The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (George Smiley Series)

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (George Smiley Series)

by John le Carré


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The Spy Who Came in from the Cold: Smiley Series, Book 3 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 83 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Excellent novel, great story, incomparable style of John le Carre, joy to read. especially for someone who is at least a little bit interested in the post-war history of Europe. The only reason why I didn't give the book 5 stars is the abundance of cartoon stereotypes in descriptions of East Germans: a big dumb woman guard, sadistic officers, jew haters, etc. - all more suitable for a bad Hollywood movie than for a novel of a master, but the book is still one of the best in the genre.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This rates up there with 'the Quiet American' as the greatest spy literature. If your looking for an easy book-with easy solutions then don't read this book. However if you are someone who likes to look beneath the surface, if you want to look at some ugly truths of the network of spies--then definitly read this book. What might not be known to most readers, is that it is based on a much larger, much more destructive true story perpetrated by the CIA against Eastern European countries in the late 1940's-early 1950's called 'operation Splinter Factor' (there is a book by that title but I think its out of print, there is however a section on it in William Blum's excellent and heavily researched book 'Killing Hope:US Military and CIA Intervention Since World War 2').
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It's as good as they say.
Anonymous 14 days ago
George Smiley is a wonderful protagonist. LeCarre is too cynical.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good spy story but sad.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The best Cold War spy novel ever written.
nesum on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read this book about three years ago (at the writing of this review), and it is still one I think about often, and quite fondly. It is certainly dark, hopeless, and cold, but intentionally so, and it tells one of the finest stories I've ever read, in any genre. I do not have an extensive collection of spy fiction, so it is quite probable that there are better spy books out there than this one. But I haven't found them yet.
spounds on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Alec Leamas, British spy handler, has suffered a series of setbacks at the hands of his arch-enemy, the East German, Mundt, and is ready to retire. When Alec¿s boss, Control, asks if he wants to go on one last mission to shut Mundt down, Alec agrees and, ¿the plot thickens.¿ It sounds funny, but I enjoyed the size of this book. It was a relatively short book, just over 200 pages, but there was a lot packed into those pages. This is a spy story, though not an action packed spy story. Instead it is a riddle that slowly unwinds itself. Trying to figure out who is telling the truth and who is on whose side is the fun of reading it. Having said that, sometimes I think my mind was too old to keep up. The clues are very subtle¿like spywork should be¿and I had to read a synopsis after I finished reading it to help me pull it all together. That made me mad (and made me feel inadequate) because I should have been able to figure it all out myself. Like I said, I am getting old.The book was written in 1963 so it is almost as old as I am. In a way it seemed dated. The characters, Cold War warriors each, struggle with the ideas of right and wrong, good and evil, morality and immorality in the service of a cause. Do the ends justify the means? They spend a lot of time parsing that through. Nearly 50 years later it seems like we don¿t even bother wondering any more. The answer is always, sadly, yes.
kraaivrouw on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It's been a long time since I first read this, in high school. It didn't make as big an impression on me as the George Smiley novels did - it's much less epic, more subtle, I think. I'm reading books that were published in my birth year so when I found that this was one of them I put it on the list. I'm glad I did, it's a very different book when read as an adult. Maybe it's just that I'm in the same part of my life as the main character, Alec Leamas - I understand his growing and vague sense of dissatisfaction, of time running out before you get to do that one really cool thing. le Carré can write - there is no doubt of that - and his novels written during and about the Cold War are mostly brilliant. I've never been a huge fan of the James Bond-type spy novels. I much prefer the notion that le Carré lays out - of a game grounded in utter pragmatism, its heroes largely unsung. The game as it is presented in these books has no clear answers, no clear victories, nothing, but ambiguity stacked on ambiguity - that's what makes these brilliant.The Berlin Wall came down when I was in grad school. Throughout my earlier life it loomed there in the distance, a place where desperate people were killed by their own governments, where families were separated by an ideology made real through stone and barbed wire. These days it's easy to forget what that might have been like, but le Carré definitely captures that in this book.Spare, cynical, dispassionate, and utterly tragic this book lays the groundwork for the George Smiley books that followed. It's a wonderful read.
Cecrow on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I don't read spy novels, but I've always been curious about John le Carré and chose this as my sample of his work. He identifies it as one of his best, and it's hailed as a classic. I can see why.I've almost no experience with the genre, so my only basis of comparison is James Bond. The differences are obvious. James Bond is a no-nonsense superman who any man can idolize, the 'ideal spy' in a black-and-white world. Alex Leamas, on the other hand, is an everyman, just trying to do his job and hating it a good amount of the time. He gets fired from a senior posting, only to receive a second chance as an undercover operative. He has to go to extremes to establish this cover that would be far below Bond's dignity, and must resign himself to his role as expendable pawn in an enormous game he doesn't understand the full workings of.Alex has no special gadgets at his disposal, and he can't fight his way out of his problems. He shies away from discussion about right and wrong because it makes him uncomfortable. He recognizes his enemy is a mirror image of himself. He feels the toll his work takes on his life, he feels the sacrifices, and he knows fear. With James Bond, we wish we were in his shoes. With Alex, we're very glad we're not. That difference made this novel a hit when it was published in 1963, hailed as a landmark for its very human and realistic portrayal of unglamorous international espionage that probably opened a lot of people's eyes. Maybe someone who reads contemporary spy thrillers will find nothing unique here, since I'd imagine it must have set a template for many acts to follow, but it will always remain a quick read and well told story.
brettjames on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Mere hints of what le Carré will become.
LisaMaria_C on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The book gets off to a gripping and suspenseful start. At the height of the Cold War around 1962, veteran British operative Alec Leamas waits for one of his agents to cross the East German border. He can only watch as the man is gunned down before his eyes within feet of making it across. With that death, the East Germans have succeeded in unraveling his entire network.Brought back to England, Leamas is convinced to do one more job. He's dangled as bait, presented as apparently broken and bitter, in the hopes their communist adversaries will entice him to defect and swallow what he has to tell them. I've been reading a recommendation list for suspense novels, including several spy thrillers, and I've read a couple of dozen, leaving Le Carre for almost last precisely because so many have told me his works are among the best. If The Spy Who Came In from the Cold is any evidence, I'd say that's right. Along with Alan Furst (Night Soldiers) and Eric Ambler (A Coffin for Dimitrios) Le Carre is both the most plausible in his depiction of espionage and among the strongest in a literary sense. It's not surprising he'd be credible. Along with Ian Fleming of the James Bond novels, he's one of the few such writers who can claim actual experience--he worked in British Intelligence for years, and in his introduction he tells of how he saw the Berlin Wall go up.Alec is no James Bond though--and I like him the more for it. This isn't some escapist male fantasy where being a secret agent allows you to indulge in gorgeous women on your arm as you gamble high stakes at casinos and consume caviar and champagne. Alec is around fifty years old, disillusioned and close to burnt out even before this mission. The woman he gets involved with, Liz Gold, is no glamorous Bond girl, but a hopelessly naive idealist whose very innocence points up the ruthlessness of the game as played by both sides. This is much more intricately plotted than any of the other espionage fiction I read. Seeming plot holes close up and become plot points and there's enough twists and turns to satisfy a fan of Christie. Don't expect a black and white morality or characters or a happy rainbow at the end though.
BEC3 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The novel that brought John Le Carre to the international spotlight, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is one of the best spy novels ever written. With its realistic portrayal of espionage (not always at its finest) and Le Carre's own experience contributing, this is a must read.The story of veteran spy and Berlin section chief Alec Leamas' last operation starts with his supposed punishment and demotion to a low level clerical job and builds up to alcoholism and 30 days in jail for assault before being "recruited" by an East German team as a double agent.Leamas' (and his superiors') true motives though are to take down Mundt, the high-ranking official in the Abteilung (East German Intelligence) responsible for the death of every single double agent handled by Leamas.The novel moves along swiftly, with many twists to keep readers intrigued and make the operation even more mysterious. And with arguably one of the most powerful final scenes in literary history, this gritty and realistic look at the world of Cold War espionage is a definite must read that I would recommend to every one looking for a cerebral thriller or what Graham Greene called, "The best spy novel I have ever read."
dr_zirk on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is both brilliant and fascinating, even if it tends to fall apart towards the end of the story. The first half of the book uniquely captures the darkness and cynicism of the Cold War years, as rendered by a writer in possession of some unique angles on that great drama. The latter half of the book is less interesting, featuring a rather drawn-out trial sequence that is frankly quite dull, and burdened with a romantic subplot that feels patched onto the main narrative. Nonetheless, this book may yet be the best spy novel ever written, and certainly worth a read for those who have never experienced the works of John Le Carre.
Elsieb on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a tough read.....enjoyable in the same way you'd enjoy a hard workout at the gym. Glad I got through it. And the author went to Sherborne School - hurrah!
nakmeister on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Alec Leamas is a world weary secret agent for British counter-intelligence, working out of Berlin. He has been running a network of agents in Berlin for many years, very successfully, but recently things have been going wrong, and when his last agent is shot and killed trying to crossover into the West, he returns to England. His boss, Control, asks him to do one final very important (and very dangerous) assignment, a devious plan designed to result in the death of the powerful head of East German intelligence. Leamas agrees...I'd heard a lot about John Le Carre, and seen many of his books in the library and bookshops. His name seems to be synonymous with the spy novel, and so when I found this early book in a charity shop, I just had to buy it. I wasn't disappointed. The book is very tightly written. It's a short book, weighing in at just over 200 pages, but there's a lot of plot packed into those pages. Very little words are wasted on long description and narrative, but Le Carre still manages to convey very well the bleakness of the espionage business and the cold war era. The story is very clever, but I won't say any more for fear of giving away spoilers. I couldn't decide whether to give it a 4.5 or a 5. In the end I went for a 5, because while there are a few novels I've enjoyed more, there are very few I've been more impressed by.Note - this is John Le Carre's third novel, but it's generally considered his 'breakout' novel, the first of novels to gain siginificant popularity and acclaim.
Archren on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is deserving of the mantle of ¿classic¿ bestowed upon it. It takes the spy story, strips it of glamour and infuses it with the moral ambiguity of the real world. Its prose is bleak and spare, the characters repressed and uncommunicative. The surroundings reflect the characters who reflect the necessities of the intelligence universe. In basic plot, it follows Alec Lemas, an intelligence operative once in charge of the West Berlin operations on behalf of Britan in the late 1950s and early 1960s. When the last useful agent he had in East Germany is shot, he is recalled and seemingly goes to seed, the only brief light in his life being a brief relationship with a librarian Liz Gold. There are plot twists within plot twists as there must be in setting up the ultra-sophisticated dance of intelligence and counter-intelligence. Some twists you¿ll see coming, some you might not. This book is a reflection of the times. Some things are surprising now: the passivity of the female character, the emotional repression, the anti-semitism. However, some things are as important today as ever: the killing of good men simply because they happen to belong to the ¿other¿ side, the dichotomy between ¿doing a job¿ and being motivated by ideology, the horrible things done, justified or not, in the name of national security. The book is very slim, and packs a lot of material in a short amount of space. I¿d recommend it to just about anyone ever interested in the darker side of the often thrilling and glamorous espionage genre.
TheTwoDs on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Not much else needs to be said about this classic novel of Cold War espionage. Le Carre elevates the genre and set a new standard of expectation for what a spy novel could be.Our "hero", Alec Leamas, has recently been recalled from Germany after his entire network of spies in the Communist bloc has been rounded up and eliminated. Expecting to retire in disgrace, Control, instead, has other plans. Leamas and the reader eventually realize that they cannot discern the true plans Control has and the actual point of his mission. Leamas becomes a double agent, sent to infiltrate the East German intelligence service on a mission that becomes more abstract as additional information is revealed. To spill more would be a disservice.The spooks and their masters have real human emotions and backstories. They are not just characters to be manipulated in service of a plot. That is where Le Carre excels beyond the average spy story. Rather than engaging in elaborate, globe-spanning, exotic conspiracies, this novel is rooted in realistic depictions of a dirty, but necessary, craft.Needless to say, if you're a fan of spy fiction, especially the work of Alan Furst, you've probably read this already. If you haven't, you owe it to yourself to do so immediately.
siafl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is as good as what its reviews claim it to be. It's suspenseful, well-constructed, gripping like a good novel should be, and has a sad but appropriate ending. I particularly liked the chapter (second last) where it got philosophical about spies doing what they do: how we as a society sees spies because they are often portrayed as heros (although this is not explicitly discussed) versus how spies actually operate because they live in a dangerous world doing dangerous things, both real and non-glorified. The troubling thing is that we often find ourselves interested in agents that come from the "good-guy" side. We root for them. Cheer when they get their way, and applaud when they triumph at the end because, as all stories should, the good guy should win at the end. In reality there's just two sides being at war, doing whatever it takes to crack the other side.Along the way there are casualties.
fourbears on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The best of Le Carre, though, I'm sure I'm influenced by the film with Richard Burton too.
jmaloney17 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an ok book. I thought I would like it a lot more because I really like spies. It lacked action. It was ok and all, just not for me.
claraoscura on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Extremly good. This book is a real spy story, dense with content and twists. The characters are very believable too. Far from the thrillers published today.
alana_leigh on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Considered to be one of the best spy thrillers of the modern age, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is the the novel that put John le Carré's on the best-seller list (and essentially he's there to stay. Given this fantastic piece, it is well-deserved. Published in 1963, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was le Carré's third novel, but the first espionage thriller of its kind -- namely, the first with the painfully realistic notion that there is no "good" or "bad" side in a conflict and no one is particularly moral or just when it might come at the expense of victory.Alec Leamas is a burned-out English spy enduring his final mission so that he might "come in from the cold" and retire after a long career in the British Secret Intelligence Service. This chance comes shortly after Leamas's stint as commander of the West Berlin office where he witnessed his last decent agent get shot trying to escape East Berlin. Now, his job is to destroy his own life and give the illusion of a washed-up agent ill-used by his superiors so that he might appear to be a man who's very willing to defect to the East German Communists and sell them information. Leamas is a pro and he plays his role well -- except he does what it seems like every spy does... he gets involved with a girl. Liz Gold is a young Jewish woman who works at a library, a registered Communist who falls hard for Leamas, even though he tries to push her away (though he doesn't try very hard). Whether Leamas falls in love with Liz or simply develops an affection for her, no one should be too surprised if Liz becomes a liability in the high-stakes game that he's playing. Before diving headfirst into his dealings with the East German Communists, he makes Liz promise to not try and find him and similarly asks his British superiors to leave her alone. Yeah. Sure.To say too much about the plot would be criminal, so I'll simply note that it's all quite worth reading. It's so refreshing to find a novel where things move quickly and the author doesn't pander to a slow audience. I actually wondered at the beginning of the book if I was going to be quick enough to follow along with everything, particularly considering my Cold War knowledge is a bit rusty, but it turned out I had everything I needed to know. The thing that's fascinating now is to be familiar with the jaded concept that neither side is "right" in a conflict, but to see the origin of this idea in the novel that best brought it to light in terms of the modern age. Clearly, this is no James Bond novel where he easily bests the bad guys in the name of Queen and country while sleeping with sexy women and drinking martinis. Leamas is a grizzled case who's been in the field for much too long and he's beyond disillusioned with it all... and yet still, he might retain his own understanding of honor. He's lived a cover for so long that who knows what is "true" and it takes a woman from the outside to prove that not everything is about lies and subterfuge... but such a perspective can hardly survive the onslaught of underhanded dealings. There is, indeed, a real villain in this story, but an individual's blackened soul doesn't necessarily represent an entire country, particularly when the only other true idealist with a good dream to improve the lives of his people is on the exact same side. Leamas, despite being disillusioned with it all, still does seem to have some moral understanding and perhaps that's what draws him to naive Liz.My book club read this at the suggestion of a member who is writing her own spy novel and so has been immersing herself in fiction and non-fiction that pertains to the topic as research. Perhaps an unlikely choice, it made for some great discussion as we dissected the motives of various characters and sighed over just how annoying Liz was. (Seriously, it's painful how useless and frustrating she was in the face of everything.) There was a movie made of this novel that a few o
sjmccreary on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I've heard this described as the greatest spy novel ever, and since I've recently taken a liking to spy novels, I was anxious to read this one. The book was published in 1963, the height of the the cold war, and the story takes place at about the same time. Alec Leamas is a British spy serving in Berlin who returns to London after another of his operatives is killed, this one while crossing the checkpoint at the Berlin Wall. Once back in London, Alec is given a desk job in the banking section, then dismissed after an irregularity is discovered in the accounts. He is a failure at civilian life, not able to keep a job, falling behind on his bills, and finally ending up in jail after assaulting a shop keeper. On the day he is released from prison, he is approached and recruited back into "service". This book is much different than the more modern novels I've been reading, leaving quite a lot unsaid, even at the end. I felt like I never quite knew what was going on - there was layer upon layer of deception, and it was impossible to tell what the truth was. Even in Alec's first person thoughts, I couldn't be sure whether he was lying or "telling" the truth. I'd like read more by the author, and other authors from the time, before deciding whether I like them as well as more recent books.
Smiler69 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm not sure how much I can reveal about the plot without spoiling it completely, so I'll play it safe. This is a pure spy mystery involving agent Leamas, fired by the Secret Service for failing to protect his agents properly and given only a minimal pension. He quickly falls into hard drinking and major debt, then lands himself in jail. The day he comes out of jail, he's approached by a stranger and is eventually taken to East Germany to deliver intelligence gathered in the years working for the British service. There is eventually a trial held by the communists during which it comes to light that everyone might be guilty of double and triple-crossing, and seen through the prism of totalitarianism and paranoia, all we've been told till then might be a complete fiction. I was expecting to enjoy this novel more than I did, especially considering the fact that I enjoyed the first two George Smiley novels quite a lot, but maybe I'm not such a big fan of spy novels after all? At one point it all got too confusing and convoluted for me to care much, but looking at the overall construction, it's a very good book and I can objectively say I can see why this is such a popular story and might appeal to such a large audience.