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Spies, Lies, and Exile: The Extraordinary Story of Russian Double Agent George Blake

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For fans of John le Carr� and Ben Macintyre, an exclusive first-person account of one of the Cold War's most notorious spies "Kuper provides a different and valuable perspective, humane and informative. If the definition of a psychopath is someone who refuses to accept the consequences of his actions, does George fit the definition? There he sits, admitting it was all for n For fans of John le Carr� and Ben Macintyre, an exclusive first-person account of one of the Cold War's most notorious spies "Kuper provides a different and valuable perspective, humane and informative. If the definition of a psychopath is someone who refuses to accept the consequences of his actions, does George fit the definition? There he sits, admitting it was all for nothing, but has no regrets. Or does he?" --John le Carr� Few Cold War capers approach the sheer daring and treachery of the spy George Blake. After fighting in the Dutch resistance during World War II, Blake joined the British spy agency MI6 and was stationed in Seoul. Taken prisoner after the North Korean army overran his post in 1950, Blake later returned to England to a hero's welcome, carrying a dark secret: while in a communist prison camp, he had secretly switched sides to the KGB. As a Soviet double agent, Blake betrayed uncounted western spying operations--including the storied Berlin Tunnel, the most expensive covert project ever undertaken by the CIA and MI6. Blake exposed hundreds of western agents, forty of whom were likely executed. After his unmasking and arrest, he received, for that time, the longest sentence in modern British history. Much of Blake's career existed inside the hall of mirrors that was the Cold War, especially following his sensational escape from Wormwood Scrubs prison. Now that the master spy has died, veteran journalist Simon Kuper finally sets the record straight. Kuper tracked Blake to his dacha outside Moscow, where the aging spy agreed to be interviewed for this unprecedented account of Cold War espionage.


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For fans of John le Carr� and Ben Macintyre, an exclusive first-person account of one of the Cold War's most notorious spies "Kuper provides a different and valuable perspective, humane and informative. If the definition of a psychopath is someone who refuses to accept the consequences of his actions, does George fit the definition? There he sits, admitting it was all for n For fans of John le Carr� and Ben Macintyre, an exclusive first-person account of one of the Cold War's most notorious spies "Kuper provides a different and valuable perspective, humane and informative. If the definition of a psychopath is someone who refuses to accept the consequences of his actions, does George fit the definition? There he sits, admitting it was all for nothing, but has no regrets. Or does he?" --John le Carr� Few Cold War capers approach the sheer daring and treachery of the spy George Blake. After fighting in the Dutch resistance during World War II, Blake joined the British spy agency MI6 and was stationed in Seoul. Taken prisoner after the North Korean army overran his post in 1950, Blake later returned to England to a hero's welcome, carrying a dark secret: while in a communist prison camp, he had secretly switched sides to the KGB. As a Soviet double agent, Blake betrayed uncounted western spying operations--including the storied Berlin Tunnel, the most expensive covert project ever undertaken by the CIA and MI6. Blake exposed hundreds of western agents, forty of whom were likely executed. After his unmasking and arrest, he received, for that time, the longest sentence in modern British history. Much of Blake's career existed inside the hall of mirrors that was the Cold War, especially following his sensational escape from Wormwood Scrubs prison. Now that the master spy has died, veteran journalist Simon Kuper finally sets the record straight. Kuper tracked Blake to his dacha outside Moscow, where the aging spy agreed to be interviewed for this unprecedented account of Cold War espionage.

30 review for Spies, Lies, and Exile: The Extraordinary Story of Russian Double Agent George Blake

  1. 4 out of 5

    Mark Joyce

    The title should arguably have a question mark in it, as the book is essentially an examination of the extent to which Blake was indeed happy and/or a traitor. The first of these questions was for me the more interesting. In his interview with Kuper the elderly Blake professes to be content with his major life decisions and to nurse few regrets. Yet I don’t recall him using the word happy at any point, and there is a powerful undercurrent of sadness and longing for the England and Netherlands he The title should arguably have a question mark in it, as the book is essentially an examination of the extent to which Blake was indeed happy and/or a traitor. The first of these questions was for me the more interesting. In his interview with Kuper the elderly Blake professes to be content with his major life decisions and to nurse few regrets. Yet I don’t recall him using the word happy at any point, and there is a powerful undercurrent of sadness and longing for the England and Netherlands he is permanently exiled from. This is not (and is not intended to be) an edge of the seat espionage thriller of the Ben Macintyre type. As those who are familiar with Simon Kuper’s journalism will expect, the style is flat and understated, with a keen eye for absurdity and hypocrisy (both Blake’s and of the societies that dismiss him as a traitor and/or celebrate him as a hero). On balance I think this is a worthwhile addition to a heavily ploughed stretch of historical terrain.

  2. 5 out of 5

    piet van genderen

    Viel me toch wat tegen. Het verhaal over de ontsnapping van spion Blake (Nederlandse wortels) uit een Britse gevangenis was gedetailleerd en spannend. De inhoud van zijn spionagewerk bleef daarentegen oppervlakkig. Wel veel ruimte voor Blake's verblijf in Rusland. De zeer uitvoerige literatuurlijst voegde weinig toe. Viel me toch wat tegen. Het verhaal over de ontsnapping van spion Blake (Nederlandse wortels) uit een Britse gevangenis was gedetailleerd en spannend. De inhoud van zijn spionagewerk bleef daarentegen oppervlakkig. Wel veel ruimte voor Blake's verblijf in Rusland. De zeer uitvoerige literatuurlijst voegde weinig toe.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ellen Brunninkhuis

    Zeer interessant verhaal maar niet echt lekker opgeschreven. Honderden voetnoten maken het niet fijn leesbaar.

  4. 5 out of 5

    AdiTurbo

    The lives of many Cold War spies are fascinating - on the one hand, you have eccentric and unique people, highly intelligent and politically aware, who possess vast knowledge of multiple cultures and languages, are proficient in psychological manipulation and are usually morally confused. You get stories of intrigue, difficult life choices and tragic consequences, family dilemmas, cosmopolitan atmosphere, suspense and fear of being found out. On the other hand, the lives of these people reflect The lives of many Cold War spies are fascinating - on the one hand, you have eccentric and unique people, highly intelligent and politically aware, who possess vast knowledge of multiple cultures and languages, are proficient in psychological manipulation and are usually morally confused. You get stories of intrigue, difficult life choices and tragic consequences, family dilemmas, cosmopolitan atmosphere, suspense and fear of being found out. On the other hand, the lives of these people reflect the story of a dramatic century, which follow, influence and are influenced by historical events. This story is no different, and is made even more poignant by the fact that the author managed to interview Blake, the spy in the center of the book before he died. The whole story is wonderful, and Kuper does a good job in telling it. it was new for me to read what Blake had to say about his decisions and actions in hindsight, so many years after the fact. It explained things, but mainly shed light on his personality and way of looking at things, and about the state of mind of people involved in intelligence work at the time. I loved the focus Kuper put on the question of whether espionage is at all worth it. Whether it has any real impact on history and how things turn out. A satisfying read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Mandy

    Solidly researched, comprehensive and insightful, this is an illuminating and informative biography of double agent George Blake. Author Simon Kuper is a journalist, so it’s not surprising that he takes a more journalistic approach to his subject rather than writing a more scholarly cradle-to-grave biography, but it’s no less worthwhile for that. Kuper spent some time with Blake and these interviews are completely fascinating, adding to a more rounded portrait of an ultimately inscrutable man. E Solidly researched, comprehensive and insightful, this is an illuminating and informative biography of double agent George Blake. Author Simon Kuper is a journalist, so it’s not surprising that he takes a more journalistic approach to his subject rather than writing a more scholarly cradle-to-grave biography, but it’s no less worthwhile for that. Kuper spent some time with Blake and these interviews are completely fascinating, adding to a more rounded portrait of an ultimately inscrutable man. Engaging, accessible and a really enjoyable read.

  6. 4 out of 5

    John

    A well told tale exploring the complex character and motivations of one of the KGB’s most valuable double agents. “Without [strong] attachment to [any one particular] country by birth, by growing up, by tradition, by education”, but rather having had each of those shaped by different countries, Blake became the quintessential ‘global citizen’ and learnt to adapt wherever fate took him, including Wormwood Scrubs. He found jovial happiness anywhere - no doubt much to the chagrin of the forty or mo A well told tale exploring the complex character and motivations of one of the KGB’s most valuable double agents. “Without [strong] attachment to [any one particular] country by birth, by growing up, by tradition, by education”, but rather having had each of those shaped by different countries, Blake became the quintessential ‘global citizen’ and learnt to adapt wherever fate took him, including Wormwood Scrubs. He found jovial happiness anywhere - no doubt much to the chagrin of the forty or more British agents whose life he destroyed.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Michael Hassel

    Spies, Lies and Exile by Simon Kuper I very much looked forward to this book and I was not disappointed. Mr. Kuper has honed his clear writing style as a journalist and George Blake is a spy of very interesting background. I have previously read The Many Sides of George Blake by E.H. Cookridge, The Greatest Traitor by Roger Hermiston as well as George Blake’s, No Other Choice. All of these are quite good but Mr. Kuper’s book is by far the best as he proposes convincing why Blake spied for the Sov Spies, Lies and Exile by Simon Kuper I very much looked forward to this book and I was not disappointed. Mr. Kuper has honed his clear writing style as a journalist and George Blake is a spy of very interesting background. I have previously read The Many Sides of George Blake by E.H. Cookridge, The Greatest Traitor by Roger Hermiston as well as George Blake’s, No Other Choice. All of these are quite good but Mr. Kuper’s book is by far the best as he proposes convincing why Blake spied for the Soviets. He suggests he was influenced by his religion as well as the convictions of his cousin in Egypt Henri Curiel with whom he lived for a brief period during WW II. Both Henri and George felt a duty to assist the common man vs. the crippling powers of capitalistic governments. I have not seen the British version of the book but only the American version and the Preface is quite interesting. He suggests spying is a valuable way to discover the intentions of both sides. Perhaps only partially joking he suggests their might be spies posing as waiters at Mar-A-Lago. Not sure if he meant communists or Democrats. One point that struck me was Blake was a man without a single country but rather one who adapted well to wherever he was. For this reason, he succeeded in living the longest period of his life happily in Russia. (1966-2020) One last point of note, like Blake, Kuper is Dutch and was successful in meeting Blake in Russia and having a long conversation about his like in Dutch which seemed to allow Blake to be less guarded. I think this make a very good addition to anyone who is interested in the people involved with espionage during the Cold War. Spies chose to spy for many reasons, in Blake’s case, I think it felt justified to me.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ernest Spoon

    Boy, this book was literally hot off the presses, as the subject, George Blake/Gyorgi Bekhter, only died December 26, 2020. I was torn between a three star or a four star rating--I dozed off reading some passages. But as you can see I ended up giving it four stars. For, as author Simon Kuper explains, George Blake was a likeable guy. And of all the Cold War-era true-espionage books I´ve read over the past few years (someone at the North Side branch of the Des Moines Public Library seems to like Boy, this book was literally hot off the presses, as the subject, George Blake/Gyorgi Bekhter, only died December 26, 2020. I was torn between a three star or a four star rating--I dozed off reading some passages. But as you can see I ended up giving it four stars. For, as author Simon Kuper explains, George Blake was a likeable guy. And of all the Cold War-era true-espionage books I´ve read over the past few years (someone at the North Side branch of the Des Moines Public Library seems to like this particular niche genre) Blake´s double-agent career seemed remarkably mundane. Well, I suppose exposing upwards of 200 uncover operatives isn´t mundane by any means. But except for his escape from London´s Wormwood Scrubs prison, the man was a desk jockey. The common thread among the British Cold War double agents is they were all idealists who viewed Communism as the panacea par excellence to heal the societal ills caused by the rise of Industrial Capitalism. But of the great British turncoats, Kim Philby, Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess, Blake was the only one who made himself comfortable in the old Soviet Union. And even he saw the cracks in the facade.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Greville Waterman

    I knew of the author through his football titles but he clearly demonstrated his versatility in this fascinating and well researched biography of one of the forgotten spies of the 60s, George Blake. Sharing his Dutch heritage with the author, Blake opened up to Kuper providing an in-depth account of his spying and why he became a traitor. In reality he did not see himself as British and was a communist ideologue. I was shocked by his apparent naivety and lack of perception- or was it concern - a I knew of the author through his football titles but he clearly demonstrated his versatility in this fascinating and well researched biography of one of the forgotten spies of the 60s, George Blake. Sharing his Dutch heritage with the author, Blake opened up to Kuper providing an in-depth account of his spying and why he became a traitor. In reality he did not see himself as British and was a communist ideologue. I was shocked by his apparent naivety and lack of perception- or was it concern - about the consequences of his treachery. The book is fast paced and revealing, particularly about his escape from Wormwood Scrubs. A good and interesting read.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Paul Watterson

    This is a well-written book but still vaguely disappointing. Maybe that is down to the character of Blake himself who lacked the flamboyance of the other top drawer UK spies that he is bracketed with. He comes across as quite functional, not only in terms of his "career" but also his character. Post the jail escape and the defection to Moscow, it all seems rather mundane in comparison to his earlier life but his coldness and Kuper's honest opinion of his true spirit and motivations, revealed in This is a well-written book but still vaguely disappointing. Maybe that is down to the character of Blake himself who lacked the flamboyance of the other top drawer UK spies that he is bracketed with. He comes across as quite functional, not only in terms of his "career" but also his character. Post the jail escape and the defection to Moscow, it all seems rather mundane in comparison to his earlier life but his coldness and Kuper's honest opinion of his true spirit and motivations, revealed in the final pages, does come across.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Trebor

    I'm not sure if I really liked this book, but it was somewhat enlightening. Cold war espionage was rampant from many countries where spies, lies and death or exile (if you were lucky) was the price for treason or deception. The back story on traitors can sometimes be interesting but for me not garnering any sympathy. All governments have the tendency to be borderline corrupt or corruptable, after all they are made up made up of power mad bureaucrats. I'm not sure if I really liked this book, but it was somewhat enlightening. Cold war espionage was rampant from many countries where spies, lies and death or exile (if you were lucky) was the price for treason or deception. The back story on traitors can sometimes be interesting but for me not garnering any sympathy. All governments have the tendency to be borderline corrupt or corruptable, after all they are made up made up of power mad bureaucrats.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    I enjoyed the book, it posed a few new questions and took a different approach to the normal spy biography. It also tried to answer some of the questions around the value of the material that was handed over to the Soviets.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Bentley

    Read this in a day. A gripping and fascinating story about George Blake, a British/Russian spy who died in December 2020. Written from a western capitalist perspective, and sadly this is evident in the writing. But very much worth reading.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Donut

    Een lang artikel over George Blake was beter geweest, dan was er niet allerhande zijdelingse bladvulling nodig waardoor het boek aan alle kanten ratelt.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Duncan McKay

    Anything Kuper writes is worth reading and the story of George Blake is a story worth trying to tell.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Faythe Millhoff

    This is a very interesting story, told well. There could have been a little more detail but all in all a useful, interesting way to spend your reading time.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Justine

    Thanks to NetGalley and The New Press for providing an ARC!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Max

    This wasn't exceptional but it was well told and I appreciated the limited scope/ambition and the good analysis. This wasn't exceptional but it was well told and I appreciated the limited scope/ambition and the good analysis.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Bethany

    True stories on espionage and double agents have always fascinated me, but sadly a lot of the biographies and history books written on them disappoint. Not this one though, I love the way Simon Kuper explores the complexities and motivations of George Blake, one of the KGB’s most valuable double agents, in a way that even the least knowledgeable of people can understand. To think that this actually happened in real life is incredible, and to know he could never have cared less about the lives of True stories on espionage and double agents have always fascinated me, but sadly a lot of the biographies and history books written on them disappoint. Not this one though, I love the way Simon Kuper explores the complexities and motivations of George Blake, one of the KGB’s most valuable double agents, in a way that even the least knowledgeable of people can understand. To think that this actually happened in real life is incredible, and to know he could never have cared less about the lives of the 40+ British Agents he ruined is just something else. I gave this 4* because I feel like more connections could have been made. Thank you to NetGalley for providing the ARC.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Lucieru

  21. 4 out of 5

    Tobias

  22. 5 out of 5

    Helen Brown

  23. 5 out of 5

    Hatem Mohamed

  24. 4 out of 5

    Marije

  25. 4 out of 5

    Erin:) (emy)

  26. 5 out of 5

    Simon Woodrup

  27. 4 out of 5

    Felicity

  28. 4 out of 5

    Bridget Hosty

  29. 5 out of 5

    juli

  30. 4 out of 5

    Alexander

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