The Spy and the Traitor
by Ben Macintyre
Oleg Gordievsky was the model of a perfect KGB officer. Born into a KGB family, he possessed a deep intellect and graduated from the “Russian Harvard”. But eventually he recognized the lies and tyranny of the Soviet regime for what they were, and as he worked his way up to the highest post in the KGB’s London station, he began acting as a double agent for MI6, the British intelligence service. With the Cold War reaching new heights, Gordievsky provided the British with information on Soviet spies, plots, and internal mechanisms. And as he worked to bring down the very regime that sought to control him, he lived always with the risk that he would be discovered, that he would be betrayed, that his family would be used against him.
The Spy and the Traitor describes true events that unfolded during the twentieth century. Perhaps most instrumental in making this book so riveting was the extraordinary amount of detail the author presented, from Gordievsky’s small mannerisms to every single step of an operation. This detail allowed Macintyre to paint a fuller image of Gordievsky. In most other true historical books that I have read, the lack of fine detail kept me from really understanding the characters and getting a complete picture of their personalities. However, in The Spy and the Traitor, I felt as if I actually knew Gordievsky and could therefore better identify with him. In addition, I gained a greater appreciation for the amount of planning and precision needed for intelligence operations.
The suspense Macintyre was able to create was impressive. At times I was on the edge of my seat, anxious for the outcome, and it was as if I were reading a thriller. Again, I believe it is the detail that allowed the author to do this. Without these little details, the narration of events would pass too quickly for any suspense to build.
The Spy and the Traitor illustrates the extreme stress that a spy comes under, how the uncertainty can wear a man down both physically and mentally. It emphasizes the importance of intelligence, courage, and the ability to think quickly, elements that are needed to operate in the field. Most of all, it reveals how one man, born in a controlling and oppressive system, managed to defy that system and fight for a cause he believed was right.
I would recommend this book for older readers and young adults. It contains a few sexual references and uses of profanity, and the subject may be slightly difficult for younger readers to grasp. The Spy and the Traitor is an engrossing read, at once exhilarating and edifying, and I can think of no better way to spend your summer evening.