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The Spy Who Came in from the Cold Paperback – Jul 7 2009

4.4 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Canada; Reprint edition (July 7 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143171119
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143171119
  • Product Dimensions: 13.6 x 1.5 x 21 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 181 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #88,067 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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It would be an international crime to reveal too much of the jeweled clockwork plot of Le Carré's first masterpiece, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. But we are at liberty to disclose that Graham Greene called it the "finest spy story ever written," and that the taut tale concerns Alec Leamas, a British agent in early Cold War Berlin. Leamas is responsible for keeping the double agents under his care undercover and alive, but East Germans start killing them, so he gets called back to London by Control, his spy master. Yet instead of giving Leamas the boot, Control gives him a scary assignment: play the part of a disgraced agent, a sodden failure everybody whispers about. Control sends him back out into the cold--deep into Communist territory to checkmate the bad-guy spies on the other side. The political chessboard is black and white, but in human terms the vicinity of the Berlin Wall is a moral no-man's land, a gray abyss patrolled by pawns.

Le Carré beats most spy writers for two reasons. First, he knows what he's talking about, since he raced around working for British Intelligence while the Wall went up. He's familiar with spycraft's fascinations, but also with the fact that it leaves ideals shaken and emotions stirred. Second, his literary tone has deep autobiographical roots. Spying is about betrayal, and Le Carré was abandoned by his mother and betrayed by his father, a notorious con man. (They figure heavily in his novels Single & Single and A Perfect Spy.) In a world of lies, Le Carré writes the bitter truth: it's every man for himself. And may the best mask win. --Tim Appelo --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.


"Let me be specific: I think the man deserves the Nobel." - The Globe and Mail

“As the greatest spy novelist of our times John le Carré has always used as the bedrock of his craft the strange ways people are bound to each other.” - Calgary Sun

“In a world where villains can bleed tragedy and heroes may not be so heroic, le Carré is still our keenest arbiter.” - Winnipeg Free Press

“No other contemporary novelist has more durably enjoyed the twin badges of being both well read and well regarded.” - Scott Turow

“Le Carré, always an intriguing blend of patrician and populist, gives voice to all our contempt for hot-money deals.” - Independent (UK)

“I would suggest immortality for John le Carré…. May he write forever!” - Chicago Tribune

“A literary master for a generation.” - Observer (UK)

"The best spy story I have ever read." - Graham Greene

"Le Carré is more than just a great storyteller—he captures the Zeitgeist itself." - Tom Wolfe

"Le Carré is simply the world’s greatest fictional spymaster.” - Newsweek

"He is one of the half-dozen best novelists now working in English." - The Chicago Sun-Times

"No other contemporary novelist has more durably enjoyed the twin badges of being both well-read and well-regarded." - Scott Turow

"For my money, le Carré is the equal of any novelist now writing in English." - Guardian (UK)

"Le Carré is one of the best novelists—of any kind—we have." - Vanity Fair

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Customer Reviews

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By NeuroSplicer HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on March 24 2008
Format: Paperback
JOHN LeCARRE is not just a spy-story narrator, he is a GREAT writer! His prose is tight, imaginative and beautiful. His imagery is majestic. And his grasp of human nature is truly impressive.

This book was his first; no matter, most of his writing skills shine to full strength. At the hight of the Cold War, Alec Leamas is a British agent on a seemingly uncontrolled downwards spiral. After loosing one of his sources (shot and killed while crossing the Berlin wall), he is recalled back to London and then he experiences betrayal by every side imaginable. He resorts to drinking, and depressive thoughts, and revisiting the mistakes of his life. But of course the Game is played constantly and one should not trust anyone. Ever. In a world where double-crossings are common and triple-crossings not uncommon, can anyone trust long enough to find love?

This book conveyed such an original atmosphere that many suspected JOHN LeCARRE being a former MI6 insider. Those suspicions were latter confirmed (his secret agent status was blown by none other than Kim Philby, the notorious double agent for the KGB). This is definitely THE BEST spy story ever written!

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Format: Paperback
I found this to be a slightly entertaining spy novel; I don't think it is anywhere close to justifying the superlative reviews that have been ladled on it, both on this website and by others. After reading Ian Fleming's Bond novels (and perhaps I was spoiled by Fleming) I was extremely hopeful for this book, ostensibly the "finest" spy novel ever written.
One of the more exciting aspects of the book is when the main character is spirited into East Germany, and meets increasingly interesting and intellectual interrogators. The exciting middle makes up, in part, for the slightly silly beginning and melodramatic conclusion.
The main romance was a bit difficult to believe, and the plot was somewhat formulaic, but I suppose it isn't too bad. Anyway, even if I'm the only person in the world who doesn't love it, and my review is entirely offbase, I figure that your slightly diminished expectations will be exceeded even farther by the book, and you will be more delighted because of my lukewarm review. If you do buy this book, I hope you enjoy it more than I did.
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Format: Paperback
John Le Carre's disillusioned, cynical and spellbinding spy novels are so unique because they are based on a wide knowledge of international espionage. Le Carre, (pen name for David John Moore Cornwell), acquired this knowledge firsthand during his years as an operations agent for the British M15. Kim Philby, the infamous defector, actually gave Le Carre's name to the Russians. The author's professional experience and his tremendous talent as a master storyteller and superb writer make "The Spy Who Came In From The Cold" one of the most brilliant novels I have read about spying and the Cold War. Graham Greene certainly agreed with me, or I with him, when he remarked that it is the best spy story he had ever read. The novel won Le Carré the Somerset Maugham Award.
The novel's anti-hero, Alec Leamas, is the antithesis of the glamorous action-hero spy, James Bond. A successful espionage agent for the British during WWII, Leamus continued on with counter-intelligence operations after the war, finding it difficult to adjust to life in peacetime. He eventually became the head of Britain's Berlin Bureau at the height of the Cold War. Leamus, slowly going to seed, drinking too much, world weary, had been losing his German double agents, one by one, to East German Abteilung assassins. Finally, with the loss of his best spy, Karl Riemeck, Leamus has no agents left. His anguish at Riemeck's death is palpable. He has begun to tire of the whole spy game, as his boss at Cambridge Circus, (British Intelligence), seems to understand.
Leamus is called back to London, but instead of being eased out of operations, called "coming in from the Cold," or retiring completely, he is asked to accept one last, dangerous assignment.
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Format: Paperback
Alec Leamas is not an easy man to have affection for, in the beginning, yet as the story builds I could not help but become his advocator. I was reminded of the stoic character of Kurt Russell in the movie Soldiers and that became a good personality model for the character of Leamas. He is a spy. Of course, and a British spy to boot. The year is 1960 and Berlin wall is high and thick. To be called in from the "cold" is for a field operator (a spy) to be called back to the safety of the Home office. In this case our paladin spends a good more time out than in from the cold. True to de Carré the story is complex with seemingly dark corners and dead ends at every turn. Written in 1963 when the Cold War was certainly at it's height there is a disturbing contrast between the value of the individual weighed against the good of the whole with a harsh look at both sides of the Wall. Communism is presented as the enemy, certainly. However about half way through the book it becomes clear that the good old boys back at the Circus in London just may be up to a bit of double crossing, at Leamas' expense. And then there is the young Jewess, a Communist, back in London that he must protect, no matter the cost, to himself or his mission. A most enjoyable read, right up to the very last paragraph.
February 2003
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