Oh boy, do I love a good espionage thriller. So, continuing with my “what’s free and available” method of choosing books, I picked up my father’s copy of Ben Macintyre’s The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War. This is the true story of a high-ranking KGB official who defected to MI6 during the deepest freeze of the Cold War. (KGB is Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti for anyone who plays trivia – it seems like a formidable bonus question). Macintyre interviews the book’s eponymous lead, Oleg Gordievsky, about his indoctrination into the KGB, his love story with Western culture, and how he came to resent the very power for which he worked.
Told in three parts, this book is equal parts Cold War history, personal drama, and spy thriller. Macintyre does a lovely job introducing the nuances of a post-revolutionary Russia and the highly mechanized KGB. That itself fascinated me, and when I dared daydream about being spy myself, was quickly brought down by Macintyre and Gordievsky’s deglamorization of it all. The second part of the book really fleshes out the spy himself, and it raised the stakes when I found myself caring for this bold, artistically cultured, and intelligent man. Macintyre interviews both Gordievsky’s KGB faux comrades and MI6 allies, bringing even more depth into both the man and the operations. When I say I had difficulty breathing during the very climactic third act, I am not exaggerating. It’s a wild ride made even more intense knowing it is all true.
I recommend this book for anyone interested in Cold War Russia, a good spy-game, or just a generally fascinating non-fiction read. Like the best of reads, I finished the book feeling more knowledgable, emotionally connected to the players, and with a thirst for more.
*Side note: I am willing to wager that this will be made into a movie starring Tom Hanks within the next five years.