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A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  13,820 ratings  ·  1,536 reviews
From Sunday Times no. 1 bestselling author Ben Macintyre, the true untold story of history's most famous traitor.

Kim Philby was the most notorious British defector and Soviet mole in history. Agent, double agent, traitor and enigma, he betrayed every secret of Allied operations to the Russians in the early years of the Cold War.

Philby’s two closest friends in the intellig
Paperback, 354 pages
Published 2015 by Bloomsbury (first published July 29th 2014)
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 ·  13,820 ratings  ·  1,536 reviews

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Like so many students, Philby confused communism with a great levelling, an equality among men. So when recruited at 18 by MI6, he sees it as his opportunity to give Russia a helping hand. To be a spy in Britain at that time, you had to be from a certain background, with the essential confidence of being at the top of the social tree. This is what enabled him to get away with, quite literally, murder, for years. One doesn't question one's friends does one? They are all such decent chaps! Like fu ...more
May 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a fascinating subject!

This was the first book I've read about a member of the Cambridge Five spy ring, and it was so interesting I plan to read more. Kim Philby worked for British intelligence, but he was secretly sending information to Russia. He defected to the Soviet Union in 1963. (Fun fact: Philby's betrayal inspired some of the novels by John Le Carré.)

In this book, Macintyre focuses on Philby's longtime friendship with another British intelligence officer, Nicholas Elliott. We lear
Lewis Weinstein
An outstanding read. It is so difficult to believe that Kim Philby got away with his lies and multiple lives for so long, but there it is, he did. It is tempting to admire his skills, except when remembering how many hundreds of others died as a result of those skills, and how many lives of wives and friends were also ruined by him. It is frightening to think that both British and US intelligence were so taken in, and to consider the possibility that other moles are at work today on both sides o ...more
Jill Hutchinson
I wasn't even half-way into this book when I knew it was going to be a 5 star read. The author's fluid writing style could make a book about house cleaning compelling! The story of the Cambridge "old school ties" group of brilliant and charming young men who were the shining lights of British Intelligence during the Cold War is in a word....fantastic. They were led by Kim Philby who rose to head Britain's counterintelligence against the Soviet Union when in fact he and they were deeply imbedded ...more
Mar 21, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Trish by: bostonbibliophile
How amused and flattered the infamous British traitor Kim Philby would be to discover he is again the subject of fascinated scrutiny in his home country and in America fifty years after his defection to Moscow. Ben MacIntyre has managed to reignite interest in Philby by presenting the most rounded and detailed picture yet of this uniquely talented and duplicitous man with the use of newly declassified material from MI6 files.

Kim Philby rose within the ranks of British Intelligence and gave secr
Rachel Aranda
Unpopular opinion time: This book is one of the most boring books I’ve ever read. I’m including textbooks that I’ve read and reviewed when I say this too.

It pains me to give this book such a low rating because 1) I was recommended this book by my friend Christian and 2) I knew about the subject matter and was interested in learning more. This book is just written in a way that makes it so hard to get into; it wasn’t until about halfway into the book that I got interested yet I still found my int
For Americans, the name "Benedict Arnold" is synonymous with traitor. (Arnold was an officer in the Continental Army with a distinguished combat record during the American War of Independence who later changed sides and fought with the British.) Taken in the larger context of the Cold War, the same can be said for Harold Adrian Russell Philby - aka Kim Philby.

Philby was one of those men of Britain's interwar generation hailing from a privileged class who, upon graduating from Oxford or Cambridg
Bob Mayer
Aug 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read A Spy Amongst Friends by Ben Macintyre all the way through to the last page of the bibliography. Actually, I read the two pages after that. It's what you do when you can't bear for the story to end. And I already knew the end of this story, but I knew just enough to not know much at all. Really excellent book. Writing non-fiction which has more dazzle and suspense than any novel is a gift. To do it over and over as Mr. Macintyre has done is just pure talent.

I researched James Jesus Angle
Nancy Oakes
(for a more in-depth look at what I think about this book, feel free to journey on over to the nonfiction section of my online reading journal).

I'll post my review of this book here because LibraryThing and the publishers sent me this edition, but I have to make a sort of embarrassing confession: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher, but couldn't get started on it right away so I set it aside to be picked up later. When I was ready to read it, which was like 2 wee
Oct 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Superlative! Difficult read, complex and astonishing lives. This book and author has put me into what I'm going to call my Covert Phase of reading. Once I read almost nothing but Russians for a year, and wonder if that is going to happen with another genre so many decades later. And I didn't even see it coming. This stuff is outstanding non-fiction. And also reveals far more historical perception and actions than most current publication, most of which are 75% spin and slant. This method is supe ...more
Oct 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
I have read several of Ben Macintyre's books recently and have become convinced he is the go to author on all things related to the history of British Intelligence and Special Operations. In this narrative he tells the story of one of if not the highest Soviet double agent in MI6's history, Kim Philby.

The author traces Philby's career from his initial political dissatisfaction of the British upper crust life while a student at Cambridge University through to his defection in 1963. He along with
This reads like a novel. Yes, there are some factual errors. Yes, some of the dialog must have been invented. But, it's stunningly good.
Sep 17, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was thoroughly engrossed in this book, beginning to end. It provided insight into the behind-the- scenes working of those we entrust with our most important political and military secrets. Harold “Kim” Philby (1912-1988) during the 1940’s and 50’s was an officer in the U.K. secret intelligence service (MI6). All the time he was spying for the Soviet Union remitting many damaging Anglo-American secrets to Moscow. Hundreds died because of his treachery.

Ben Macintyre tells the story of Kim Philby
Cold War Conversations Podcast
How on earth did he get away with it for so long?!

Ben Macintyre's latest book answers this question and more in an accessible, enjoyable and informative way.

Philby's deceit of MI6 is well known, but the book details more the deceit of his friends and particularly his friend and colleague in SIS, Nicholas Elliot.

I find the The Philby case and indeed the whole of the Cambridge 5 fascinating in that the "old boy network" of MI6 just couldn't comprehend that that one of their own (i.e of their clas
Just fascinating!
I listened to the audiobook and was completely hooked from start to finish.

How Kim Philby was able to fool all his friends, family, MI6, and the CIA is amazingly depicted in this nonfiction account. His betrayal for many years as a double agent for the KGB took everyone by shocking surprise. Wonderfully told was the intricately weaved story of the Cambridge 5. A spy ring of British upper class students graduating to MI6 and then turning to the KGB under the misunderstood ideali
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Incredible true story about a master spy who had a tremendous impact on operations in British, American, and Soviet intelligence. Graham Greene, John Le Carre, and Ian Fleming all knew him personally, and surely he inspired something in their future spy novels. This is a story that's been told before, this man is a legend, but the author is able to dig deeper into declassified documents and notes Le Carre took from Eliot decades earlier.

I listened to the audio read by John Lee who has such an ol
A Spy Among Friends was a New York Times Bestseller, a New York Times Book Review Notable Book, an Amazon Best Book of the Year, a Washington Post Notable Book, and Entertainment Weekly’s Best Spy Book of 2014. It definitely deserves all the accolades it has received!

Kim Philby was a member of Britain’s upper crust. His father was an advisor to Ibn Saud, the first monarch of Saudi Arabia. His mother came from an upper crust family as well. Kim was handsome and intelligent. He had impeccable mann
Natalie Vellacott
This is labelled as a bestseller but I struggled to really get into it. The first half of the book is so full of names and details about each person mentioned that it was hard to keep track of what was going on. It felt disjointed and it wasn't easy to see how all the facts and people hung together. There was too much information about some seemingly irrelevant figures that confused the main story. In short, it wasn't especially readable and I nearly gave up.

I'm glad I finished it as the second
Jan 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
One lasting benefit of not paying attention in school history lessons is that I can read books like this without already knowing the ending. And this is a really good one: Kim Philby and Nicholas Elliott are fascinating characters, and their story reads like a fictional spy thriller - although 38 pages of notes and bibliography say otherwise. This is my kind of history book - educational, entertaining, and effortless.
Aug 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant, absolutely brilliant!

How’s this for knowing how to organise your material? Ben McIntyre’s book opens with the confrontation between Kim Philby, MI6 agent and of course Soviet spy, and Nicholas Elliot, one of Philby’s closest friends and now the man sent to Beirut to break him. Ten years earlier, when suspicions of spying had first attached themselves to Philby, it was Elliot who was his strongest defender. As the decade went on, Elliot remained Philby’s champion and staunchest support
Mar 29, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
Review originally posted on BookLikes:

‘I have always operated on two levels, a personal level and a political one. When the two have come into conflict I have had to put politics first.’ – Kim Philby

At what cost to others, though? And to what end?

Ben Macintyre has gone into a great level of detail to describe Kim Philby's life and provide a background to the circumstances of his defection. However, it is still impossible to know what reasons Philby had
Daisy Goodwin
Mar 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Alternately gripping and hilarious. Reads like Le Carre and Wodehouse by turns. Astonishing story fluently told by McIntyre. A treat
Crossposted at Booklikes.

Disclaimer: ARC read via Netgalley.

Perhaps one of the most famous spy rings in history is the Cambridge Five. They have a nice little bit in the International Spy Museum in Washington D.C., and there are countless books and films either about the members or inspired by the members.

So why read this one?

Because it is a different perspective on the whole Kim Philby story. It’s the story that everyone in the public wonders. How did he get away with it for so long?

This book is hard to classify: it is a biography of perhaps the most famous traitor of the modern era, but is written as a series of anecdotes compiled by author Ben Macintyre. To a large extent, the book portrays Kim Philby as a suave, gregarious member of the Old Boy network, taking advantage of his closest friends, especially Nicholas Elliot and James Angleton. In my opinion, there were too many characters, perhaps a tool to deflect attention from the lack of verifiable facts and conversation ...more
Alex Givant
Jun 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In English this is only one word - "spy" for both who works for and against you. In Russian we have 2 different words - "razvedchik" (good spy) and "shpion" (bad spy). So depends from whose perspective you are looking, Kim Philby was either "razvedchik" or "shpion". Anyway he was a traitor who sold his country for some bright ideas (which he later was very disappointed at when he escaped to live to USSR - and you should remember, he didn't live life of regular citizen, struggling to get good foo ...more
Mar 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ben Macintyre is a great writer and, in this latest book, he has turned his attention to Kim Philby – one of the Cambridge Spies. Historically, this book may not offer much that is new, but it does tell the story from a different viewpoint ; that of his friendships, most notably with Nicholas Elliott. In other words, this is not really a straight-forward biography of Philby, but focuses on his personality and on the Old Boy network that enabled him to evade detection for so long. The book begins ...more
Mar 01, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-read-2014
Philby is probably one of the best known and notorious spies in history. For decade he kept his ideological master in Moscow fed with top secret intelligence, from his reporting in the Spanish Civil war and form the moment that he gained access to the most exclusive club in England, MI6.

Philby was a charmer. He made friends easily, was well connected and had what seemed to be almost limitless confidence. His entry into MI6 was effortless, the vetting process comprising of the deputy head of MI6
Liza Fireman
It is the first time that I heard about Kim Philby, apparently the greatest spy in history. His story is quite amazing, the guy fooled everyone, time after time, and it is especially amazing how he fooled his close friend from the MI6, Nicholas Elliott.

Philby was a "brilliant and charming man who rose to head Britain’s counterintelligence against the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War"—while he was secretly working for the enemy. It is important to mention that it was in an era when
Fred Shaw
Jul 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ben Macintyre, has written an amazing account of Kim Philby, who deceived family friends and country because of his ideology and faith in communism. He believed that communism was the way to bring world peace. He set out to do everything he could to further his cause in the 1930's during and after his days at Cambridge. He was recruited by the KGB and was sent to Spain as a journalist to gather intel on what the fascists were doing. The KGB encouraged him join the British Intelligence Service wh ...more
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What's the Name o...: SOLVED. Secret double agent- based on true story [s] 6 41 May 10, 2014 08:12AM  

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Ben Macintyre is a writer-at-large for The Times of London and the bestselling author of A Spy Among Friends, Double Cross, Operation Mincemeat, Agent Zigzag, and Rogue Heroes, among other books. Macintyre has also written and presented BBC documentaries of his work.

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