Macintyre (Rogue Heroes) recounts the exploits of Oleg Gordievsky, the KGB agent turned British spy responsible for “the single largest ‘operational download’ in MI6 history,” in this captivating espionage tale. Building on in-depth interviews and other supplementary research, Macintyre shows Gordievsky expertly navigating the “wilderness of mirrors” that made up the daily existence of a Cold War spy—passing microfilm, worrying that his wife will turn him in to the KGB, battling an unexpected dosage of truth serum. In Macintyre’s telling, Aldrich Ames, the CIA agent turned KGB operative who gave up Gordievsky’s cover, functions as a foil and a vehicle for moral comparison between the KGB and MI6. In a feat of real authorial dexterity, Macintyre accurately portrays the long-game banality of spycraft—the lead time and persistence in planning—with such clarity and propulsive verve that the book often feels like a thriller. The book has a startling relevancy to the news of the day, from examples of fake news to the 1984 British elections in which “Moscow was prepared to use dirty tricks and hidden interference to swing a democratic election in favor of its chosen candidate.” Macintyre has produced a timely and insightful page-turner. (Sept.)
Named a Best Book of 2018 by The Economist
Shortlisted for the Bailie Giffords Prize in Nonfiction
“Readers seeking a page-turning spy story, look no further. The author of A Spy Among Friends and Agent Zigzag, among others, does it again, this time delivering a Cold War espionage story for the ages… another can’t miss account of intrigue and intelligence.” —Boston Globe
“The subtitle of Macintyre’s latest real-life spy thriller calls it ‘The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War.’ Like pretty much everything in this fine book, the description is accurate… Macintyre is fastidious about tradecraft details… [he] has become the preeminent popular chronicler of British intelligence history because he understands the essence of the business.” —Washington Post
“The Spy and the Traitor [is] a fast-paced and fascinating biography of Russian-spy-turned-British-asset Oleg Gordievsky… It’s nonfiction, but it reads like the best of thrillers… The toll spying takes on Gordievsky’s personal life is enthralling, and the details of how deep the effects of one KGB agent’s deception can go are, in these days of Russian election meddling, quite frightening.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Who was the most important spy of the Cold War era? Ben Macintyre convincingly nominates Oleg Gordievsky… Readers should rejoice in a very readable book by a skilled story-teller. Although an intelligence outsider, Mr. Macintyre enjoys the trust of MI6… Mr. Macintyre’s account of how the officer known as Bromhead recruited Mr. Gordievsky as a spy is a textbook study of intelligence reality; indeed, these pages alone are worth the price of the book… In terms of suspense, the flight through Russia is of thriller-quality.” —Washington Times
“Oleg Gordievsky was the most significant British agent of the cold war… The result is a dazzling non-fiction thriller and an intimate portrait of high-stakes espionage.” —The Guardian
“Even a reader not enamored of spy stories will have trouble putting this one down… [The story] unfolds with a pace and drama that recall the novels of John le Carré.” —Foreign Affairs
“[A] swift-moving tale of true espionage in the most desperate years of the Cold War... The closing pages of Macintyre’s fluent yarn find Gordievsky attempting to escape captivity and flee to the West in a scenario worthy of John le Carré... Oddly timely, given the return of Russian spying to the front pages, and a first-rate study of the mechanics and psychology of espionage.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“[A] captivating espionage tale... In a feat of real authorial dexterity, Macintyre accurately portrays the long-game banality of spycraft—the lead time and persistence in planning—with such clarity and propulsive verve that the book often feels like a thriller. The book has a startling relevancy to the news of the day... Macintyre has produced a timely and insightful page-turner.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Pick up any current true-crime spy book and you’ll probably see a version of this phrase on the cover: ‘The Greatest Spy Story Ever Told.’ Most of them don’t live up to the billing, but the latest by Ben Macintyre comes close…What makes this read propulsive is the way Macintyre tells the story almost as a character-driven novel… Macintyre’s way with details, as when he explains exactly how the KGB bugged apartments, or when he delves into KGB training, is utterly absorbing. The action is punctuated with plenty of heart-stopping near-discoveries, betrayals, and escapes. Fascinating, especially now.” —Booklist (starred review)
“Fans of narrative nonfiction, the Cold War, spy stories, foreign relations among the United States, England, and Russia, and Macintyre’s previous works will greatly enjoy this incredible true account.” —Library Journal (starred review)
Veteran nonfiction writer Macintyre (writer at large, The Times of London; A Spy Among Friends) tells the story of Oleg Gordievsky (b. 1938), a spy for the Soviet Union beginning in the 1960s, later becoming the chief spy in the KGB's London office. Over time, Gordievsky developed leanings toward the West and spied for England's MI6 secret service. The CIA, meanwhile, wanted desperately to find out the name of this important double agent. Little did the CIA or MI6 know, however, that Aldrich Ames, the man leading the CIA's counterintelligence, was actually working for the Soviet Union. Gordievesky's actions helped the West win the Cold War as they contributed to the hindrance of Soviet plots and exposed agents working in both Great Britain and the United States. Macintyre's many interviews with Gordievsky and other officials in the intelligence community related to this time period add to the story. It concludes with a list of codenames, aliases, references, and an index. VERDICT Fans of narrative nonfiction, the Cold War, spy stories, foreign relations among the United States, England, and Russia, and Macintyre's previous works will greatly enjoy this incredible true account.—Jason L. Steagall, formerly with Gateway Technical Coll. Lib., Elkhorn, WI
Swift-moving tale of true espionage in the most desperate years of the Cold War.
Oleg Gordievsky (b. 1938) seemed to be a true believer in communism, a man who had emerged from secondary school, writes Macintyre (Rogue Heroes: The History of the SAS, Britain's Secret Special Forces Unit that Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of War, 2016, etc.), as "a competent, intelligent, athletic, unquestioning and unremarkable product of the Soviet system." Yet, after being admitted to the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations and groomed for service, Gordievsky revealed radical leanings toward democracy. Recruited as a KGB officer all the same, he was an appalled witness to the building of the Berlin Wall, but it "did not prevent him faithfully carrying out the orders of the KGB." Then came the invasion of Czechoslovakia and a home visit to a country that seemed to be increasingly poor and shabby in what he called a "totalitarian cacophony." At this point, Gordievsky was ripe for the turning. He became a valued asset of MI6, identifying Soviet spies and fellow travelers. So important was Gordievsky's role, and so difficult for the spymasters to manage, that MI6 tried to conceal his identity from their CIA allies, which gave the Americans fits—until, in 1985, a disgruntled, shabby CIA officer named Aldrich Ames "chose to sell out America to the KGB in order to buy the American Dream he felt he deserved." One of those he revealed was Gordievsky, who, for all his "knack for detecting loyalty, suspicion, conviction and faith," was caught in the KGB's net and returned to Moscow. The closing pages of Macintyre's fluent yarn find Gordievsky attempting to escape captivity and flee to the West in a scenario worthy of John le Carré, even as another net tightens around the American spy whom Gordievsky scorns as a "greedy bastard."
Oddly timely, given the return of Russian spying to the front pages, and a first-rate study of the mechanics and psychology of espionage.