This Week’s Book Review – The Spy and the Traitor

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. (This week it was Friday.) When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

A spectacular tale of espionage during the Cold War


Oct 18, 2018

“The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War,” by Ben Macintyre, Crown, 2018, 368 pages, $28

The Soviet Union was renowned for its ability to penetrate Western intelligence services during the Cold War. Less known are Western intelligence agencies penetrating the Soviet Union’s services.

“The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War,” by Ben Macintyre, relates one penetration, perhaps the most spectacular. It tells of Oleg Gordievsky, a KGB agent who turned against his masters.

Gordievsky was second generation KGB. His father and older brother both served in the KGB, the Soviet Union’s Committee for State Security, and the Soviet Union’s primary espionage service. He entered the KGB because he was expected to.

Yet Gordievsky held reservations about the Soviet Union’s brutal dictatorship. He finally decided it best for everyone — even Russians — if it were brought down. Gordievsky offered his services to Great Britain; and serving as a mole for MI6, Britain’s intelligence service, near the end of the Soviet Union’s existence.

“The Spy and the Traitor” explores his life, showing the reasons for his decision to serve the West. It also follows his career as a KGB agent (eventually rising to head the KGB’s station in London) and his service to Great Britain during that career.

Gordievsky is shown to have played a critical role preventing a nuclear exchange in the early 1980s. He helped convince Margaret Thatcher that Mikael Gorbachev was someone she could do business with and coached her on how best to negotiate with Russia to gain their trust.

Just as Gordievsky was about to be promoted from acting station chief at London to its permanent chief, he was betrayed to the Soviets by Aldrich Ames, a CIA employee working for the KGB. (The CIA had covertly learned Gordievsky’s identity.) Gordiesvsky was recalled to Moscow. Britain successfully spirited Gordiesvsky out of Russia in an operation described by Macintyre — a plan that could have been the plot of a John le Carre novel.

This makes “The Spy and the Traitor” worth reading. If it were fiction it would be rejected as too improbable to believe. Yet Macintyre describes history — events that actually happened and changed the world for the better.

 Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is


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