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The Secret History of MI6

3.52  ·  Rating details ·  469 ratings  ·  69 reviews
The authorized history of the world's oldest foreign intelligence service, drawing on hitherto secret documents. Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) was born a century ago amid fears of the rising power of other countries, especially Germany. The next 40 years saw MI6 taking an increasingly important & largely hidden role in shaping history. This revelatory account ...more
Hardcover, 832 pages
Published September 21st 2010 by Penguin Press (NY)
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Dec 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
From the beginning historian Keith Jeffery advises readers that The Secret History of MI6; 1909-1949 was directly commissioned by MI6. He was limited in time he could cover and in the records he could cite. He is only allowed to write about the first forty years of the agency, and could not refer to activities the agency felt to be still secret. A further limitation was that the archivists at MI 6 rarely considered it important to maintain documents where the inherit value of the document was fo ...more
Terry Cornell
Jul 18, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
A really long, fairly monotonous read. The author was hired by MI6 to go through their archives and write an official history of the organization--at least the parts that could be made available to the general public. To paraphrase Mr. Jeffrey early on in the book--a large portion of intelligence work is tedious and boring. Writing reports, filing, etc. A large portion of the book reflects this. The book covers the time period just prior to World War I through the end of World War II and the beg ...more
I'm mixed about this book. I enjoyed the fact that it was close look at politics and how it can effect governmental business, yet at times it was incredibly dry. This was particularly frustating because sometimes you wanted more of the sensational. Jeffery mentions a flight from the Nazis in Norway, in one line. But apparently the diary about it was gripping.

So it gets just one line? Makes no sense. I mean I can understand downplaying Flemming and Reilly, but really.

Yet parts of the book, like
Erik Graff
Mar 03, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: espionage fans
Recommended to Erik by: Kelly Kingdon
Shelves: history
This was an unsatisfying book. The author, an academic historian, was purportedly given unrestricted access to records through the second world war and used them primarily to reconstruct the changing administrative structure of the agency and its relations with other elements in the government. Important matters such as the Enigma machine and the Cambridge spies are only glancingly mentioned. Entertaining matters such Ian Fleming's James Bond figure are not explored--indeed, Fleming himself is g ...more
Benjamin Stahl
I would have skipped less of this shit if James Joyce had written it. What an unexpected trudge this was.
Oct 02, 2013 rated it it was ok
Aw, shoot. I have to abandon this at the end of WWII, about 16%/133pgs in. It's very, very dry.

This is an official history-- the author had unfettered access to MI6's files from 1909 to 1949. Yet the history is remarkably hampered. The preface lets you know that: 1) the records are very spotty, 2) despite 60-100+ years, names and other details still cannot be released, and 3) MI6 during this time was only a gatherer of information- they did not perform analysis.

What this means is that the histo
Alex Nagler
Feb 06, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: war
I went in to this hoping for more exploits like that in Ben Macintyer's "Operation Mincemeat", the amazingly true story of how a dead body tricked the Nazis and helped obscure the real location of Operation Husky (they planted evidence to suggest Greece, not Sicily, the real target). I did not get that. What I got instead was 700 pages of the politics associated with MI6 from 1909 to 1949, with some casework attached. I suppose I should have expected that from an official history.
Osama Mousa
Mar 22, 2018 rated it liked it
The pages of the book are many but very important to any researcher in this field

We want from 1950 to 2018 lol

Peter Ellwood
Nov 05, 2019 rated it it was ok
Keith Jeffery’s titanic book conjures up a lost world of spying - and a still-rampant one of bureaucracy and office intrigue. It is interesting to see how little human nature has changed over the last hundred years, but 750 pages represents a lot of effort to get to that simple insight!

I must sound a major health warning about the title - and the content - of the book. “The Secret History of MI6”, is really quite unfortunate, and misleading. The blurb on the cover declares that it’s a ”realisti
Rhondda Powling
Jul 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have read quite a lot about this subject and found this book quite fascinating. The style is very academic. The author had access to reams of papers from the official files so the amount of information that he would have needed to read would have been phenomenal. I would also suspect that some documentation might not have survived (been destroyed early on) as has happened in some areas relating to covert operations.
It is not meant to be a thriller and much of the work of espionage is not the e
Dave Hunt
Aug 20, 2018 rated it it was ok
For those who want to brave the world of academics Keith Jeffery's book may be for you. For those who want a fast paste thriller this is not for you. In credibly dull book in an otherwise fascinating feild about intelligence and counter intelligence. This defiantly book is for those are engauged in academic research the will be delighted for the amount of historic research which went in to the construction of this book.
For my time I would rather read Professor Christopher Andrew's work such as
May 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An authorised history of the British Secret Intelligence Service. Keith Jeffrey had access to archived files, never before revealed to historians or the public, making this a unique insight into one of the world's most secret organisations. Though there is no history more informed than this one, this also means that there cannot be more contemporary coverage of SIS operations.

Not as accessible as Christopher Andrew's history of MI5, and a weighty tome. This will be of interest to serious student
Mar 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Actually the first book I read this year. I will admit though that the book can be very tedious. However, the polisci major in me thrives in the extremely detailed mapping on the political actors that gave birth to MI6. I won't make any claims on the veracity of the narrative as I am in no position to question them, but this is still an enjoyable reading to me nonetheless.

P.S: it could be that I'm an extremely boring person and is the sort of person that can watch a paint dry, though.
Ravanagh Allan
Apr 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
My copy is called 'MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service,' so evidently it's been repackaged since I bought it (a while ago).

The Service was founded in response to foreign espionage in Britain, and initially hired private detectives as spies.

Informative and well told, my only problem with the book is that it cuts out as WW II gives way to the Cold War.
Martin Dunn
Jun 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This is an official history, not a spy thriller. The author had access to MI6 archives which provided some fascinating accounts of the bureaucratic battles the agency fought, but had many gaps in the actual intelligence collected. A word count in the Kindle edition showed that the word"budget" is nearly as frequent as there word"spy".
Jul 07, 2018 rated it did not like it
I had started this book in late March and just never got around to reading it till now. The book had good continuity, but was very dry reading. I expected the book to detail Ian Fleming's exploits during WW2. No such luck. A book that fills a gap in British military history perhaps, but not a book I would advise my friends to read.
Mar 01, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
90% of this was irrelevant. It made me want to rewrite and restructure it. It's hard to tell what the brief for this book was. Who exactly was the target audience? Who really cares what color pens they use for their inventories?
May 07, 2019 rated it liked it
Very informative but pretty long and boring...
Bud Chapman
Jul 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Interested in early MI6 history, this is the book for you.
Dec 08, 2019 rated it it was ok
Bit of a slog.
Kenzie Barnett
Dec 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very interesting book. There is so much information and so much to explore. It can almost be a little overwhelming, as well as a literal dry, but the subject is so intriguing and book so great.
Bill Conrad
Jan 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Secret History of MI6 gets deep into the bowels of how a modern spy organization works. This book both had triumphs and failures. There was a lot of insight into how the teams worked together and how their objectives were set. I also liked how Keith Jeffery got into the technology while still keeping the man in the loop. This is really a great read and I was glad that it made it into my pile of books to read.
I started reading this. It was interminable.
Sep 27, 2014 rated it it was ok
Here's an odd bird: An official history of a secret intelligence organization. Bear in mind this is the real history of MI6 (nee SIS), so instead of James Bond parachuting away from an exploding blimp and snowboarding down the mountain he lands on while outrunning the fireball, you're going to be reading about people trying to get jobs in shipyards and stealing documents from the garbage.

Now that's all well and good and I wish I could recommend this book, but I can't. The book is weirdly dry an
Emmanuel Gustin
An interesting but very dry history of the Secret Intelligence Service. The problem may be that Jeffery has fallen for the modern management illusion that the fate of an organization is decided by its organogram and the personality at its head. But while it is interesting to learn something more about the three men who used the designation 'C' in the period described (1909-1949) there is a lot more to a secret intelligence organization than that. Jeffery gives us too little insight in the cultur ...more
Jun 15, 2013 rated it liked it
Covers only 1909 to 1949. Gets badly bogged down in bureaucratic bullshit and doesn't say enough about what field agents did to acquire intelligence. I'm not satisfied with the organization of the book, either, but I get that Jeffery had only a small scope of the larger British Intelligence story to tell, as but one of several officially sanctioned histories covering specific elements. Frustrating, but understandable.

I should also say that I had an interesting disconnect at times because this al
Andy Walker
Prof Jeffery's huge work is an analogue of Prof Christopher Andrews' recent history of MI6's domestic sister, MI5. The story of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, from its birth in 1909 to 1949, is a pretty familiar one to students of the subject but this book, which features vast amounts of hitherto unpublished detail on operations, tactics and organisational matters, is undoubtedly set to become the standard reference text. Its revelations about the extent of British intelligence operation ...more
Keith Johnstone
Keith Jeffery had a tough task with this book, I assume he had ti carry out difficult research that was understandably censored at times while at the same time being able to access information previously inaccessible. Completing this book was no doubt a great achievement, ultimately though I was disappointed. Sufficient consideration was not given to what should be included in this book and what should not it has some fascinating and important information and some facts which should have just be ...more
Jan 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: didn-t-finish
I have to agree with many prior readers, this is a difficult and boring work for the average reader interested in the history of MI6. It would, however, be very useful to anyone who needs a serious historical source of research on MI6. I confess to abandoning it half-way through. Still, one can't blame a cat for not being a dog, and this book achieves what its author's purpose was, to lay out a deep, officially-sanctioned history, with access to memos, letters, etc. This is why I gave it a decen ...more
Aug 09, 2011 rated it it was ok
In principle this could be a fascinating story, but it seems that most of the good stories were either kept back or the records destroyed for security reasons. There are a few interesting tidbits, especially from the WW2 era, but to find them you have to wade through page after page on bureacratic turf wars: not exactly riveting stuff. To be fair, I only read the first 600 or so pages out of 700 before I had to give the book back, but I doubt the last bit on the early days of the Cold War would ...more
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Keith Jeffery, MRIA was a Northern Irish historian specializing in modern British, British Imperial, and Irish history. He obtained his BA, MA, and PhD (1978) degrees from St. John's College, Cambridge, the latter under the supervision of John Andrew Gallagher, and was Professor of British history at Queen's University Belfast.

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