The Book of Spies: An Anthology of Literary Espionage

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Overview

Here is an extraordinary collection of the world’s best literary espionage, selected by Alan Furst, a contemporary master of the genre. The Book of Spies brings us the aristocratic intrigues of The Scarlet Pimpernel, in which French émigrés duel with Robespierre’s secret service; the savage political realities of the 1930s in Eric Ambler’s classic A Coffin for Dimitrios; the ordinary (well, almost) citizens of John le Carré’s The Russia House, who are drawn into Cold War spy games; and the 1950s Vietnam of Graham...
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The Book of Spies: An Anthology of Literary Espionage

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Overview

Here is an extraordinary collection of the world’s best literary espionage, selected by Alan Furst, a contemporary master of the genre. The Book of Spies brings us the aristocratic intrigues of The Scarlet Pimpernel, in which French émigrés duel with Robespierre’s secret service; the savage political realities of the 1930s in Eric Ambler’s classic A Coffin for Dimitrios; the ordinary (well, almost) citizens of John le Carré’s The Russia House, who are drawn into Cold War spy games; and the 1950s Vietnam of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, with its portrait of American idealism and duplicity. Drawing on acknowledged classics and rediscovered treasures, A Book of Spies delivers literate entertainment and excitement on every page.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A master of the form culls from the cream of the cloak-and-dagger crop. . . . Twelve expertly chosen tales of secret operatives: shadowy and elusive, cunningly written and thrillingly fraught with peril.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“Spanning nearly three quarters of a century . . . this handy sampler touches on many high points of spy writing. . . . In this case, fiction is more thrilling than truth.”
—Time Out New York

“[A] dazzling anthology . . . The writing—whether displaying the cold clarity of Maugham or the pained lyricism of McCarry—is splendid.”
The Wall Street Journal

Library Journal
One look at any best seller list will remind reviewers, readers, and librarians of the popularity of the mystery, spy, or espionage novel. In this compilation of some of the greatest works of espionage literature, Furst, a widely recognized espionage writer (e.g., Kingdom of Shadows; Red Gold), reminds readers in the introduction, citing the Old Testament, that spying is one of the oldest professions known to humanity. This volume-which features work by such writers as Eric Ambler, Anthony Burgess, Joseph Conrad, Maxim Gorky, Graham Greene, John Steinbeck, and Rebecca West-doesn't break new ground, but it does place the genre in perspective, using it to explain human nature within history, national security, and the context of war. Furst used two standards for including writers in the anthology: five of the authors, having served in the intelligence services for their country, write from "practical, firsthand experience," while others had experience with living under or working in a particular political climate, where they learned to view the "world as a theatre of deception." This very literary look at a popular genre is recommended for all libraries with large collections of thrillers. [This anthology is published to coincide with the paperback release of Furst's 2002 best seller Blood of Victory.-Ed.]-Pam Kingsbury, Florence, AL Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A master of the form culls from the cream of the cloak-and-dagger crop. Having possibly already supplanted le Carré as the most popular writer of the spy genre, Furst (Blood of Victory, 2002, etc.) is as good a choice as any to headline this anthology. In an introduction, Furst lets us know he's not after any old Bond knock-offs here, but wants good writing ("we are here in the literary end of the spectrum") and "the pursuit of authenticity." To that end, he made some excellent choices (fortunately taking sections out of novels as opposed to using only shorter pieces) that more than fulfill the rules he set for himself, where the characters "work at the sharp edge of the Manichean universe." Things start off promisingly, with Eric Ambler's 1939 "A Coffin for Dimitrious," about a mystery novelist who pursues the ghost of arch-criminal/political operative Dimitrious across Turkey and the Balkans. Ambler's voice is martini-dry and brilliantly focused on the details, but the real genius is the fleeting face of Dimitrious himself, who could well have been the inspiration for Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects. Le Carré, of course, shows up here, but unfortunately, it's a good-enough but unspectacular bit from "The Russia House" (George Smiley is the great, notable absence in this volume). A gem mostly forgotten is W. Somerset Maugham's semiautobiographical "Ashenden," whose titular British WWII spy is fey and given to extravagance: Oscar Wilde on a mission and saddled with a conscience. A memorable episode from Graham Greene's The Quiet American is another surprising but excellent choice (a lesser editor would have assumed that Our Man in Havana was the one to go with), while Steinbeck's TheMoon Is Down, Anthony Burgess' Tremor of Intent, and Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel round things out quite nicely. Twelve expertly chosen tales of secret operatives: shadowy and elusive, cunningly written and thrillingly fraught with peril.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375759598
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/8/2004
  • Series: Modern Library Classics Series
  • Pages: 374
  • Sales rank: 695,330
  • Product dimensions: 5.15 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Meet the Author

Alan Furst
ALAN FURST is widely recognized as the master of the historical spy novel. He is the author of Night Soldiers, Dark Star, The Polish Officer, The World at Night, Red Gold, Kingdom of Shadows, and Blood of Victory, all of which are available as Random House Trade Paperbacks. Born in New York, he has lived for long periods in France, especially Paris. He now lives on Long Island, New York.

Biography

Alan Furst may have the narrowest purview in literature. His books – which he calls historical espionage novels -- are all set in Europe between 1933 and 1945, and all are stories of World War II intrigue.

But that brief eight-year period in history has given Furst a rich amount of source material; although he had published a handful of earlier novels (now out of print, some of them fetch hundreds of dollars) Furst hit his stride with 1988’s Night Soldiers , his first book to concentrate on the decade that would forever change the world. Furst had found his niche. As Salon rhapsodized in a 2001 review, "...to talk about one of his books is to talk about them all. He is writing one large book in which each new entry adds a piece to the mosaic of Europe in the years leading up to the war, as created by a partisan of the senses."

Furst's books are grounded in their author’s extensive research of the period, and are written in an almost newsy prose broken occasionally by beautiful, lyrical passages describing, say, a Paris morning in the 1940s, or night at the Czechoslavakian-Hungarian border. History buffs will find much to love here; while the books are fiction, some of the details are factual. In Night Soldiers, for example, immigrants arriving at Ellis Island exchanged their clothing for new outfits; in reality, the American government often bought clothing from immigrants to use as costumes for its spies.

And while Furst’s novels are entertaining and, often, elegant, they are not easy reads: the books traverse through a wide swath of Europe (an important character itself in Furst’s fiction), and characters duck behind corners and sometimes stumble into the continent’s more remote regions (while not partying in Paris, that is). Though his male protagonists manage to find and sometimes lose lovers, Furst’s books are primarily concerned with the moral slipperiness involved in fighting off Hitler's advance, where even the best intentions could produce regrettable results.

Furst's books have grown leaner and tauter over the years, the result of a conscious effort "to say more by saying less." Notwithstanding this paring back, or perhaps because of it, the praise for his books only seems to multiply, and Furst’s writing has lost none of its veracity or suspense. Furst, who many critics consider literature’s best-kept secret, may not be a household name yet, but with such buzz, his low profile won’t last much longer.

Good To Know

Night Soldiers originated from a piece Furst wrote for Esquire in 1983. He was also a reporter for the International Herald Tribune and wrote a biography of cookie entrepeneur Debbie Fields.

Furst wrote in a 2002 essay, "For me, Anthony Powell is a religion. I read A Dance to the Music of Time every few years."

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    1. Hometown:
      Sag Harbor, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., Oberlin College

Table of Contents

Introduction
From A Coffin for Dimitrios 3
From Tremor of Intent 47
From Under Western Eves 81
From The Spy 121
From The Quiet American 149
From The Russia House 181
From Ashenden 207
From The Tears of Autumn 252
From The Scarlet Pimpernel 285
From The Moon Is Down 312
From The Birds Fall Down 334
Permission Credits 373
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Interviews & Essays

Alan Furst describes the area of his interest as “near history.” His novels are set between 1933–the date of Adolf Hitler’s ascent, with the first Stalinist purges in Moscow coming a year later–and 1945, which saw the end of the war in Europe. The history of this period is well documented. Furst uses books by journalists of the time, personal memoirs–some privately published–autobiographies (many of the prominent individuals of the period wrote them), war and political histories, and characteristic novels written during those years.

“But,” he says, “there is a lot more”–for example, period newsreels, magazines, and newspapers, as well as films and music, especially swing and jazz. “I buy old books,” Furst says, “and old maps, and I once bought, while living in Paris, the photo archive of a French stock house that served newspapers of Paris during the Occupation, all the prints marked as cleared by the German censorship.” In addition, Furst uses intelligence histories of the time, many of them by British writers.

Alan Furst has lived for long periods in Paris and in the south of France. “In Europe,” he says, “the past is still available. I remember a blue neon sign, in the Eleventh Arrondissement in Paris, that had possibly been there since the 1930s.” He recalls that on the French holiday le jour des morts (All Saints’ Day, November 1) it is customary for Parisians to go to the Père Lachaise Cemetery. “Before the collapse of Polish communism, the Polish émigrés used to gather at the tomb of Maria Walewska. They would burn rowsof votive candles and play Chopin on a portable stereo. It was always raining on that day, and a dozen or so Poles would stand there, under black umbrellas, with the music playing, as a kind of silent protest against the communist regime. The spirit of this action was history alive–as though the entire past of that country, conquered again and again, was being brought back to life.”

The heroes of Alan Furst’s novels include a Bulgarian defector from the Soviet intelligence service, a foreign correspondent for Pravda, a Polish cartographer who works for the army general staff, a French producer of gangster films, and a Hungarian émigré who works with a diplomat at the Hungarian legation in Paris. “These are characters in novels,” Furst says, “but people like them existed; people like them were courageous people with ordinary lives and, when the moment came, they acted with bravery and determination. I simply make it possible for them to tell their stories.”
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 20, 2010

    Good For Those who...

    This book is academically stimulating and is rivaled only by its teaching consistency in the art of Spy Novel writing.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 11, 2014

    If John LeCarre owns the spy world as it is today. Furst illumin

    If John LeCarre owns the spy world as it is today. Furst illuminates the past with equal mastery.  

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    Posted May 31, 2014

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    Posted March 28, 2010

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