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Stalin's Englishman

The Lives of Guy Burgess
Narrated by: Simon Shepherd
Length: 12 hrs and 24 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (129 ratings)

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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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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!

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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.

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Fascinating

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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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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Kim Philby

Very well told, well researched, and great detail. My only issue might be that Philby remains emotionally elusive. I cannot really be persuaded he was politically motivated and Lownie does little to uncover his psychological motivations. However that might be for another book.

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Defector with old Etonian tie

It is difficult to believe that the outrageous Guy Burgess could maintain a career with access to sensitive intelligence for so long, spying for USSR, in spite of his erratic behaviour. He was a promiscuous gay man when that could lead to imprisonment as well as disapproval, a notorious drinker, indiscrete, open about his Communist beliefs. BUT he was also “Establishment”! Eton, Cambridge, Reform Club, “good family” knew everyone of influence, wealth or celebrity. And always wore his old school tie, even after his defection to USSR. At one point he seemed to be about to marry Churchill’s niece. An extraordinary life, too fantastic for fiction.

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  • 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.