jml's notebook

The Spy and the Traitor

I've read a bunch of good books recently, and rather than dump the list of them here, I thought I'd try to do one post per book.

The Spy and The Traitor by Ben MacIntyre is a history of a high-level KGB agent who defected to MI-6. I read it months and months ago, so the details are fuzzy.

As someone who grew up after the Cold War ended, it was fascinating to get a kind of picture of what life was like behind the Iron Curtain, and just how bizarre the political situation was.

For example, Reagan was beating his chest about defence and what-not, and this was interpreted by the Soviet leadership as preparation for a first strike. I guess this sort of misunderstanding happens all the time. But without the eponymous spy (whose name, regrettably, I have completely forgotten), American leadership would have had no clue that they were immanentizing the eschaton.

The book strongly (and rightly) emphasises the spy's courage, the level of deceit he had to maintain all the time, and the cost he bore for all of this.

It's very entertaining, and reads as much like a thriller as anything. I picked it up because I was looking for something I could read where I could tune out and not feel difficult feelings, and it worked very well for that.