John Le Carre. There is much of the flawed in our protagonist. I like him. Tinker begins with verve. The novel proceeds half concealed. There is a deliberate reticence within the progression: there are glimpses and ...more
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Books2Movies Club: * Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 1 6 Feb 03, 2016 03:59PM  
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Good first Le Carre book to read. 18 278 Jul 07, 2015 12:27PM  
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Book Club: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy - May 4 to May 17 2 3 May 19, 2015 10:52PM  
2015 Reading Chal...: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carre 1 13 Mar 16, 2015 06:11AM  
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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
More about John le Carré...

Other Books in the Series

The Karla Trilogy (3 books)
  • The Honourable Schoolboy
  • Smiley's People

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“The more identities a man has, the more they express the person they conceal.” 148 likes
“There are moments which are made up of too much stuff for them to be lived at the time they occur.” 57 likes
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