The best books on Guy Burgess of the Cambridge Spy Ring

The Books I Picked & Why

The Missing Diplomats

By Cyril Connolly

The Missing Diplomats

Why this book?

The first account of the Burgess and Maclean story – it was published a year after their flight – this fifty page essay, based on a collection of articles in the Sunday Times, by someone who knew both men contains shrewd pen portraits of the two spies and the roots of their spying. “Politics begin in the nursery; no one is born patriotic or unpatriotic, right-wing or left-wing, and it is the child whose craving for love is unsatisfied, whose desire for power is thwarted or whose innate sense of justice is warped that eventually may try to become a revolutionary or dictator.


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Guy Burgess: A Portrait With Background

By Tom Driberg

Guy Burgess: A Portrait With Background

Why this book?

The journalist  and Labour politician Tom Driberg had known Guy Burgess in London. After Burgess appeared publicly at a press conference in February 1956 five years after his flight to Russia, Driberg approached him asking to write his authorised life and Burgess agreed. In the absence of a memoir, this biography, based on a series of interviews, is our nearest insight into the spy’s mind set tracing his alienation from the Establishment from his school days at Eton, his politicisation at Cambridge University, concerns about McCarthyism whilst in Washington to the escape to Russia.


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A Chapter of Accidents

By Goronwy Rees

A Chapter of Accidents

Why this book?

The writer and academic, Goronwy Rees, was one of Burgess’s closest friends and this volume of memoir best conveys Burgess’s character and charm. The two men saw much of each other during the 1930s, and Rees was one of Burgess’s first recruits, but the relationship foundered when Rees decided during the Nazi-Soviet Pact in 1939 to stop spying and threatened to betray his friend. After Burgess surfaced in Moscow, Rees penned a series of sensational articles about Burgess’s dissolute private life, probably as a damage limitation exercise, which backfired and led him to losing his academic post but he soon was to have his revenge.


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The Climate of Treason: Five who Spied for Russia

By Andrew Boyle

The Climate of Treason: Five who Spied for Russia

Why this book?

A landmark espionage book about the Cambridge Spies, which has stood up surprisingly well though published almost forty years ago and before the release of Russian and British archives, and first  made me  interested in ‘The Climate of Treason’.  It not only gives the historical background to their recruitment during the 1930s but, drawing on a deathbed confession from Goronwy Rees, named two new spies ‘Maurice’ and ‘Basil’. After leaks to the satirical magazine Private Eye , Margaret Thatcher confirmed that ‘Maurice’ was the Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures  Sir Anthony Blunt who had been granted immunity sixteen years earlier. ‘Basil’ was identified as an atomic scientist, serving in the Washington Embassy alongside Kim Philby and Guy Burgess, called Wilfrid Mann. Mann fended off the accusations at the time and the story died but subsequent research for my book has proved Mann was a spy.


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Kim Philby: A story of friendship and betrayal

By Tim Milne

Kim Philby: A story of friendship and betrayal

Why this book?

Kim Philby’s most personal betrayal was not of Nicholas Elliott, as suggested in Ben McIntyre’s A Spy Among Friends , but his school friend and another MI6 colleague Tim Milne , the nephew of Winnie the Pooh author AA Milne, whom he falsely accused of being a spy in order to deflect attention from himself. Milne’s memoirs were finally permitted to be published four years after his death and provide a fascinating and fresh glimpse into both Philby and Burgess especially Milne’s teenage European travels with Philby and his August 1948 visit to Philby in Turkey where he remembered fellow guest Burgess ‘lolling in a window seat, dirty, unshaven, wearing nothing but an inadequately fastened dressing-gown”, singing on jeep rides into the countryside and  diving into the Bosphorus from a second floor balcony.


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