Stalin’s Englishman: The Lives of Guy Burgess by Andrew Lownie - review by Adam Sisman

Adam Sisman

Agent Reckless

Stalin’s Englishman: The Lives of Guy Burgess


Hodder & Stoughton 427pp £25 order from our bookshop

Is there anything new to be learned about Guy Burgess, the naughtiest of the Cambridge spies recruited in the 1930s? There has been a shelfload of books about ‘The Magnificent Five’, as they were described, in a rare flash of KGB humour, after the release of the film The Magnificent Seven. As the most outgoing of the five, Burgess is probably the most familiar. His flamboyant personality has inspired numerous fictional portraits, often sympathetic – for example, in Julian Mitchell’s play Another Country and in Alan Bennett’s An Englishman Abroad.

Andrew Lownie demonstrates that there is plenty still to be learned about Burgess. In this biography, the product of over twenty years’ research, he shows how Burgess’s treachery was much more damaging than has previously been acknowledged. 

Provocative, outrageous, dishevelled, chain-smoking, frequently drunk and incorrigibly promiscuous, Guy Burgess might seem the last person to be entrusted with state secrets. During the Cold War he made little attempt to disguise his violent antipathy towards America and his solidarity with the Soviet Union. Yet he was welcomed into the

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