Ben Macintyre has done a fantastic job of explaining the life and times of the most important KGB spy ever to work for Britain, and by extension, the entire Western world. He carefully traces the path of Oleg Gordievsky as he rose through the ranks to become the KGB’s top man in London, bearing the strain of living a double life. When Oleg is asked to return to Moscow, neither he nor his MI6 handlers know if it’s for a briefing or if he’s been rumbled and is in fact facing death. At this point, Macintyre’s account becomes absolutely gripping as the KGB tries to establish guilt and a very complex exfiltration plan is put into effect. That it worked was nothing short of miraculous.
This is also the story of CIA agent Aldrich Ames, who offered to spy for Russia, but while Gordievsky became a double agent from conviction, Ames did it for money. He betrayed a lot of people working for the West, including Gordievsky, and has many deaths on his conscience. He is still in prison. Macintyre gives a very thoughtful analysis of the main players in this drama and of its part in world history. He’s wrangled what must have been a barstorical amount of information into a clear and very readable account of an important time ... a time that included going to the brink of all-out nuclear war. It’s not drawing too long a bow to say that we may all owe our lives to Oleg Gordievsky.