Defend the Realm by Christopher Andrew
An unprecedented publishing event: to mark the centenary of its foundation, the British Security Service, MI5, has for the first time opened its archives to an independent historian. The book reveals the precise role of the Security Service in twentieth-century British history, from its foundation by Captain Kell of the British Army in October 1909, through two world wars, up to and including its present roles in counterespionage and counterterrorism. The book describes how MI5 has been managed, what its relationship has been with government, where it has triumphed, and where it has failed. In all of this no restriction has been placed on the judgments made by the author.
Defend the Realm also adds significantly to our knowledge of many celebrated events and notorious individuals and definitively lays to rest a number of persistent myths. Above all, it shows the place of this previously extremely secretive organization within the United Kingdom. Few books could make such an immediate and extraordinary increase to our understanding of British history over the past century.
This is yet another entry on the old reading list whose specific origins I can’t fathom, but I suspect it’s the old Anglophilia acting up again. (I always find it kind of hilarious that I’m as big as an Anglophile as I am, considering that I’m French-Irish.) While espionage isn’t exactly my bag, I think this looks like an interesting take on the subject, and I’m impressed MI5 let an independent historian do the project.
I couldn’t find any book blogger reviews of it, unfortunately. Ben MacIntyre, writing for The New York Times, found it fascinating, even though it has to tiptoe around any subject material that’s still pertinent. Tim Rutten, writing for The Los Angeles Time, praises Andrew’s ability to be both thoughtful and clear. Andrew Lownie, writing for The Telegraph, enjoyed it, especially Andrew’s sense of the absurd. J. J. S. Boyce, writing for seattlepi, found it interesting, but a bit of an exhausting read, given its immense length.