Review: Macintyre’s A Spy Among Friends

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal
Ben Macintyre

Its surprising that, until now, there hasn’t been a really thorough, well done, book about the fascinating possibly sociopathic, definitely alcoholic Kim Philby. Philby, as we all know, was a member (perhaps leader?) of the Cambridge spy ring who while working in the highest reaches of Mi6 spied for the Soviet Union lying to his friends and family for decades about his true motivation.

But what were Philby’s motivations? He went to his grave claiming he was a committed communist, but the Philby in this book doesn’t come off that way. He comes off as someone who enjoyed the game – a man addicted to the deception of espionage. Not satisfied merely to spy for Britain, he had to spy on Britain while spying for Britain.
He was, by any measure, a scoundrel, he destroyed many of those close to him including his wife, and the famous CIA man James Angelton who was never the same after Philby’s betrayal, but what a scoundrel he was! If there is a more fascinating spy in history, I don’t know who he is.

There are a lot of subtle threads that weave through this work. Class plays a big role, as does what appears to be endless drinking. Everyone here is always drunk, which might have helped Philby stay undetected for so long. But a bigger part of the reason Philby went undetected is because he was “one of us” i.e. an upper class Englishman. Surely someone who went Westminster and Cambridge couldn’t betray old England. How wrong they were.

Recommeneded for the enthusiast.