A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great BetrayalA Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben Macintyre
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I received this book via LibraryThing Early Reviewers in exchange for an honest review.

The tales of espionage and international intrigue told in film and in the pages of fiction pale in comparison to real world events.  Ben Macintyre chronicles in his new book, A Spy Among Friends, the lives and careers of history’s greatest spy and best friend, Kim Philby and Nicholas Elliot.  The journeys of these men from the classrooms of Britain’s finest public schools into the covert world of spy craft in the early days of World War II through to a living room in a Beirut apartment building in the zenith of the Cold War while dealing family and politics is a page-turner beyond question.

Macintyre shows throughout the book how Philby’s personality and the ‘old boy’s network’ allowed him to last so long as a double agent while also cultivating loyalty from friends in both MI6 and CIA that later supported him when it was believed he was a double agent by investigators.  He also explains how Philby’s career path, behind a desk, allowed his access to vast amounts of information to send to his Soviet handlers and to be on the lookout for anything that could expose him.  Yet Macintyre’s inclusion of Elliot gives the reader a view into the field work of intelligence during the Second World War and the Cold War throughout Europe and the Middle East.  It is in relating Elliot’s career and exploits that one realizes that Hollywood can make good stories, but can’t compare to real life.

Throughout the book Macintyre shows the real friendship that Philby and Elliot had until the very end when the former’s betrayal was finally exposed.  Throughout the book famous intelligent officers and double agents liter the pages, including Ian Fleming, revealing how many people rubbed shoulders with one another.  The only thing the damped the reading of this book was John Le Carre’s afterword which was primarily selections from discussions with Nicholas Elliot who spun is own versions of events in the later years of his life.  Save for that tacked on addition, this book is a must read for those interested in Cold War espionage.

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The Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

This play features one of Shakespeare’s most well-known characters, Shylock. Unfortunately I don’t know what to make of him after reading the play, he’s presented as a villain but at the trial it seems he is cheated out of what is rightfully his. One would have assumed that the loan would have been null and void from the beginning because it violated Venetian law stated by Portia in Act IV. But beyond that Antonio is either an idiot or knew from the beginning that he could put up a pound of flesh and acted stupid at his trial to get off. As I read through this play I kept finding plot hole after plot hole that kept taking my mind off of the play.

Assassin’s Quest (Farseer #3)

Assassin's Quest (Farseer Trilogy, #3)Assassin’s Quest by Robin Hobb
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After finishing Assassin’s Quest, I was left wondering how after two good books this could was given to readers to finish up the Farseer Trilogy.  Following Fitz’s journey to regain his humanity then seeking vengeance against Regal and then journeying to find Verity has all the prospects of an exciting book, however the result was tedious details that were repeated every couple of pages and then were the info dumps that actually had to be rushed(!) before the climax of the book.  And then after all the build up of the Red Ship War that the reader has been experiencing along with Fitz over two books, the end of the war isn’t experienced it’s described afterward to the reader’s frustration.

There were plenty of bright spots throughout the book, even when some of them were tainted with the book’s overall flaws.  The magic of the Wit and Skill were better understood, the mystery of the Fool and his interest in Fitz, Chade’s reemergence into public knowledge, and the unique type of dragons created in this fantasy.  Fitz’s interactions with a host of characters from familiar to new acquaintances was a mixed bag in terms of his character development, especially when it came to Kettle who Fitz should have verbally rounded on earlier than he eventually did.

Assassin’s Quest is essentially a mixed bag.  The book doesn’t reach the level of bad, but it is disappointing as the finale of the Farseer Trilogy.  If you’ve read the first two books then you should read Quest, but don’t expect a fantastic finish.

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King John

King John by William Shakespeare
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

To be honest, I didn’t know that Shakespeare had written a play about King John until I started this year-long reading of his work. After reading the play, I can say I might know why I haven’t. It isn’t that it’s a bad piece, it’s just disjointed. The plot is a meandering of events with the titular character sometimes not even at the center or central to what was happening. There were several interesting moments and characters, though the Bastard is a bit confusing in his alignment along the protagonist/antagonist line. Overall, the play was average and sadly that might be the best that could be said about it.

A Midsummer’s Night Dream

A Midsummer’s Night Dream by William Shakespeare
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This has always been my favorite Shakespeare comedy for a whole host of reasons. It begins with mischievous fairies, magically mixed up lovers, and finally bumbling amateur actors. What is even better is that all three interconnect with one another throughout the play. The fact that even thinking critically I can’t find anything “wrong” is either because of my intense delight in this play or that one can’t really find anything critical to say about it unless you see a performance that doesn’t live up to the words.

P.S.- To any graduate of Covenant College, around Chattanooga TN, who was a part of the troupe that performed A Midsummer’s Night Dream between Fall 2000 and Spring 2002. Thank you! Because of your performance I fell in love with this play!

Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

I was not looking forward to reading this play again, I endured having to deal with it in high school and have avoided it as much as possible since. But now that I’m reading all of William Shakespeare’s works I had to deal with it. I did notice the laughter that Mercutio brought into the play before his death, but still the play is about two dumb young teenagers who let their hormones get the better of themselves with none of the adults who know about their love affair not being proactive in preventing something bad happening or ‘slowing’ them down or sending word to the Prince that the two feuding houses had been joined in marriage. Given late 16th-century social norms, this play seemed weird.

Get in the Game: 8 Elements of Perseverance That Make the Difference

Get in the Game: 8 Elements of Perseverance That Make the DifferenceGet in the Game: 8 Elements of Perseverance That Make the Difference by Cal Ripken Jr.
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

While “Get in the Game” is listed as a self-help/business on the cover, it reads like a mini-autobiography of Cal Ripken, Jr.  Ripken, with the assistance of Donald T. Phillips, writes about eight elements that he attributed in not only making a difference in his legendary baseball career but also his successful transition to business.  Within each of the eight chapters detailing each element, Ripken shares stories and situations from his early life and baseball career that are examples of the featured element.  At the end of the book, Ripken his a brief overview of his post-baseball life and how the eight elements have influenced his transition into business.  At less than 300 pages, the book reads quick but is very thought provoking.

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