One of the greatest, and most controversial, spy scandals of the mid to late twentieth century involved British MI6 agent turned Russian spy, Harold ‘Kim’ Philby. Much has been written about Philby and much conjecture about the why has been part of that writing. But Ben Macintyre’s A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal (2014, Crown Publishing) charts a different path with Kim Philby.
A Spy Among Friends charts a more personal course about Philby and his close friend and associate, Nicholas Elliot as Macintyre notes in his preface:
“This is not another biography of Kim Philby. Rather, it is an attempt to describe a particular friendship that played an important role in history, told in the form of a narrative.”
It is a well done and enlightening narrative. One of the things that Macintyre has done well is to let the story tell itself which builds the inevitable tension (and crisis) within Philby and then, after the fateful confrontation with Elliott in 1963 Beirut, allows it to explode in the hearts and minds of Philby, Elliott, and a host of others.
While Macintyre acknowledges the on-going controversies surround Philby (of note: Why was he allowed to escape from Beirut and defect to Russia and not be placed under arrest?), he steps away from them to concentrate on a truly deceptive relationship. The result is a very tense narrative which captures, I think, the mental, political, emotional, and relational impact of Philby’s deceptive life and work not just on him but on Elliott and others.
I liked this book for both the narrative style and the psychological tension that builds as you read. It is also a very informative book and is a great introduction to the story of Kim Philby that does not overwhelm first readers with an avalanche of details and analysis.
I rate this book a ‘great’ read.
Note. I borrowed this book from my local library and chose to write a review of it.