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Books

BOOK REVIEW

‘Young Philby’ by Robert Littell

Of all the portraits of modern spies in novels, stories, biographies, and histories, the treatments of Harold “Kim” Philby seem to fascinate us the most. How else to explain the appearance of this young British aristocrat turned Russian agent (and perhaps triple agent for the British) in so many novels? Graham Greene portrayed him as Harry Lime in “The Third Man’’; John le Carré as Bill Haydon in “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’’; Robert Littell made him one of the actors in “The Company,’’ his fictionalized history of the CIA; Frederick Forsyth based a character on him, as did Tim Power, and several others.

Now here’s Littell (arguably, along with le Carré and Alan Furst, one of the best three or four espionage writers alive) revisiting the life of Philby for a full-dress portrait in his latest novel, a story that shows off his best powers at creating characters and plot that reveal the inner workings of individual lives and the nearly overwhelming forces of politics and history.

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