World War II

Defence of the Realm

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by Christopher Andrew

From Blackadder to Burgess and Maclean, this history of MI5 is a scholarly and hugely entertaining account, says Robert McCrum

Robert McCrum

The Observer, Sunday 11 October 2009

British intelligence officer and Soviet spy Kim Philby holds a press conference after being cleared of spying charges in 1955. Photograph: Getty Images

An authorised centenary history of MI5, the mysterious organisation whose existence was not even officially acknowledged until 1989, was bound to be a strange bestseller. But then, as Christopher Andrew amply demonstrates in this compendious volume, British countersubversion, founded in 1909 in response to Edwardian spy mania, stoked by a popular novelist and the Daily Mail, has always been a funny game. Read the rest of this entry »