Review of The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War by Ben Macintyre
Updated: Aug 21, 2020
This is a wonderfully paced and recounted Cold War-era true story of spy intrigue, paranoia, bravery, and twists and turns.
The Spy and the Traitor is a wonderfully paced and skillfully recounted Cold War-era story of spy intrigue, paranoia, bravery, and the twists and turns that led Oleg Gordievsky, a double agent for Britain’s MI6, to be appointed Resident in the KGB—and to ultimately help end the Cold War.
Ben Macintyre deftly traces the webs of deceit, greed, bravery, and the desire for heroic glory that build to the book's climax. He does an excellent job of immersing the reader in Cold War-era mindsets, priorities, and sometimes paranoia.
The behind-the-scenes communications that were made possible by Gordievsky's insights into the Soviet leadership's motivations and fears are fascinating. This information sharing afforded the West the ability to defuse strained and high-stakes relations, possibly averting large-scale disaster on multiple occasions.
This may not be an enormous spoiler, since Gordievsky would not have lived (or at the very least been able to share his tale) if he had not escaped from Russia before being identified as a double agent. The buildup to this escape is appropriately tense, and Macintyre illustrates how the important mission was reliant on minute details and exact timing, clear heads, and outrageous improvisation. Macintyre handles all of this thrilling explanation with skilled hands. The extrication from Russia (and the use of a British diplomat’s baby as a distraction) reads like suspenseful fiction.
What did you think?
Macintyre's nonfiction book was wonderful; it really read to me like fiction. I was hooked the whole way through.
Another nonfiction spy book I found really interesting was Tracy Walder's memoir, The Unexpected Spy.