Book Review | The Spy and The Traitor | Ben Macintyre

  Hello, this is my first official book review. I do short-form reviews on Twitter just for fun, but never a long-form review. Why now you ask. Simple. I am annoyed, irritated, emotional, and sad, and also menstruating and my brain is refusing to work. So, here I am trying to write a decent review for the book I finished reading in the last 2 weeks or so. Like most of my blogs, you can expect tidbits about my personal life in my reviews as well. 

I have been a pretty regular reader for the last two years at least, managing to read over 20 books in one year. But somehow since the beginning of 2021, I hadn't felt that connection with a book. I was forcing myself to read. I did feel some sparks and very brief periods of passion for a book, but all short-lived, that is until I picked up this book called "The Spy and The Traitor" by Ben Macintyre. 

A little context to how I came about picking this book up. My really tall glass of filter coffee AKA Brownster was visiting me, and I wanted a book the two of us could read together. I like him reading to me. So I was hunting for books that would interest both of us. I went to a tried and tested source, Gates notes. Somehow very few of Bill's recommendations miss the mark for me. And that is precisely where I found this book. The book was about a Russian spy during the cold war (something I knew little about, so a good chance to educate myself) and the book was about a real-life spy, something my mallu boi loves. Once I decided that this was the one we would be reading, I ordered it from my local book store Bahrisons (because fuck Amazon and Bezos) obviously. So that concludes the selection process. 

"We" began reading this book. And I use quotes because though we did start, I got tired of narrating and read the entire thing myself. The reason I am choosing to write about this book is that this was the first time in six months, that I could not keep the book down. I literally, could not keep it down. The book hooks you in from the very first chapter in itself when Macintyre is describing the Soviet Union and the previously majestic KGB. He gives you an inside-out view of the communist nation and its operations at the time. He also gives you a wide-angle view of the political landscape of the world before the disintegration of the USSR and the friction between the ideologies of the East and the West. 

The book traces the life of one of the most influential spies of all time, Oleg Gordiviesky, and his espionage, which is regarded as one of the biggest operations in the world to date. Macintyre quickly gets to the points and talks about the ideological transformation Gordivesky went through at a young age, despite being raised in a KGB family in communist Moscow and being an operative himself. And thus begins the story of his long, meticulous, and extremely critical espionage with MI6 in an attempt to bring down the Soviet regime. Through Gordivesky's life, Macintyre also shines a light on the lesser-known craft of spying during the times of the cold war, a time when spies were rampant, foreign embassies a front for intelligence, and an unprecedented amount of resources spent on spying on the spies. It was a big "We know that they know that we know" on an extremely large scale. 

The book also talks about another spy during the same time, Aldrich Ames, who much like Gordivesky turned into a double agent, but was very different from our Russian spy in every other aspect and so was his espionage. Macintyre presents the two spies in starkly different lights. He calls one a spy and the other a traitor despite both having "betrayed" their intelligence agencies and their nations. I will leave that for you to figure out. 

This is one of the best books I have read so far this year. It is just as interesting as it is informative. I would personally recommend this book to any and everyone who wants to read about one of the biggest acts of spying that averted a nuclear war, was instrumental in improving the relations between the east and the west, and help break the ice of the cold war. 

I would rate it 9/10 because let us be honest, there is always room for improvement and growth. 

Just as a side note, when you get to part three of the book, make sure you have nothing on the horizon because let me tell you once you start part three you are not going to be able to keep it down. 


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