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The Spy Who Came In from the Cold

(George Smiley #3)

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  78,954 ratings  ·  4,417 reviews
In this classic, John le Carre's third novel and the first to earn him international acclaim, he created a world unlike any previously experienced in suspense fiction. With unsurpassed knowledge culled from his years in British Intelligence, le Carre brings to light the shadowy dealings of international espionage in the tale of a British agent who longs to end his career ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published November 27th 2001 by Scribner (first published 1963)
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Stephen Sanders You don't have to. The events of his first book, Call for the Dead, are frequently referenced in the Spy Who Came in from the Cold, but are summarized…moreYou don't have to. The events of his first book, Call for the Dead, are frequently referenced in the Spy Who Came in from the Cold, but are summarized so you don't need to have read it. However, it's a solid mystery and a quick read so there's no reason not to read it first. It's also interesting to see how Le Carre's style evolved between the two books.

Le Carre's second novel, A Murder of Quality, on the other hand, is a mediocre mystery novel with a plot that has no relation to this book. Definitely skip it. (less)
Timothy Fiction is always an illusion whose success is based on how real it feels. Le Carre was not a communist and did not attend their meetings, and likely…moreFiction is always an illusion whose success is based on how real it feels. Le Carre was not a communist and did not attend their meetings, and likely didn't hang out with them often. Obviously he had never interacted personally with the senior leadership of East Germany.

Not that you should necessarily have respect for communists, but being convinced you should have little respect for them while having no knowledge of what they actually believe in the real world seems a bit presumptuous.

You might find this interview by le Carre interesting,
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le CarréThe Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John le CarréThe Bourne Identity by Robert LudlumThe Day of the Jackal by Frederick ForsythThe Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy
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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
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Bill Kerwin
Dec 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spies-intrigue

I am of two minds now that I have finished The Spy Who Came in From the Cold for the first time: I am irritated at myself for having postponed the pleasure of reading this magnificent book for so many years, and yet I am exhilarated and excited too, marked by this unqualified encounter with greatness.

I certainly was stupid all these years, for I did not read this bookat least in part--because I considered it just a spy novel (albeit a superb one), and the spy novel"at least since Ian Fleming
Jeffrey Keeten
Mar 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-to-film, spies
What do you think spies are: priests, saints, and martyrs? Theyre a squalid procession of vain fools, traitors too, yes; pansies, sadists, and drunkards, people who play cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten lives. Do you think they sit like monks in London balancing the rights and wrongs?

 photo CheckPointCharlie_zps497dbb6e.jpg
Checkpoint Charlie where it all begins.

John Le Carre A.K.A. David John Moore Cornwell while in college started working for MI5 and then later transferred to MI6. He worked as a consul (code for spy)
Feb 16, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the past two years Ive started watching more spy movies/tv-series and also read a spy-thriller by Daniel Silva. I saw two movies based on Le Carré's books (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and A most Wanted Man) which I enjoyed. As a result, I was looking forward to reading one of Le Carrés books.

This is a different kind of spy novel, a smart one with a brilliant plot and some exciting twists. There are no hot dudes drinking martinis with a woman on each leg, shooting every terrorist in sight.
Nov 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
A few years ago the Broadway musical Wicked came to Nashville and my family and I went to experience this production at the Tennessee Performing Arts Theater. I have actually seen a musical on Broadway (Rock of Ages) and I was impressed. But this was something else entirely. I was awestruck by the talent: the singing, the acting, the stage production. As you may imagine, this was not my usual forte. Oh, I can walk across a room and avoid dragging my knuckles (most days) but for the most part a ...more
Oct 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of intellectual spy espionage novels
Recommended to Paula by: Susan
Winner of the Edgar and Dagger awards, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is a wonderfully written International espionage novel. John Le Carres 1963 classic is undoubtedly the most intelligent, dark, and ominous spy novel of its time.

Earlier this year I read A Legacy of Spies, written in 2017 by Le Carre, so it made so much sense to dive into his classic Cold War novel as a follow-up. The author, who worked for British Intelligence, brings so much authenticity to his novels.

The book centers
"Intelligence work has one moral lawit is justified by results."

After having just met George Smiley for the first time last month, I admit I was a bit disappointed to hear that he would not be featured prominently in this novel. I should not have worried in the least, however, because Alec Leamas as leading man in this book was every bit as compelling a character as was Smiley. If you are looking for a glamorous spy novel, you should look elsewhere. If you are in search of a smart, realistic
Oct 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: xx2017-completed
This is the novel that placed John Le Carré firmly on the path of fame and fortune. It was his breakthrough novel and 50 years later he was still telling people it had nothing to do with his previous job in the Secret Service; that it was a figment of his imagination only; that had it been based on any facts whatsoever, it would never have been allowed into publication.

None of that registered at the time with the media and critics. And those old rumours still hang in shabby tatters to this day.
Jan 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
A few thoughts that I jotted down. I am on vacation this week so Le Carre was appropriate reading for a trip. A group of buddy readers in the group reading for pleasure is reading through Le Carres novels, and I join them from time to time. This installment of George Smiley introduces readers to Alec Leamas, an intelligence officer who Control is convincing to come in from the cold, that is to retire from the service. For any man accustomed to constant action and being on ones toes, searching ...more
Sanjay Gautam
Jul 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A profound book, that surpassed all my expectations. A hell of a ride from the first page till the last word. It's a cold and dark book which is written very intelligently.

It was hailed as one of the best among the world's top classic espionage-books ever written. And, now that I see in hindsight, it has truly surpassed all the spy thrillers, in terms of quality and scope, that I've read before reading this one; and it has now climbed the ladder to reach the top - in my all time favorite list.

It is said that men condemned to death are subject to sudden moments of elation; as if, like moths in the fire, their destruction were coincidental with attainment.

Wow, that was boring. And I did not even have any expectations towards it. But calling it "the best spy novel ever", as so many reviewers have done, is a teensy bit far-stretched. I don't have much to say about this book. If you want to read it because you expect action and thrill and incredible escape plans or impossible heists, you
Steven Godin
Fleming gave it a glamorous touch, Ludlum bought added thrills, but le Carré writes of espionage with a cold starkness that is far more believable and all the better for it. There are no car chases, gadgets, tuxedos, martini's, or large breasted women walking out of the ocean throwing their long locks back over their pretty faces. This is so far away from the exotic travels of 007, mainly taking in the sights of airports, road checkpoints, chilly rooms and deserted streets, le Carré shows a ...more
Emily May
Dec 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mystery-thriller

I'd like to start by saying "woah" and various other exclamations of surprise and wonder. This was a book that completely changed the way I view spy novels. My previous prejudice stems from quite an obvious source - Ian Fleming - who never gave me anything much of what I would want to read about or what I even find remotely interesting. Big guns, fast cars, hot girls... surely every teenage boy's wet dream, but not what tends to be my cup of tea.

Fleming, like most writers of spy novels, caters
Michael Finocchiaro
Perhaps the greatest spy novel ever, Le Carré has us in the heart of the cold war with a dicey exchange of spies. It is chilling (as cold as the title) and realistic and hair-raising. A true classic!
I think if I had lived through more of the Cold War I would have enjoyed this book more. Even though it is not a very long book, I found it somewhat slow. Also, it was a fairly complicated story that had me confused and going back to figure out if I missed something.

I may have given it two stars, but the ultimate point and climax of the story was interesting. I kept having to clear my mind and put myself back into the serious mentality of the Cold War. I am too used to the James Bond/Hollywood
Apr 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing
4.5 to 5.0 stars. Okay to begin this review I want to point out that, except for a number of Tom Clancy novels, I have only read a handful of spy thrillers so what impressed me about this book may be pretty typical stuff in the better works of the genre. Also, I have not seen the movie adaptation based and knew nothing about the plot coming in (a condition I highly recommend if you have the chance).

With that introduction made, I LOVED THIS BOOK. For a book published in 1963, once you get past
Paul Bryant
Nov 17, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
I hate everything about spies and spying, whether it's the stupid raised-eyebrow-perfect-martini-black-tied begadgeted supermodel-is-in-the-shower my-name-is-Bollocks, James Bollocks nonsense or the miserable version : everybody can be bought there are no morals any more in this grey world and also it's always fooking raining, my feet hurt, my dog died, I never have sex and I'll meet you near Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin so you can say something incomprehensible to me and I can back to you and ...more
Oct 15, 2010 rated it really liked it
Its been over 20 years since the Berlin Wall fell, and as someone who grew up in the 1970s - 80s, reading about dueling Cold War spies gave me a weird nostalgic rush. The Soviets? East Germans? Damn! We used to HATE those guys!

In this era where decades of misdeeds by intelligence agencies are common knowledge and the notion of elaborate spy games are widely used fictional plots, its a little hard to imagine how groundbreaking this book was back in 1963. James Bond was in full literary swing and
Jun 23, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: the-list
This is on the list of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, which means we are to respect it as a Very Important Book and give it a good rating. If I'm being honest, I guess it deserves this ranking. The characters are compelling, the dialogue is good, there are no superfluous scenes, and the whole thing has a creepy and secretive atmosphere that's very compelling.

But I cannot in good conscience give this more than two stars, for the simple reason that, for the majority of the book, I never
Dec 09, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a marvelous spy thriller this is! I can see why it's considered such a classic.

I'm late to the John le Carré book party, but I've been enjoying my time here so far. I loved his memoir The Pigeon Tunnel, and I thought his novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was brilliant. When his latest book, A Legacy of Spies, was released and got positive reviews, I decided to go back and catch up on the George Smiley series.

Smiley plays a minor role in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, but it doesn't matter

Le Carres style is quite recognizable. Economical in words, rough, laconic. Intricate plot, agents, double agents, cat-and-mouse game. Feelings of burnout, cynicism and hopelessness. Atmosphere of a constant threat and fatigue, melancholic gray London, claustrophobic East Berlin. Everything written in harsh almost impersonal prose what only deepens the feeling of coldness in human relations.

The Spy Who Came In from the Cold takes place in the time of cold war and were following the actions of
Mar 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Alec Leamas is the Head of the West Berlin office, who is recalled back to London after losing another agent. Afraid that he is heading for a desk job, or worse, he is asked to undertake one more mission the fake defection of a senior British agent to frame an East German operative; Hans-Dieter Mundt, who escaped in Call of the Dead, the first George Smiley novel.

In order to bring Leamas to East German attention, the Circus sacks him and Leamas ends up working in a run-down library, where he
Aug 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An incredible tale of distrust, fear, courage, integrity, and the enduring nature of human love. Truly a Masterpiece

Update: You must also read A Legacy of Spies, truly extraordinary, and a fulfilment of this original masterpiece.
Raul Bimenyimana
Well first, the fact that this book was written within 5-6 weeks is impressive. I was amazed from John le Carré's afterword that this book was not only written during that short span but also under a lot of work related and personal stress. This was a slow burn kind of spy novel with the British agent Alec Leamas who is given an assignment to infiltrate East German Intelligence and bring down its leading man. Well the setting is during the cold war, the book itself was published in 1963. The ...more
May 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spy-thriller, smiley
The third of the Smiley books, which I'm reading in order this year.

What a giant step forward from the first two books! It's easy to see why it was a best seller. Here we first see the full blossoming of disillusionment with the Cold War that permeates so much of le Carré's writing from this point on. The layers of duplicity, the use of individuals as pawns in international politics, the exploration of whether it's possible for either side to be truly honorable - they are all here.

The Spy Who
Lewis Weinstein
I have now finished my re-read, and I'm not sure if I'm happy or not that I didn't remember the ending. It's a thrilling story.

The way the story is presented ... what is revealed, what is held back, and the sequence of revelation ... is so superb. Any writer can benefit by outlining the scenes.

And of course there are the flawed characters, brilliant and stupid, compassionate and cold-hearted, none of them to be trusted, who populate all of le Carre's work.
Feb 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Im working my way through the wonderful world of John le Carré's magnificent George Smiley books, so far in quick succession.

After the slightly anomalous second book 'A Murder of Quality', which is a murder mystery set in a top English boys public school, I was pleased to be back in the more familiar world of Cold War spying and espionage. However, to describe 'The Spy Who Came In from the Cold' as a George Smiley book is a bit misleading as he barely appears. Instead, it is Alec Leamas, an
A devastating, intricately woven, disturbing dive into the intricacies of the shadowy world of the intelligence and counter-intelligence communities. Its greatest achievement is that Le Carré never loses sight of the human beings caught in the webs of deception and political machinations perpetrated by our governments; hes profoundly aware of the costs to them. The tension ramps up in the subtlest of ways, masterfully presented in a cool, detached, morally outraged manner. I look forward to ...more
Jan 17, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: edgar_winners
Victor Gollancz first published "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" in London in 1963. Coward-Mccann, Inc. published the first American edition of the novel in New York in 1964.

Set during the political tensions of the Cold War, the revolutionary espionage novel portrays the intelligence services of both Eastern and Western nations as sacrificing morality in the name of national security.
Jason Koivu
Aug 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: spy, fiction
Okay, I'm fully ready to dive into a non-stop Le Carré bender!

These are great spy novels. And these are quality books, period. The man can write. Plus, his experiences in intelligence work paid off HUGE. The intricacies of spy networks and secret government agencies are spread over these pages like caviar and go down like a perfectly aged wine. Shit damn, this is sweet stuff!

Now, before you get all amped up, John le Carré does not write James Bond stuff. There are no car chases and inventive
May 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Burned-out spies
Having just indulged my sweet tooth with Ian Fleming's spy candy, I sampled the more refined pleasures of John le Carré, who wrote a tense spy thriller without any gadgets or heroics or sultry seductresses. Instead, Alec Leamas is a middle-aged alcoholic on the verge of retirement from the spy game; burned out, embittered, and about to be cashiered for a string of failures while running England's spy network in Cold War Berlin. He's recruited for one final mission: to target the dangerous East ...more
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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

Other books in the series

George Smiley (5 books)
  • Call for the Dead (George Smiley #1)
  • A Murder of Quality (George Smiley #2)
  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
  • The Honourable Schoolboy
  • 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."...
48 likes · 43 comments
“This is a war," Lemas replied. "It's graphic and unpleasant because it's fought on a tiny scale, at close range; fought with a wastage of innocent life sometimes, I admit. But it's nothing, nothing at all besides other wars - the last or the next.” 32 likes
“We have to live without sympathy, don't we? That's impossible of course. We act it to one another, all this hardness; but we aren't like that really, I can't be out in the cold all the time; one has to come in from the cold...d'you see what I mean?” 28 likes
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