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The Looking Glass War

(George Smiley)

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  8,612 ratings  ·  472 reviews
John le Carré's classic novels deftly navigate readers through the intricate shadow worlds of international espionage with unsurpassed skill and knowledge, and have earned him unprecedented worldwide acclaim. THE LOOKING GLASS WAR Once upon a time the distinction had been clear: the Circus handled all things political while the Department dealt with matters military. But o ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published February 26th 2002 by Scribner (first published 1965)
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Warren It may have been eclipsed by The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, but I didn't find it inferior at all. Perhaps darker and more cynical, but never less…moreIt may have been eclipsed by The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, but I didn't find it inferior at all. Perhaps darker and more cynical, but never less than an exceptionally good read.(less)
J I think Leiser was nervous, and couldn't think of any alternatives (like withdrawing until the sentry moved on). I don't think Leiser's training at…moreI think Leiser was nervous, and couldn't think of any alternatives (like withdrawing until the sentry moved on). I don't think Leiser's training at all covered using sound judgment in various potential scenarios. It was all focused on technical skills - including guncraft when he wasn't even going to be allowed to take a firearm.(less)
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le CarréThe Bourne Identity by Robert LudlumThe Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John le CarréThe Hunt for Red October by Tom ClancyThe Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth
Best Spy Novels
1,016 books — 1,843 voters
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
Espionage
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Bill  Kerwin
Feb 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spies-intrigue

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was praised for its harsh realism, but le Carre believed it was not harsh or realistic enough. On the contrary, he considered it unrealistic and romantic, what with its nearly omniscient intelligence agency, the agency's extraordinarily complex yet flawless plan, and the novel's melodramatic conclusion: the death of star-crossed lovers at the foot of the Berlin Wall.

For this next book, le Carre chose to abstain from grand dramatic gestures and instead describe t
...more
Jaline
Dec 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: xx2017-completed
Have you ever wanted to be a spy? I didn’t – not until I started reading John Le Carré’s George Smiley series this year. I do remember when us four siblings played “spy” along with other games all over the acres of our farm and buildings, but I was a bit of a failure back then. I wanted to have everyone get along. I wanted to be the good guy who brought all the other ‘fighters’ (yes, I have an older brother) together in peace and harmony. So in the end, I became a double-spy. Great. My brothers ...more
Szplug
Feb 13, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I cannot recall the exact age I was when I read this minimalist piece perfectly executed by the talented le Carré, but whatever is was—and around 15 years old sounds about right—it served as effective an eye-opener to reality as a set of clamps fixed upon what were previously orbs dreaming away behind sealed lids. At that time, my fictional intake was comprised of a not inconsiderable proportion of espionage thrillers—the sprawling series by Ian Fleming and Robert Ludlum primarily, but sprinkled ...more
Agnieszka
Jun 24, 2012 rated it really liked it

Do you know what love is? I'll tell you: it is whatever you can still betray.

If there is something like a literary model of a spy most of us would probably indicate on James Bond. Fast cars, beautiful women, shootings and all that false glamour. And after hard working day - martini shaken not stirred or conversely. Obviously. But not in LeCarre’s world.

Disillusioned, tired and cynical men in the world where goal is indistinct, praise doubtful, morality ambiguous and victory deceptive. This is
...more
Dr.Srinivas Prasad Veeraraghavan
While the "Smiley" trilogy is rightly feted as one of the greatest Fiction trilogies of the 20th Century, this Novel is my personal favourite of Le Carre's formidable and rather intimidating catalogue.

Strictly meant for lovers of serious Fiction,this is easily the bleakest book that I have ever read in my life. I remember taking a shower at midnight after I was done with it to "cleanse" myself. A hard, bitter,relentlessly cynical and disturbingly realistic peek at the sordid workings of an Espi
...more
Jim Pfluecke
Dec 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Man, this is one depressing book. As the author states in the intro, this book is a cynical look at the intelligence/spy world and is almost a parody of LeCarre's first big hit, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.

With subtle (and a few not so subtle) hints of the ridiculous attempts by past-their prime and out of touch military intelligence officers to recover their relavancy and stage one last mission, the book is a slowly building tragedy. You know it is not going to end well nearly from the st
...more
Nigeyb
Feb 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Compared with its predecessor 'The Spy Who Came In from the Cold', 'The Looking Glass War' (George Smiley #4) was a relative flop, especially in Britain. In John le Carré's introduction, written in 1991, he addresses this...

After the success of 'The Spy Who Came In from the Cold' I felt I had earned the right to experiment with the more fragile possibilities of the spy story than those I had explored till now. For the truth was, that the realities of spying as I had known them on the ground had
...more
Andre
Jan 20, 2012 rated it did not like it
There is a valuable lesson in this book: when an author uses a novel’s introduction to suggest it may be his worst, believe him. Of the four books I’ve written by John le Carré, The Looking Glass War is clearly the worst. le Carré seems to have issues carrying his stories when the plot is not singularly focused, when he is trying to make a negative point about some aspect of British culture. We saw this when le Carré tackled the prep school system in A Murder of Quality, and this time the author ...more
Cphe
For me a difficult book to rate, on one hand I enjoyed it although I came to have a marked contempt for some of the major characters. I felt the novel was a study in human nature and trying to hold on to the glory of past exploits. A clandestine world made up of an old boys club who are happy to throw the lamb to the wolves .....all in the name of glory, I found this to be a bleak and quite dour story, not for the faint of heart.

Well written as you would expect but I thought that is was more ch
...more
Helen
Nov 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: espionage
Phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal.

Le Carre at the height of his powers. The Looking Glass War begins twenty years after the end of World War II, telling the tale of an imagined rivalry between the shrunken, decayed remains of military intelligence, and Smiley's legendary Circus, the political wing of British Intelligence.

The book begins with a botched operation; an agent dies. These men are no longer operational, they are playing at a game that has passed them by in terms of manpower, technolog
...more
Brad Lyerla
Nov 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I am reading le Carre's Smiley books in order. I finished THE LOOKING GLASS WAR yesterday. It is brilliant. My plan, and I reserve the right to change it, is to read all of the books and review them as a group when I have finished.

As for LOOKING GLASS, it came as a surprise. It is a comedy. A blistering and dark send up of the incompetence and dysfunction within the British military intelligence community which, in the 1960s, was dominated by aging and obsolete hold-overs from WWII. le Carre had
...more
Bruce Snell
May 09, 2012 rated it it was ok
Book four in the George Smiley series by John Le Carre. This is a difficult book for me to rate. The end result is a brilliant condemnation of bureaucrats and their willingness to put their rules ahead of people. However, to get to that end result, we are forced to read over 250 pages of bureaucracy - and that is as enjoyable as a day wasted at the DMV.

In this case British military intelligence - staffed by a bunch of surviving WWII intelligence officers (remember this is set in 1963) decide to
...more
Kev Bartlett
Dec 26, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spy
The Looking Glass War was published shortly after perhaps Le Carre's most famous work The Spy Who Came In from the Cold and is every bit as murky, grim and depressing as the aforementioned (possibly even more so).

The book starts brilliantly in a Finish airport where a British agent (Taylor) anticaptes the arrival of a pilot who, having undertaken a risky flyover, should have some vital information in his possession. From the moment the uneasily dialogue with the aiport barman begins you know th
...more
Feliks
Jun 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: genre-thrillers
If John Le Carre had wished to write romance novels for his career; he would have written the best of his era. If he had wished to write swashbucklers, he would have written the best of his era. If he had wished to write adventure tales, etc etc etc. My point is: he is that kind of writer. Happily, he started his career in public service--intelligence--and Fortuitously for the world's readers, he pursued a career writing an ensuing legacy of espionage novels. And those are the best of his era.

B
...more
Lorna
The Looking Glass War by John Le Carre was published after his runaway bestseller The Spy Who Came In from the Cold was first published in 1963. However, Le Carre felt that the book failed to explore the realities of spying on the ground, as he knew them, and tended to glamorize espionage. Hence, The Looking Glass War was his effort to portray the British Intelligence community in the Cold War era, with all of its shortcomings, feuds and betrayals. Le Carre certainly achieved his goal of portray ...more
John
Sep 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011
...he was witnessing an insane relay race in which each contestant ran faster and longer than the last, arriving nowhere but at his own destruction.

For some reason I keep thinking of le Carre as a writer of thrillers, and it's true that his recent crop of novels definitely follow a kind of thriller model, but his earlier novels, like The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and A Perfect Spy, are really high tragedies that use some of the reversals of the conventional spy thriller to ease the delivery
...more
Tim
Oct 22, 2013 rated it it was ok
Spies like Us without the humour.

John le Carré followed up the success of The Spy who came in from the Cold with a different take on the spying game - The Looking Glass War. Le Carré turned everything on its head by showing us the bumbling fools of The Department - an old boys club of war veterans who think they can revitalise their careers with a dash of espionage. It was not well received.

For me the story could have made a great caper, if John le Carré had the comedy writing chops. But he play
...more
Anna
Oct 06, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, spies
As always, le Carre’s writing is elegant, fluid, and measured, however I did not particularly enjoy this novel. Although George Smiley’s presence hovers over the narrative, he rarely manifests himself. For the most part, the reader follows the exploits of the Department men, whose glory days ended with the Second World War. Twenty years later, they have been sidelined by the Circus and jump at the chance to introduce an agent into East Germany. The narrative follows the genesis of this mission a ...more
Brett
Apr 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
An excellent 1960s spy novel from master of the genre John le Carre. This is the follow-up to his classic the Spy Who Came in from the Cold, and is every bit as good.

Le Carre is the anti-Ian Fleming. His espionage novels are very short on spectacular action sequences and long on bureaucratic infighting and organizational incompetence. I see that Goodreads classifies this book as part of the George Smiley series, and perhaps it technically is. However, like SWCIFTC, Smiley appears only briefly in
...more
Paul Pensom
Jan 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
This was the third of Le Carré's novels set around the espionage services of the '60's (though the fourth to feature Smiley), and it will doubtless suffer from comparisons with its direct predecessor, 'The Spy Who Came In From The Cold'. I think this is a shame, as it's a very accomplished book in its own right.

The story, of a crumbling department desperately trying to recapture past glories, is shot through with a chilling nihilism, and the sad tale spirals to its denouement with all the grim i
...more
Annette
Aug 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant.
I practically read this in one sitting and found it unputdownable. The shabby air of faded glory from the men who won the war that in this story are incapable of making the right decisions. My favourite scene is of course when Smiley makes his appearance briefing the ill-equipped Avery with gently ambiguous double-speak. This novel is indeed very under-rated but in our Brexit times gives you a glimpse of what they (and now we) are dealing with - the men who used to run the empire.
James
Oct 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, thriller
The Looking Glass War is yet another tremendous world weary spy novel by Le Carre. A department fallen into obscurity tries to make itself relevant once more. It’s so good.
Jaksen
No rating, didn't finish. Didn't enjoy reading this, put me to sleep at times. And I do like Mr. le Carre, i really do. Just not this book.

I should also add I won this book through the Goodreads giveaway program. Thank you, Goodreads!
Andrew Davis
Admittedly, a weakest of John LeCarre's I've read so far. A splint group of MI5 decides to send a war time intelligence officer to East Germany to follow up on some signs of Russian presence in a small town. They choose a polish refugee of german extraction. Most of the book involves his training and politics around the organisation. At the end he crosses the border and kills the border guard on his way. Pretty quickly is tracked down by German intelligence. At the end we learn that the British ...more
Thomas
Nov 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beware the vanity of old men who seek desperately to relive bygone days of glory! In sum Leclerc, head of the "Department," a once vital but now mostly redundant British intelligence outfit, comes across what could be an important piece of information on the enemy. Rather than hand the job off to the more modern and better equipped "Circus" (run by Control and George Smiley, recurring characters in the author's work), Leclerk seeks to handle the job "in house," reassembling a team old veterans p ...more
Srinivas Veeraraghavan
Oct 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
While the "Smiley" trilogy is rightly feted as one of the greatest Fiction trilogies of the 20th Century, this Novel is my personal favourite of Le Carre's formidable and rather intimidating catalogue.

Strictly meant for lovers of serious Fiction,this is easily the bleakest book that I have ever read in my life. I remember taking a shower at midnight after I was done with it to "cleanse" myself. A hard, bitter,relentlessly cynical and disturbingly realistic peek at the sordid workings of an Espio
...more
Stephen
Dec 27, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If anything this is grimier than The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (it's immediate predecessor, I believe). On top of the dirty business of espionage, the main characters are quite clearly incompetent, yet proud with it (it's somewhat reminiscent of the old Fry and Laurie sketches about a cosy spy ring, but with a think layer of hubris spread over). That may sounds like it should be amusing, but it's anything but - it's sad and a bit frightening (I must say, if I'd been reading these books durin ...more
Fiona
Oct 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spy-fiction
Brilliant! I had just tried to read a Charles Cumming and was bored by it. I craved the master of spy fiction and he didn't disappoint. It's very dated now, particularly the stiff upper lip, public schoolboy English but I loved it. 'Leclerc noticed that the claret was very good. He wished he had joined a smaller club; his own had gone off terribly. They had such difficulty with staff.' The descriptions of the East-West border are historical records now but very evocative. 'Only at night, when th ...more
Ed
Oct 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: john-le-carre
The Department is a zombie agency within the British intelligence community. The paychecks still go out, everyone still comes to work on time, clubs are attended, but nothing has happened for years. The Department's function (military intelligence) and operations (deploying spies to discover military secrets held by the Cold War enemy) have been taken over by the sprawling Circus, currently the favorite of Washington the ultimate source of money and equipment.

They are an incompetent crew, resen
...more
Lea
Sep 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was searching for a book at the airport in London, when this elderly women came up to me in the store, as she saw me browsing through "The Looking Glass War". Walking by she told me "le Carre always makes for a good read. I would go for this one." So that's what I did and I didn't regret it for one second. Already ordered all the other George Smiley novels online. Can`t wait. ...more
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4,992 followers
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 (9 books)
  • Call for the Dead
  • A Murder of Quality
  • The Spy Who Came In from the Cold (George Smiley)
  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (The Karla Trilogy #1)
  • The Honourable Schoolboy (The Karla Trilogy #2)
  • Smiley's People (The Karla Trilogy #3)
  • The Secret Pilgrim
  • A Legacy of Spies
“Do you know what love is? I'll tell you: it is whatever you can still betray.” 135 likes
“There were times when he confronted his own image as a man confronts an empty valley, and the vision propelled him forward again to experience as despair compels us to extinction. Sometimes he was like a man in flight, but running toward the enemy, desperate to feel upon his vanishing body the blows that would prove his being; desperate to imprint upon his sad conformity the mark of real purpose, desperate perhaps, as Leclerc had hinted, to abdicate his conscience in order to discover God.” 5 likes
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