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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

(George Smiley #5)

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  77,719 ratings  ·  4,144 reviews
A modern classic in which John le Carré expertly creates a total vision of a secret world, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy begins George Smiley's chess match of wills and wits with Karla, his Soviet counterpart.

It is now beyond a doubt that a mole, implanted decades ago by Moscow Centre, has burrowed his way into the highest echelons of British Intelligence. His treachery ha
Paperback, 379 pages
Published October 1st 2002 by Scribner Book Company (first published 1974)
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Chitra Gautham This is the first book of the trilogy, which is completed by ' The honorable schoolboy', and then finally 'Smiley's people'. All of Le Carre's other books can be read in any order.
Mehmet Serdar Thinker, Tailor would not be the correct material, i guess. I would rather recommend Ken Follet's Century Triology as it is perfect tour de france of …moreThinker, Tailor would not be the correct material, i guess. I would rather recommend Ken Follet's Century Triology as it is perfect tour de france of European politics of 20th century.(less)

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Jeffrey Keeten
Jul 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-to-film, 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
Nov 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 25, 2012 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
"After a lifetime of living by his wits and his considerable memory, he had given himself full time to the profession of forgetting."

Over the past couple of months, George Smiley has earned the distinction of my favorite spy. Not because he is handsome, sexy, charismatic or daring but rather because he is all too human. He’s the real deal, and no one could write a genuine character like him as well as the master, John le Carré.

"Small, podgy, and at best middle-aged, he was by appearance one of
Jan 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: xx2018-completed
Spy novels may be best consumed in large gulps by me. There is no question that John Le Carré is a brilliant writer, and his plots are peppered with surprise spirals throughout each novel.

The one difficulty I had with this book was in the beginning, and it was my own difficulty. I had to quickly re-acquaint myself with British idiom, with spy jargon, distinguish between those two ‘languages’, and process many new players and how they related to characters I already knew from the previous 4 books
Bill Kerwin
Jun 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spies-intrigue

Whenever I think of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, I inevitably think of love: love that grants fortitude, love that clouds judgment, love that scars the soul and roots the heart. Although it is my experience of the book that guides me, it perhaps also has to do with the 1979 BBC miniseries, with the way Alec Guinness appears stolid and wounded, like an animal to the slaughter hit in the head with a hammer, with each inevitable mention of his wife’s beauty, each smirking hint at her chain of adul
May 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm going to state the obvious and say John le Carré is a really good writer.

This was my first le Carré novel, and I can see why he's considered such a master of the spy genre. The story itself was thrilling, but what I most appreciated were his thoughtful descriptions. The writing was so insightful that it was easy to become invested in the fate of the characters.

A quick plot summary: George Smiley is a retired British spy. He was forced out during a reorganization of the Circus, a nickname for
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

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 not guns and
Jason Koivu
Aug 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: spy, fiction
I didn't understand half of what I just read, and yet I loved it all the same!

In John le Carré's (real name David Cornwell) Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, a British intelligence service known as the Circus has been compromised by a mole, a supposed Soviet double agent. Former agent George Smiley is called back from retirement to ferret him out.

This is more of a psychological suspense novel than an action-filled James Bond spy thriller. Smiley is getting up there in years and though he's conversa
Dec 21, 2012 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
Patrick Brown
Aug 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
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.
Lewis Weinstein
Jul 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing
UPDATE 1-18-18 ... For espionage thrillers, this is as good as it gets. The setting is the Cold War, and both the Britain and Russia are tired but still engaging in lethal combat by spy. One central theme that I did not appreciate before this re-read is that the primary conflict, even when Le Carre tells the story from a British POV, is not between British spies and the Russians, but between Russia and America, with British spies taking sides, not always as expected. The conflict between persona ...more
Roman Clodia
Aug 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In that moment Guillam felt not merely betrayed; but orphaned. His suspicions, his resentments for so long turned outwards on the real world - on his women, his attempted loves - now swung upon the Circus and the failed magic which had formed his faith.

Le Carré's world is perhaps as far from the glamorous cosmos of James Bond and his followers as it's possible to be. There is bureaucracy instead of wild flights of individualism, brown cardboard files instead of new-fangled gadgets, and gloom
Jan 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 1001-read, audible
Just one of those perfect books.
Mar 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
”I like you to have doubts,” he said. “It tells me where you stand. But don’t make a cult of them or you’ll be a bore.”

Impossible to think how anyone could live the life of one of John le Carre’s cold war spies and not be assaulted by doubt day and night. Still, they must all be entertaining just the right amount, because none of these characters is a bore. Nobody does spy thriller quite as well as John le Carre, and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is John le Carre at his best.

Of course, there
Jan 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I remember that when I read this (and the other Karla novels) years ago, I ripped through them to the detriment of my understanding of all the twists and turns of the plot. So although I enjoyed them immensely, when I was all finished (and even during the reading) I felt confused about what story le Carre had actually told.

So a couple years ago I watched (Netflix) the BBC adaptation of the books with Alec Guinness. Again, I enjoyed it no end, but while the 7 hour condensation of the story had to
Whispering Stories
Book Reviewed by Stacey on

This is the first John Le Carré book that I have ever read. When I mentioned it to a few people that I would be reading it they all said the same thing, ‘it is a great book to get me introduced to the author’s work’. I will admit that I know of the book and that a few years ago there was a BBC adaptation of it and a recent movie. Alas, I have seen none, so apart from the synopsis and little snippets people were telling me, I knew nothing about
***2018 Summer of Spies***

Well, you couldn’t get much further away from the playboy-spy image than this, could you? George Smiley, the chubby everyman who’s always polishing his glasses, is the antithesis of James Bond. Rather than Miss Moneypenny, there’s a whole department of women known as “the mothers.” And instead of posh casinos, George spends a lot of time in a run-down hotel, reading swathes of paper files.

This is spy work done through the archives, searching for patterns in the pape
Megan Baxter
Mar 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
It was a great synchronicity that this popped up on one of my reading lists right now, as one of my gaming groups is about to embark on a game of Cold City, set in post-War Berlin, playing representatives of different countries in BPRD-like surroundings.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook
Dec 10, 2012 rated it it was ok
John Le Carre

Lot's of people whose taste I respect love John le Carré. Lots of very smart, well read people that I know absolutely love John le Carré. I just don't get it and I probably never will.

First, I find John le Carré books to be so slow. The action has almost always already taken place, so the reader learns about the action in retrospect, through vague “spy dialogue” between upper class old men who speak in riddles. For me, this slows down and dulls any action to a snails pace.

But, t
Oh, the joys of reading the master of the understated spy thriller! To quote a theme song from a movie based on a book by a very different spy novelist, "Nobody Does It Better".

Here we have Smiley fully developed as a character, out of the shadows, front and center in the plot. Not only do we observe Smiley's cautious unveiling of the mole at the very top levels of The Circus, the British spy agency, but we meet for the first time Russian spymaster Karla who will become his nemesis through two
Mar 26, 2007 rated it it was ok
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
May 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
How amazing--a spy novel where virtually nothing happens, and yet it's compelling and suspenseful nonetheless. It's really a testament to le Carre's writing that he pulls this off. A wonderfully cerebral work. ...more
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 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
Jan 01, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I do not think I fully understood this novel. Hence it is not really fair to write about all the things I did not like. On a more positive note, I will be discussing this book in university over the next few weeks, so who knows, perhaps my attitude towards it will change!
Jun 22, 2012 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'. But no one --I think--expected him to equal that triumph; no one expected him to follo ...more
Mar 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery, literature
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
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John le Carré, the pseudonym of David John Moore Cornwell (born 19 October 1931 in Poole, Dorset, England), was an English author of espionage novels. Le Carré had resided in St Buryan, Cornwall, Great Britain, for more than 40 years, where he owned a mile of cliff close to Land's End. ...more

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George Smiley (5 books)
  • Call for the Dead (George Smiley #1)
  • A Murder of Quality (George Smiley #2)
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  • Smiley's People

Articles featuring this book

"A spy, like a writer, lives outside the mainstream population. He steals his experience through bribes and reconstructs it."...
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