Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

By John le Carré,

Book cover of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Book description

From the New York Times bestselling author of A Legacy of Spies.

The man he knew as "Control" is dead, and the young Turks who forced him out now run the Circus. But George Smiley isn't quite ready for retirement-especially when a pretty, would-be defector surfaces with a shocking accusation:…

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Why read it?

10 authors picked Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

I love the sense of intimacy in this book.

The characters are flawed and detailed against the backdrop of London and Great Britain. It is a classic of the genre and really takes you back to the pre-internet and pre-fall of the USSR. It really captures what it was like to live in those times.

I first saw the 1979 mini-series Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy, with Alec Guinness' definitive portrayal of George Smiley when it first aired on PBS. I was hooked, but I didn't immediately read the book.

Being somewhat obsessive, when I learned the George Smiley character appears in several other Le Carre books, I had to read them in chronological order, starting with Call for the Dead. Good as the others were, especially Smiley's People, this book is Le Carre's masterpiece.

Le Carre often said that he created George Smiley as a reaction to the very unrealistic portrayal of…

I didnt think Le Carré was for me, somehow the world of properspies seemed so grim and grey but I was curious to see why this novel, in particular, has such a lofty reputation. I saw all right. My god, its good. Its almost nothing but sad middle-aged men talking quietly in drab offices and houses, and yet it is unremittingly gripping. It is the sort of book that makes you feel youve understood a world.

My personal favorite of LeCarre’s intricate, literate spy thrillers, the novel focuses on George Smiley, a former spymaster. 

Smiley is in retirement, enduring the twin disgraces of an unfaithful wife and his dismissal from the security services after one of his spies has been exposed and captured, when he is secretly recruited by a member of the government to pursue a suspected mole inside the spy agency. The depth of the development of Smiley’s character and the intricacy of the plot remain captivating to me.

For as long as I can remember, John Le Carre has been one of my literary heroes.

His novels are prime examples of the three pillars on which superior thrillers are built: 1. Plots that are engaging from the first sentence. 2. Complex, unforgettable characters. 3. A sense of authenticity.

This particular book is one of my favorites because it begins a trilogy pitting Le Carre’s most indelible character, George Smiley with his opposite number at Moscow Central.

This iconic model was the inspiration for the two sisters, Evan and Bobbi, who are also pitted against each other on the…

The master of spy novels.

Not your slick James Bond. (Not that isn’t a good read too.) But Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy is grittier.

The author knows of where he speaks, as he was a spy for the British. Anyway, this story takes place back in the cold war era. I found it fascinating.

Who to trust? Who is the good guy? Who is bad? A great read.

Probably, you know this book already, it is Le Carré’s imaginative meditation on Kim Philby. The hero of the book, George Smiley, must discover who is the mole at the top of British Intelligence, and the villain he unmasks, Bill Haydon, is like Philby: dashing, debonair, rotten. But this is much more than a retelling of the Philby story. Le Carré is the Charles Dickens of spy novels, especially in this book. If you read only one spy novel, choose this one.

From Jonathan's list on a historian's view about spies.

What is it like to be a spy? John le Carré spent decades working for the British Secret Intelligence Service. He offers readers true insider details about spycraft—the operational methods, the clashes, and turf wars, the choreography of secret missions and extra-legal actions, the consequences if they fail, the high toll on agents in the field. But more than anything, the story is built on fascinating characters, drawn with elegant prose and sterling dialogue. Among them is one of my favorites in any genre, the quietly brilliant George Smiley. If you’ve read the book and want more (or haven’t read…

Because of leakages of top secret information the top echelons of MI 5 in London realise there must be a mole in their organisation. They appoint George Smiley to investigate and dig out the mole. This is like a detective novel in a sense, the mole is unknown and is slowly brought to light by extensive probing.

I recommend this for the slow but sure progress made by the investigator as he slowly uncovers facts and clues to ascertain the identity of the mole who is betraying government secrets to Moscow. I like the aspect of starting from scratch and…

While not the first book in the series this is the book where the main character, George Smiley, finally gets a place to shine. Discredited and cuckold, George Smiley’s life appears ruined and pointless. But a questionable character appears with a tale suggesting a traitor in the service that George Smiley dedicated his life to. Thrust into the spotlight, he is revealed as a true master spy as he unmasks the traitor and reveals the arch-villain driving the forces that wrecked his life in the first place. For me, this book touched multiple hot buttons, along with the history, it…

Want books like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy?

Our community of 11,000+ authors has personally recommended 100 books like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

Browse books like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in espionage, intelligence agency, and spies?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about espionage, intelligence agency, and spies.

Espionage Explore 570 books about espionage
Intelligence Agency Explore 118 books about intelligence agency
Spies Explore 597 books about spies