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

January 07, 2021


🚀 Summary in 3 points

  1. The book follows a KGB (which was the Soviet Union intelligence agency) agent, Oleg Gordievsky’s life as a double agent. A KGB agent on one hand, and a spy for the British Intelligence agency MI6 on the other.
  2. The reason he betrayed his own country was for ideological and political reasons. During his first posting in Copenhagen, Denmark he experiences the western world’s culture, music, literature that was banned/ censored in the Soviet Union. He also witnessed the building of the Berlin Wall, he is moved by the atrocious crushing of the rebellion against Soviet rule in Hungary and the Prague Spring. He wanted to find out as much as he could about the system he had come to loath and detest, and destroy it with MI6.
  3. During his London posting, he moves up in the London KGB ranks. At this time he also passes on troves of intelligence to MI6. By the time he is appointed the head of the London operations, he is identified as a mole by Aldrich Ames. He is summoned to Moscow, monitored, drugged, interrogated, loses his new job title, but due to lack of evidence he is not convicted. He defects to Britain with the help of an MI6 escape plan. It is thrilling, page-turning, and a fortuitous miracle.

🎨 Impressions

It was fascinating to see every country partake in mind games, competitive rivalries among allies, and treacherous deception among adversaries.

The author’s narritive is spirited. It does not feel like names, operations, plots are being hurled at you despite the wealth of information. Macintyre weaves events in different periods of time seamlessly. The final escape plan has a fortuitous plot twist. It is a compelling story, that is too good to be true- albeit it is!

How I Discovered It

It was on Bill Gates’ 2020’s Books for a Lousy Year list.

Who Should Read It?

Literally anyone looking for a superb thriller! That also happens to be a true story!

Dont be put off by the thought of the Cold War and political machinations, this is far from dull or stuffy. It reads like a thriller. Vibrant, exciting, informative, and occasionally humourous.

☘️ How the Book Changed Me

I learned the extent of the Soviet Union’s enforcement of communism. My history lessons are vague, and before this book, I did not appreciate the severity of what Communism meant. The book also put into perspective inner workings of the intelligence services of the UK, Soviet Union and USA during a period of increasing instability.

✍️ My Top 3 Quotes

  • Her life had been destroyed by politics and the secret choices made by a man she had loved deeply, and trusted completely, but had never fully known. “He did what he believed in, and I respect him for that. But he didn’t ask me. He involved me without my choice. He didn’t allow me to choose. From his point of view, he was my savior. But who put me in the shit-hole? He’d forgotten the first part. You can’t kick someone off a cliff and then put out a hand and say: ‘I saved you!’ He was so bloody Russian.” Leila could not forget, or get over, what had happened to her.
  • one of Stalin’s spymasters, had this advice for his officers seeking to recruit spies in Western countries: “Search for people who are hurt by fate or nature—the ugly, those suffering from an inferiority complex, craving power and influence but defeated by unfavorable circumstances….In cooperation with us, all these find a peculiar compensation. The sense of belonging to an influential and powerful organization will give them a feeling of superiority over the handsome and prosperous people around them.” For many years, the KGB used the acronym MICE to identify the four mainsprings of spying: Money, Ideology, Coercion, and Ego. But there is also romance, the opportunity to live a second, hidden life. Some spies are fantasists.
  • Paranoia is born of propaganda, ignorance, secrecy, and fear. The KGB’s London station in 1982 was one of the most profoundly paranoid places on earth, an organization imbued with a siege mentality largely based on fantasy.

Made with lots of ♥️ and