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Summary

Guy Burgess is the most important, complex and fascinating of 'The Cambridge Spies' - the group of British men recruited to pass intelligence to the Soviets during World War Two and the Cold War.

Burgess' story takes us from his student days in 1930s Cambridge, where he was first approached by Soviet scouts, through his daring infiltration of the BBC and the British government, to his final escape to Russia and lonely, tragic-comic exile there.

In this definitive biography, Andrew Lownie uncovers the true depths of Burgess' penetration and betrayal of the British Intelligence Service. His close, personal relationships with several high-profile men and women are examined - including his friendship with Winston Churchill and his family.

Through interviews with over 100 people who knew Burgess personally, many of whom have never spoken about him before, and the discovery of hitherto secret files on the Cambridge Spies, Andrew Lownie reveals a completely new and intriguing picture of Guy Burgess.

©2015 Andrew Lownie (P)2015 Hodder & Stoughton

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  • Allan McLeod
  • cumbernauld, north lanarkshire Scotland
  • 21-12-15

Beilliant

Having just finished Ben MacIntyre's brilliant book on Kim Philby "A Spy among Friends" I found myself interested in that other Cambridge Spy, Guy Burgess, and was pleased to see this recommended by Audible. Like MacIntyre's book, this book does a brilliant job of showing more of the infamous man. Burgess, of all the spies, has had the worst reputation but Lownie describes a compellingly flawed and ideologically naive man. A particular strength of this book is that it does not, as so many do, treat Burgess's life after his defection as an epilogue but rather show the impact that his decision to defect had on Burgess and those close to him. A really great book for all spy aficionados and cold warriors!

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Fascinating

Always been interested in the Cambridge spy ring so I really enjoyed this book.
The reader was excellent.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • iris
  • Paris, France
  • 26-11-15

Outstanding! Fascinating subject!

I suppose eveyone has heard of Guy Burgess but who was he? Andrew Lowrie makes a fine attempt to get to know him but it is not an easy task - it would seem there are as many Guy Burgesses as people who knew him! That said most witnesses would agree that he was brilliant, could draw marvellous sketches, promiscuous, drank enormous quantities and liked chewing garlic, wore tailor made clothes which were wrinkled and grubby and had dirty fingernails. He either charmed or revolted. He was amusing or boorish. He went from prep school to Eton with a spell at the naval school, back to Eton then Cambridge where he converted to Marxism and was enrolled as a spy. He then moved to London and worked at the BBC finally ending up in the Foreign Office. He also seems to have spent most of his time in London getting smashed in smart places in Mayfair and for the most part was in the company of smart people. It is hard to imagine why he should want a workers revolution which would have taken away the privileged life he led and it is also hard to understand why he remained faithful to the Stalinist regime even when he must surely have been aware of the dreadful acts perpetrated first of all on the Russian people. I'm surprised that as a well-known homosexual he could have ignored the condemnation of homosexuality by the communists who considered it to be a decadent, bourgeois affectation and whose persecution of gay people was not a secret.
Apart from his betrayal I could not help feeling immensely attracted to this man and found his portrayal highly entertaining in parts. I doubt if he could leave anyone indifferent.
Given the context of the 1930s it is easy to understand why communism would appeal to young idealists especially when faced with the growing numbers of aristocrats who were leaning towards an adulation of Hitler and the unseemly creed of anti-semitism; but after the war and especially events during the Cold War it is harder to comprehend a continuation of such an adherence in maturer years by these spies.
The narrator does a marvellous job in bringing this superb work to life. I was rivetted from start to finish and I know this is a book I will probably have to read a few times more to fully absorb the amount of historical detail.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Interesting perspective

I enjoyed this book but as it is a listen I found the number of characters difficult to remember and distinguish. I resorted to searching them via the Internet. Burgess comes over as persuasive but self destructive - very much a user of people. Not sure that I agree that he was the most important figure in the Cambridge spy ring but I did change my view from the one I held after reading "An Englishman Abroad". I will probably listen to this again at some future date.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Eton Blinders

this book shows house silly some people can be. Was Burgess the Spy because of his conviction or because his Love of daring? book explores this but leaves the question suitably open

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Well researched, let down by narrator

A very interesting and full account of Guy Burgess and his circle.
It's a shame that the narrator's near monotone didn't emphasise in places especially in certain crucial areas of the story, which I found myself having to rewind to check, otherwise a good book.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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well researched and interesting

So informative. This book has stimulated my interest in espionage history at that time. The author gives a well researched and balanced account.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Outstanding biography and great slice of social hi

What did you like most about Stalin's Englishman?

I enjoyed the detail. I knew of Burgess as one of the Cambridge set of spies, but I knew little of the person behind the name. This account is definitive; it brings him to life and leaves the reader to draw their own conclusions.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Stalin's Englishman?

So many; the contrast between his intelligence and politics in stark contrast to his appearance and lifestyle. A life filled with enigma.

What about Simon Shepherd’s performance did you like?

Great narration, a pleasure to listen to.

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

It raises many questions Was he good or bad, traitor or principled, caring of cold...? Great food for thought and an incredible insight into his life.

Any additional comments?

Can't imagine anything to better this account. Accessible, interesting and informed. I enjoyed every minute of it.

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An interesting if repetitive account

A fascinating re-assessment of Guy Burgess, putting him at the centre of the Cambridge spies

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Patriotism v Treachery

Enjoyed this biography of Guy Burgess. Less has been said about this Cambridge Spy than Philby & Blunt. How he wasn't uncovered as a traitor until his defection beggars belief. I have also read about Philby and neither he nor Burgess were "perfect" spies. Both were under suspicion by their bosses and/or friends. Burgess, Maclean & Philby all mysteriously escaped to the Soviet Union at the time of exposure. Were they allowed to leave ? Were they surrounded by people who knew of their guilt but didn't want to believe it? Were there many more intelligence officers who leaned more to the communists than to capitalist America? Many questions remain unanswered. It appears though that Burgess regretted going to the Soviet Union as did Philby although he would never have admitted it. Remain loyal to Britain - the greatest country on earth !

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Profile Image for Robyn
  • Robyn
  • 15-11-15

Very interesting

This book is a winner on several fronts. Burgess was a fascinating character and his life with its ups and downs and contradictions and ultimately sad ending is well worth a biography. Then there was Burgess' role within the Cambridge 5, one of the ultimate spy stories and one which still holds some secrets. Set for the most part against the background of pre-war and Cold War England, the book held my interest from start to finish although I did have to concentrate to keep on top of the big cast of characters. Andrew Lownie knows how to tell a gripping tale, and Simon Shepherd is a competent narrator.