The Ipcress File

By Len Deighton,

Book cover of The Ipcress File

Book description

Len Deighton's classic first novel, whose
protagonist is a nameless spy - later christened Harry Palmer and made famous worldwide in the iconic 1960s film starring Michael Caine.

The Ipcress File was not only Len Deighton's first novel, it was his first bestseller and the book that broke the mould…

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Why read it?

4 authors picked The Ipcress File as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

The perfect example of the anti-hero somewhat reluctantly taking on the responsibility and, in the end, realizing that who he thought was protecting him, were happy to leave him die, if needed. Harry (unnamed in the book) became the perfect anti-hero who wins through.

Deighton always wrote and understood that actions by simple people could rise calamitous events. In his books he writes of simple, brave, actions which, when viewed from the conclusion of events only then, are realized as globally pivotal.

When I asked fellow sci-fi authors what books should be cited as Top 5 “Spy-fi” contenders, only the Stainless Steel Rat books and 1990s The Borne Identity got multiple votes. Well, if you like brainwashing and mind-control as a “spy-fi” trope, you gotta go back to the titles listed above, Richard Condon’s 1959 The Manchurian Candidate, and Len Deighton’s The Ipcress File. Of those, Ipcress most deserves a place on this list. Deighton’s first Harry Palmer spy thriller pits the British secret agent against the CIA, his own people, and the Soviets in their various schemes to interfere…

From Wesley's list on containing the origins of Spy-fi.

Published at the height of the Cold War, this classic cold war thriller firmly puts Len Deighton at the top of British Spy fiction writers along with the likes of John Le Carré. Deighton’s first novel revolves around a British working-class spy, called Harry Palmer - and made Michael Caine an international star.

The novel is narrated in the first person, revolves around an apparently straightforward mission to find a missing British biochemist before becoming a story about brainwashing and a mole at the heart of the British Secret Service.

For the quality of the writing, this is the very…

From Tom's list on British spies.

John le Carré is the acknowledged global Colossus of Cold War spy fiction, but Len Deighton’s central character, Harry Palmer, is for me far more redolent of the changing and morally-ambivalent era of espionage in the early 1960s. Whilst the management levels of Britain’s intelligence service are dominated by a privileged – and often compromised – elite, Palmer is the harbinger of a (slowly) coming new generation: working-class spies who mistrust, and are mistrusted by, the Establishment.  

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