Why did I love this book?
The Secret Intelligence Service, SIS and also known now as MI6, is one of Britain’s most secret organisations, and as such has provoked intrigue, mystique, and fascination; all partly fuelled by Ian Fleming’s successful James Bond novels. But whilst there is some crossover at points with the fictional world, the official history makes it plain that much of its work was mundane. That does not lessen our interest in the organisation. This book provides the first authorised recognition that SIS existed, but also the first glimpse into its clandestine activities. Told chronologically rather than thematically, there is a sense of the developing history of the organisation, from the threats in 1909, through to the deceptions and counter-espionage ops of the First and Second World Wars to 1949 (the start of the early Cold War). The book is the first insight into some of the central characters – those who can be named – from the mysterious and quintessentially first eccentric ‘C’ (Mansfield Smith Cumming, head of SIS), to the double agents who operated behind enemy lines amongst ‘smoke and mirrors’. For me, as well as using it as a reference work, I enjoy dipping into it and randomly discovering operations and personalities that I would not have necessarily come across in my own research. Ultimately this is an essential reference book for readers interested in intelligence and espionage.