Book Review: The Spy and the Traitor

The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War by Ben Macintyre

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

10 x (James Bond movies) = This one book.

James Bond is a fictional British spy. But Oleg Gordievsky is real. His story is way more entertaining, eventful and fascinating.

The book references several events in the 70s and 80s involving giants of the era such as Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev, Ronald Reagan and briefly refers to the impact it had on the career of a young KGB agent called Vladimir Putin. This book is a memoir of the influence a spy had on the Cold War. The story shows why information is everything in international relations, how it changed the world and ended the Cold War with the dissolution of Soviet Union.

The book is a bit long and story starts slowly. It gradually gathers steam and is unputdownable towards the end as the tension mounts with every new development.

Apart from talking about the superhuman homework, extreme perils and mind games that double agents juggle with, the author does a good job in educating the reader about the Cold War tensions of the 70s,80s and the role spies play in them. Knowing that all the characters in the book are real and is based on real-life incidents adds to the appreciation of the novel. It also contrasts the organisational structure and how the 3 most notoriously powerful organisations in the world operate. While KGB, MI6 and CIA are all secret intelligence agencies who engage in spy work, their approach can’t be more different. Maybe the author is biased British, he does paint British Intelligence(MI6) in better light, holding higher moral standards than its enemy KBG and its ally CIA. KGB is shown as an evil, overpowering force watching over its people and rest of the communist world with the single agenda of defending the archaic communist propaganda.

I enjoyed subplots within the main story. One was about how the American spy was so different from the Russian spy. While Oleg betrayed his country for strong ideological reasons and risked his life to weaken oppressive communism, the American’s motive for tracheary was simpler. Money.

Sometimes facts are stranger than fiction. One such thing is about how the CIA Agent Aldrich Ames acted. When he wanted more money to satisfy his new wife’s insatiable appetite for luxury and posh lifestyle, Aldrich didn’t choose to work harder. He just created a folder with America’s top secret files, walked into the Russian embassy in Washington and handed it over to them for money. Simple but impossible to imagine at the height of the Cold War.

I can’t imagine anyone who enjoys a good thriller not reading this one. Highly recommended!

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