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The Spy and the Traitor summary

Ben Macintyre

The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War

4.6 (101 ratings)
29 mins

Brief summary

The Spy and the Traitor by Ben Macintyre is an gripping true story of KGB double agent Oleg Gordievsky, who risked everything to help MI6 during the Cold War. It is a fascinating account of espionage and betrayal, told with meticulous attention to detail.

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    The Spy and the Traitor
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    Oleg Gordievsky seemed destined to join the KGB but became disillusioned with communism from an early age.

    The communist Soviet Union’s reputation for its terrifyingly effective state apparatus has barely dimmed since its dissolution in 1991. One name still instantly recalls the pervasive fear that riddled the country: The KGB. The Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti, or Committee for State Security, was the country’s primary security agency. To put it mildly, it was ruthlessly efficient.

    Oleg Gordievsky’s father, Anton Lavrentyevich Gordievsky was a lifelong member of the KGB. Although the exact details are scarce, he likely identified many “enemies of the state” during the Great Purge of 1936-8. This state campaign under Stalin resulted in the murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. Though he never spoke of these atrocities, Gordievsky was proud of his role in the KGB, even opting to wear his uniform on the weekends.

    Oleg Gordievsky was born 10 October 1938. It seemed that he, like his brother Vasili, was assured of employment at the KGB thanks to his father’s membership. That was just how it worked with the children of KGB members. Gordievsky’s career path to the KGB was settled, but his conscience was not. From early on, there were signs that he was discontented with the communist ideology fueling the organization.

    Two early influences on Gordievsky were his mother, a gentle nonconformist who kept a quiet distance from Soviet ideology, and his grandmother. The latter kept her religious beliefs secret, an absolute necessity in a country where religious faith was illegal. By the time 17-year-old Gordievsky enrolled at Russia’s most esteemed university for diplomats, politicians and spies – the Moscow State Institute of International Relations – a change was in the air. After Stalin’s death in 1953, his successor Nikita Khrushchev began to liberalize some of the Soviet Union’s most oppressive practices, for example, allowing foreigners to visit, as well as making previously banned publications and magazines available.

    Gordievsky was thus able to learn more about the West from foreign newspapers and periodicals in the institute’s library. At night, he began tuning his radio to the BBC World Service and Voice of America, even though that was still forbidden. Around this time, he found a companion at the institute, Stanislaw Kaplan. Like Gordievsky, he was skeptical about communism. The two became fast friends, and often went out jogging together. Though neither Gordievsky nor Kaplan had yet dropped their loyalty to communism, it was clear that this friendship would shape the rest of their lives.

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    What is The Spy and the Traitor about?

    The Spy and the Traitor (2018) details the real-life spy story of Oleg Gordievsky, the Soviet double-agent whose efforts contributed to the end of the Cold War. These blinks trace Gordievsky’s progress through the KGB and his years spying for MI6, the British secret service, before his final daring escape to the West.

    The Spy and the Traitor Review

    The Spy and the Traitor (2018) tells the gripping true story of Oleg Gordievsky, a Soviet KGB agent turned British spy, whose actions helped bring down the Iron Curtain. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Through detailed research and interviews, it offers a fascinating account of espionage during the Cold War, shedding light on the complex world of double agents.
    • With its nail-biting suspense and unexpected twists, the book keeps readers on the edge of their seats, making it impossible to put down.
    • It provides a unique perspective on the political and social atmosphere of the era, revealing the immense risks and personal sacrifices involved in espionage.

    Best quote from The Spy and the Traitor

    When Gordievsky first met Bromhead, Bromhead wondered whether Gordievsky was trying to recruit him to spy on MI6!

    —Ben Macintyre
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    Who should read The Spy and the Traitor?

    • Fans of espionage and spy stories
    • History buffs looking for a fresh perspective on the Cold War
    • Political science nerds who want to see realpolitik in action

    About the Author

    Ben Macintyre is a historian and newspaper columnist for the Times. He has written ten books, several of which have been shortlisted for esteemed book prizes. His titles include the SAS: Rogue Heroes (2016) and Agent Zigzag (2007).

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    The Spy and the Traitor FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Spy and the Traitor?

    The main message of The Spy and the Traitor is the gripping true story of a double agent who risked his life to defeat the KGB and change the course of history.

    How long does it take to read The Spy and the Traitor?

    The reading time for The Spy and the Traitor varies depending on the reader's speed. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is The Spy and the Traitor a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Spy and the Traitor is a must-read for fans of espionage and thrilling narratives. It offers a unique perspective on the Cold War and the actions of a courageous spy.

    Who is the author of The Spy and the Traitor?

    The author of The Spy and the Traitor is Ben Macintyre.

    What to read after The Spy and the Traitor?

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