Stalin’s Englishman by Andrew Lownie
The Last Word Review
Imagine spending 20 years researching a book, well this is exactly what Andrew Lownie the country’s foremost literary agent has done with Stalin’s Englishman – The Lives of Guy Burgess.
This is truly an outstanding biography of a member of ‘The Cambridge Spies’ just mentioning the names Maclean, Philby, Blunt and Burgess is enough to send a shiver down the spine of anyone in the Foreign Office. Burgess climb to fame through the BBC to MI5 and MI6 via the Foreign Office then in December 1934 joined the Cambridge Spy ring.
There has always been a question mark over just how significant Guy Burgess’s role was in the spy ring and was the information passed on, what Lownie has done has done in writing Stalin’s Englishman is to look deeper into the life of Guy Burgess and for the first time we see the real ‘Englishman’ and the role he really did play. The story goes that while the others did the ‘Spying’ Burgess spent his time getting fired from various roles and getting drunk. Was this how he actually planned it, so that many would think differently of him. In the end Lownie’s book debunks that myth forever.
In the end it was Guy Burgess’s own KGB leader who said the Burgess was in fact the real leader and held the group together. High praise for someone who many believed played a minor role. During his time as a spy it now transpires that Burgess actually supplied the Russians with much more information that was first thought. He was a major player in the spy ring after all.
Stalin’s Englishman does not read like a biography or an historical account, from the first page I was completely immersed into a book that reads more like a page turning spy thriller this is great testament to Lownie and how he both planned and wrote this meticulous book.
Burgess could be cold and calculating and would happily betray his country and would even make shocking sacrifices to help his cause even to the point of offering to ‘liquidate’ a friend if his role was under threat.
Photo: Guy Burgess
The character that is Guy Burgess is incredibly fascinating to read about he was in fact as different the heads and tails of a coin. Charming to his friends and admirers but on the flip side often found drunk and reeking of tobacco and alcohol and rude to many others. In 1951 after being kicked out of Washington he along with Blunt fearing they were about to be found out fled to Moscow and remained there until his death in 1963 at the age of 52. His ashes were secretly interred at the family plot in Hampshire.
After reading this incredible account I have the feeling that the story of Guy Burgess and his fellow spies will still be talked about many years from now as the true extent of the information passed to the Russians was never truly exposed.
Incredible research and brilliant writing go to make up an outstanding account of Guy Burgess and one book I highly recommend it is eye opening as an historical account and if you enjoy reading spy stories then this is one book that must not be overlooked.
Stalin’s Englishman by Andrew Lownie is published by Hodder & Stoughton and is available through Waterstones and all good bookshops. Paperback is due for release on 2 June.