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My Silent War: The Autobiography of a Spy
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My Silent War: The Autobiography of a Spy

3.51  ·  Rating Details ·  348 Ratings  ·  44 Reviews
In the annals of espionage, one name towers above all others: that of H.A.R. “Kim” Philby, the ringleader of the legendary Cambridge spies. A member of the British establishment, Philby joined the Secret Intelligence Service in 1940, rose to the head of Soviet counterintelligence, and, as MI6’s liaison with the CIA and the FBI, betrayed every secret of Allied operations to ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published September 24th 2002 by Modern Library (first published 1968)
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Mar 02, 2012 Magila rated it really liked it
Certainly one of the better parts of my class on the Cold War. This book is short, and rather interesting because Kim Philby had no remorse for his actions. As you read his autobiography, you cannot help but be pulled into his world and at once develop a respect and disgust for him and his actions. Philby is one of the most interesting individuals from the Cold War era.
Ryan Gough
Feb 26, 2013 Ryan Gough rated it did not like it
I wasn't sure what I thought of Philby before I read this book. Its nothing to do with his politics; I've some fairly strong communist sympathies myself. But whilst I couldn't help but admire the chutzpah of anyone who manages to pull off the double agent trick as effectively as he did, I also couldn't forget that this is a man who had to betray people who were apparently close to him, which is something that sits very badly with me.

After reading about a third of the book my dilemma was resolved
Andy Walker
Philby. The name alone is enough to provoke a whole raft of visceral feelings about treachery, deceit, double dealing and betrayal. Together with Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, Anthony Blunt and John Cairncross, Harold 'Kim' Philby was one of the Cambridge Five, the most devastating group of Soviet-controlled double agents in British history. But, of the five, it was Philby who did the most damage. Prior to his flight to Moscow in 1963, Philby had risen to head the Soviet desk at MI6, the UK's Sec ...more
Feb 27, 2013 Edward rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
This book is worth reading if only to provide a personal perspective on the shadow war during WWII and the early Cold War.

An abundance of official relationships to individuals who are no longer prominent and laying out the organization of early British espionage via acronyms can make reading a little confusing but a guide at the front for the latter does help. Philby begins his espionage career in Spain prior to WWII and the confusion of the war makes it easy for anyone with some connections to
Jul 05, 2013 Ken rated it liked it
I was expecting so much more of this book since Kim Philby was the most notoriously successful spy of the entire Cold War era, and quite possibly the most important secret agent who ever lived. And, it's not that Philby can't write, because he really can, yet his choice of material and his impartial approach seems to render his extraordinary life almost dry and dull. Kim Philby was a secret lifelong Soviet Communist who became the head of the British secret service, MI6, and betrayed or serious ...more
Nov 10, 2016 Tone rated it liked it
While academically interesting, this is a dry read. Either he left out the most interesting stuff, or real tradecraft isn't all that interesting in of itself. I suspect the latter.
I liked how he dismissed people as they left his autobiography. There will be a line like, "Henry and I never crossed paths again. He was killed when the submarine transporting him to Morocco was sunk by the Germans."
Al Capwned
Jan 22, 2017 Al Capwned rated it liked it
Shelves: biography, british
I was expecting much more of this book but Philby wasn't so willing to write more. A very interesting part is the debunking of spies (we tend to have a very different picture in mind when it comes to secret agents). I enjoyed it enough, despite his not-so-good writing style. Best part is the inside look at the plots against the USSR by british and american intelligence of course.
Jan 02, 2016 Joe rated it really liked it
Truth may not be stranger than fiction. In the case of My Silent War, it is both more outrageous and less plausible. Kim Philby was the master double agent of all time. For a good fifteen years, he was at the heart of the British-American espionage effort against the Soviet Union. He rose to the top of the MI6-SIS, whichever you want to call it, network, and was the main point man in dealing with the Byzantine complexities and constant backbiting between the FBI and the CIA and other American sp ...more
Well,...A mixed bag. Definitely worth reading if for only understanding the twisted and convoluted pathways the mind of a traitor can take. Philby was a loathsome,narcissistic, arrogant and self centered neurotic, who harboured precious little love for anyone or anything other than himself. Throughout his book, he delivers tirades of scathing and disparaging remarks against the likes of J.Edgar Hoover, and Alan Dulles(former directors FBI/CIA respectively) "...the bumbling Dulles" (Philby 2002, ...more
This is a short, rather bare bones account of Kim Philby's pre-Moscow life, mainly centering on his time spent in the British secret service and abroad. Written by Philby whilst in exile in the Soviet Union, it's not so much an autobiography (Philby avoids talking too much about himself) more an insider's look at a life many of us can never hope, or really want, to lead.

Starting with his Cambridge years and brief stint as a journalist in Franco Spain, it moves on to Philby's early career in the
May 18, 2011 David rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: big-white-square
"'He betrayed his country' – yes, perhaps he did, but who among us has not committed treason to something or someone more important than a country?" asks Graham Greene in the foreword.

Yes, but not many of us have worked with a government to deprive individuals of their life or liberty. Eighteen young men were parachuted into Eastern Europe and, thanks to Philby, were never heard from again.

It's a cold book and I couldn't help thinking that Philby's greatest crime was taking it all too seriously
Jon Bernstein
Dec 10, 2013 Jon Bernstein rated it really liked it
The book is interesting and very well written (if you like extremely dry British humor) but it leaves out quite a lot. If you are interested, for example, in how and why Philby first became a Soviet agent, don't bother because he doesn't really explain the beginnings of the whole thing - he assumes his audience already knows, I guess. Mostly this is a history of Philby's career in British intelligence from the perspective of someone infiltrating it and the bulk of it is essentially a summing up ...more
Feb 09, 2012 Alexwentworth rated it really liked it
A detailed but short account of Philby's career in British intelligence (albeit as a Soviet agent) My Silent War is not 'tell-all' but it is a fascinating read nonetheless. Philby and the other Cambridge spies became Communist agents in the service of the Soviet Union because they believed it was the only way to defeat fascism in Europe. However, Philby was the only one to stick wholeheartedly by the Soviet Union, through the show trials, pogroms, and disappointments, believing that he had betra ...more
D. J.
Apr 10, 2008 D. J. rated it liked it
Philby is a fascinating character in World War II and Post WWII history. A master of espionage, he very nearly become director of MI6 before it was discovered that two British agents (Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess) had been double agents for the Soviets. Philby supposedly tipped Maclean and Burgess off, thereby bringing suspicion upon himself.

He was a member of the Cambridge Five, whose intelligence activities for the NKVD and KGB inflicted a great deal of damage on British and American intelli
May 14, 2014 Reverenddave rated it did not like it
This book would have perhaps been slightly better if I remembered more about Kim than what I got from compendiums of the world's greatest spies that I read as a child, but only marginally so. The book, written 5-10 years after his defection to the USSR, goes heavy on the interoffice politics of the SIS in WW2 as well as brief and uninteresting paragraph long character sketches of his coworkers. Occasionally, he will make a brief nudge-nudge, wink-wink reference to being responsible for the failu ...more
Nov 18, 2014 Boyd rated it it was ok
Kim Philby was a fascinating character whose brilliance and addiction to treachery are equally staggering, but boy is he ever unable to bring his own story to life in this nose-thumbing account of capital-offense-level malfeasance. Rogues are usually fun, but not this guy. Particularly after reading this autobiography, it's hard to believe he was ever really a dedicated communist. He was just a dedicated liar with the greatest contempt for everyone he came into contact with.

Anyone who wants to g
Dec 26, 2014 James rated it it was ok
Somewhat disappointing, most of the book is about his daily activities,
he tells almost nothing about what intel he gave the Russians,
or what effect it had for the US & allies

page 53
he gives credit for breaking the german cypher to Dilly Knox

I've read that
1 polish mathematicians broke the cypher
2 alan turning " "
3 d knox " "

but the story I'm most inclined to believe
is that a polish machinist worked at the cypher factory
assembling the machines and before war broke out in sep 1939,
he fled to
Jul 04, 2014 Murray rated it it was ok
I hated the first three-quarters if this book and nearly abandoned it. Nothing worse than boring and confusing, with very little to take away. I had heard of Philby before and was expecting a much more interesting story with a lot of intrigue and adventure. I would have probably been better off reading a book about Philby rather than his autobiography

The last 50 pages were more interesting and also the only thing that prevented me from giving this true spy story only one star. I would have like
Kristy Miller
Feb 03, 2015 Kristy Miller rated it liked it
You would expect a book by one of the most famous double agents in the history of spying to be more interesting. It's not bad, but what Philby chose to write about wasn't interesting. More than half the book focuses on his work during WWII, and while he was passing information to the Russians at that time they were on our side, and it's not as interesting. His actions and motivations in the Cold War are the things that were of interest to me, and those don't get nearly as much space in his book. ...more
Dec 21, 2014 Paul rated it really liked it
This is Philby's own account of his life working in the British secret service (whilst spying for the Soviets). An absolutely fascinating perspective on events, the tale that launched a thousand spy novels. Although he pulls a veil over some areas, particularly his Soviet contacts, he is happy at other times to put the boot in on some individuals. I was reading this at the same time as Robert Harris's fictional account of the Dreyfus affair in France, and was struck by how accurately Harris mana ...more
Denis Farley
Dec 18, 2009 Denis Farley rated it it was amazing
Read this I guess in Germany around 1968. Having been steeped in TV's 'I Led Three Lives' I suppose I was primed for something like this, especially after probably having read Joe Heller's 'Catch 22'. I was particularly taken with Captain Yossarian's solution to the problem. Perhaps I was influenced by the gaming aspect to the action which may be closer to the bone than the 'logic' behind one's actions. The point being, like Gen Arnold . . . he got away, which in itself is not always the moral h ...more
Jan 01, 2009 Matt rated it really liked it
If you enjoyed John Le Carre's books about George Smiley, this is a book that makes them an even richer experience. Also, for those who like untrustworthy narrators of fiction, Philby is the real deal, a truly untrustworthy narrator of non-fiction.

It is hard to describe just how appalling Philby is. He writes an effective, and charming narrative of his life, but the almost complete lack of real feeling for other human beings enables him to essentially gloss over many of the terrible things he d
Apr 04, 2011 Lorraine rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
This is a difficult book to rate because it is so distasteful, in many ways, to read. I've read a half-dozen or so books on Philby/the Cambridge spies. Philby's version discloses a contemptuous and arrogant individual with a crabbed and constipated soul. He does not display even a misguided idealism. Still, it is is fascinating as a case study.
Dec 29, 2014 George rated it liked it
Shelves: espionage
An interesting take that merits more of a review than I can provide over a mobile phone isn't really his autobiography as much as it is his recounting of his time in intelligence. Shines an interesting light on the times and activities of the British and the Soviets. Probably required reading for anyone looking to read the other books on Philby that are popular right now.
Nov 12, 2009 David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Foreword by Graham Greene, who says it reads better than any spy novel. Philby was a pariah over here after making a run for it to Moscow in 1963. Burgess and Maclean followed later, and Blunt - the fourth man - later still. Philby said he put up with the Stalin years as a Catholic would put up with the Inquisition, remaining true to his beliefs despite the bad times.
Oct 26, 2014 Icyfarrell rated it liked it
Shelves: history, spy, biography
Jan 26, 2015 Jill rated it liked it
Really wanted to read this after reading A Spy Among Friends A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal, and found it at Powell's. Philby was a really intelligent and idealistic secret agent, and also a total dick.
Feb 28, 2013 Jack rated it liked it
Starts off slow and is fairly tedious going for a decent chunk of the book but sparks into life towards the end. The real interest and best discussion regarding this memoir though lies to a great extent outside the book itself. Reactions to Philby can expose a great deal about a persons politics and worldview.
G.T. Almasi
Jul 10, 2012 G.T. Almasi rated it it was ok
I made myself read this as research for my own writing. It's a bad book, with some interesting factoids for spy-geeks like me. Philby is so full of himself I'm guessing he has to have someone else eat for him. Still, it's a real-life spy story written by the spy in the story. Two stars, but not recommended as a pleasurable read.
Sep 14, 2011 Corq rated it really liked it
I don't endorse or hero worship Philby in any fashion; but its interesting to know what *they believe* makes them "tick", and also to comprehend the historical spin on matters we too often read only one side of in the news.
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