The Spy and the Traitor by Ben Macintyre

The Spy and the Traitor by Ben Macintyre Book Cover, on book pile with gray fur background for books in true espionage, spy book recommendation

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There’s plenty of suspense and a sufficiency of colorful personalities in this true espionage story, making  for an interesting and engaging read.  Anyone with an interest in the covered time period, or who paid attention while living through those same years, will enjoy getting some insights into what was happening behind the scenes of the cold war.  I found it interesting to learn how Margaret Thatcher was briefed on information coming from Gordievsky, the protagonist, and how Ronald Reagan was also influenced.  Earlier than those events there are descriptions of various forms of spy-craft that made me blink. And sometimes laugh. There are protocols for following and being followed, getting drop-offs and identifying who has the desired information to hand over. And much, much more. It’s intriguing stuff.  That’s part of the appeal and at times downright fascination this tale elicits.

Fairly early it’s mentioned that Gordievsky, while stationed in Denmark, was able to fake identities in Denmark by changing church records.  I couldn’t help but wonder how many genealogists have come across these fake names and been flummoxed. Or sent down a wrong track.  I know I’m being distracted by a brief paragraph and an unanswerable question, but I feel sorry for my imaginary genealogists.  In my minds’ eye they sit forlornly over the church register, baffled and confused. Yes, thoughts like these are common to how I think.  You can move on to the next paragraph while I linger here.

Stylistically, the writing is (appropriately) journalistic.  There are forays into various aspects of what motivates a person to become a player in these alarming political games.  The very title of the book is a reference to differences of motivation in those who operate in the world of espionage.   Motivation marks the difference between a spy and a traitor.  In this murky world, however, it is difficult to draw an absolute line of demarcation. Worth mentioning is that cultural norms and historical background are given such that no reader need be baffled as to the whys and wherefores of many events pertinent to the unfolding of this story. 

This narrative is thought provoking.  Its scope is grand.  I’d say…the best and worst thing about this story is that it is a true story.


This Abibliophobe