A Spy Named Orphan : The Enigma of Donald Maclean

by Roland Philipps

Hardcover, 2018





New York, N.Y. ; London : W. W. Norton & Company, [2018]


Donald Maclean was one of the most treacherous spies of the Cold War era and a key member of the infamous "Cambridge Five" spy ring, yet the full extent of this shrewd, secretive man's betrayal has never been explored--until now. Drawing on a wealth of previously classified files and unseen family papers, A Spy Named Orphan meticulously documents his extraordinary story.--Provided by Publisher.

User reviews

LibraryThing member fizzypops
A fascinating insight into a topic that's been preoccupying me for many months, for reasons I can't explain. Maclean was a traitor who spied on his employers in the British Foreign Office in London, Washington and Cairo, before defecting with Guy Burgess in 1951. He betrayed his country and its allies (predominantly the US) in both wartime and peacetime. He lived in Moscow until his death in 1983. His misconduct, his selfish and appalling treatment of his wife and children as well as lifelong friends will be the enduring imprint on me. Maclean comes across as a detestable man, mostly drunk on terrifying, days-long benders; I would have preferred more of an examination of the 30+ years in Soviet Russia than the one chapter presented here.

This account is compelling and beautifully researched and written, but it veers too far towards sympathizing with Maclean and his fellow traitors for my liking. As a historical biography I can happily rate it with four stars. I'm also contemplating which other books in my library have provided such a devastating critique of postwar, and post-Imperial, British foreign policy as this important book by Roland Philipps. There can't be many.
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LibraryThing member drmaf
Sympathetic biography of the most enigmatic of the Cambridge spies. In contrast to Philby's amoral ruthlessness and Burgess' freewheeling self-destructiveness, Maclean was measured, motivated and plausible as he carried out what was arguably the most damaging espionage of the Cold War. Highly placed in the Foreign Office, Maclean sent prodigious reams of intelligence to Moscow, meaning that from the pre-war period on, Stalin had access to the topmost secrets of Western planning and policy, literally nothing was secret from the Soviets tanks to Maclean. Born of a family wedded to public service, Maclean's father was a cabinet minister of the strictest morals, and young Donald was brought up in the impeccable traditions of public school, sport and duty to King and Country and duly went off to Cambridge. But while he was there, something broke inside Maclean. He embraced Communism, decided that Western democracy was decadent and doomed to fail and that Communism represented the best society for the most people. He was duly recruited by Soviet illegal Theodore Maly, instructed to give up obvious political activity and join the Foreign Office as a agent of the NKVD. For the next two decades he rose steadily in the Service, praised for his extreme diligence and intelligence, meanwhile sending everything he could get his hands on to Moscow Centre. Unlike Philby and Burgess, his private life was unremarkable and restrained, with only two significant romantic relationships, first his handler Kitty Harris, then marrying an American, Melinda Marling. However the strain of his double life eventually began to tell, his drinking grew steadily and his iron control began to break down. After he was sent to Cairo, his life disintegrated, although he and Melinda patched together a life after returning to England, his espionage career was effectively over. His treachery was finally exposed by the decryption of Soviet telegrams, but the bungling of British intelligence enabled Philby to warn him in time and he and Burgess escaped to Europe and disappeared for 5 years. He lived the rest of his life in Russia as an intellectual, honoured by the Soviet state, never recanting or regretting his treason. The author is clearly sympathetic towards Maclean, glossing over the morality of his treason, and highlighting the contrast with the questionable lives of the other Cambridge spies, however it remains an excellent read. Highly recommended.… (more)



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