A Divided Life

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 12 Feb 2019

Member Reviews

I found this book to be very heavy going and I alas skipped pages. I do think that it was before my time and I struggled to keep on track with it. 
That said, I will re visit it but when I can research as well as read it as it sounds fascinating.
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Thank you Netgalley for sharing this book in exchange for an honest review.

To be truthful, I did not finish reading this book for an unusual reason. The book was filled with alot of factial details and names. I was not familiar with the historical background to tie Donald's ideology/actions. I personally felt like reading a history of one man life.  

This is the first book I have given a five star for a DNF. Here is the reason why:

1. The writing is superb and reads like a smooth story, incorporated with incredible details.

2. Donald's life is well researched and supported. 

3. This book contains endless facts. For history and nonfiction lovers, this book connects historical events with Donald ideological based actions and thoughts.

For history/autobiography lovers, this book is for you!
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Exceptionally detailed life story of this famous spy. What kind of man was he? Why did he do this? What was it about a safe, healthy, wealthy upbringing that made him resent Britain so? Yes, we can read all about him here but as with most people of his ilk, he remains in many ways a mystery. Very, very good writing. And you won't be bored, at least I wasn't
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I received a free digital copy of this book from the publisher Thistle Publishing. I was under no obligation to review it and all opinions expressed are my own.

It was very difficult from what I usually read, in brief A Divided Life: A Personal Portrait of the Spy Donald MacLean by Robert Cecil is the biography of a British spy during the Cold War.

If you are interested in the infamous ‘Cambridge Five’ and the history of the Cold War this would be extremely good read .  But sadly I didn't find interesting as I before I was reading out of my comfort zone and it very hard going.
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There have been endless biographies and accounts of the Cambridge spies, and our fascination with them seems equally endless. So yet another biography needs to bring something new to the table, and that’s what this one from Robert Cecil so admirably does. Cecil knew Donald Maclean, the subject of his book, well, meeting him first at Cambridge and later working with him in various Foreign Office posts. The book remains even-handed, but is also a perceptive and thoughtful account of this enigmatic man, with personal insights that contribute to our understanding. If, indeed, anyone can possibly understand the motivations of a traitor like Maclean. A great read, plainly and accessibly written, entertaining and informative.
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In order to really appreciate A Divided Life, you would have to have some awareness of the spy scandal that rocked the heart of the British establishment in the 1950’s, referred to as the Cambridge Spies, as they all attended Cambridge University. What was so shocking was that those involved with this Soviet spy ring came from privileged elitist backgrounds, from families that were regarded as affluent and influential within society. Considered to be entrenched within the governing class they’re background did not create the credentials automatically assumed would lead them to be recruited by the Soviet Union. Their decision did not stem from personal difficulties, for example, struggling with poverty, no access to decent education, living in cramp unhealthy environments, competing for poorly paid jobs or poor working conditions in 1920’-30’s Britain. It seemed to be one of conscience, believing that Communism was the true and right ideology. Convinced in their belief that it was their duty to help and promote the spread of communism for the good of society, regardless of the consequences it had on the community they grew up in. They accepted other ideologies such as Capitalism and Fascism was inherently evil, unjust and destructive for ordinary people.

I initially thought that this was going to reveal more insight as to the characters involved because of Robert Cecil’s apparent close connection to one of the spies, Donald McClean. However, having read the book it did not expose any more than what has already been written. The book was more a chronology of Donald’s career within the Foreign Office and national and international information he was exposed to. The impression I received was that the author did not really know Donald McClean on a personal level. Robert merely operated in the same circles as Donald, for example, attending Cambridge but not at the same time, also working in the Foreign Office but not directly with him. Any insight or opinion as to Donald’s ideology and subsequent actions came from a mix of Donald’s own statements, the author’s conversations with colleagues, and expert speculation from in-depth research by others who have tried to explain the thinking. This book in itself is mostly speculative as to the actual impact Donald’s subterfuge had on world events and Anglo-American relations. There is no indication that he was part of Donald’s inner circle, where he could be considered a friend as opposed to a work colleague and privy to any real or new revelations. It seems the only real insight is that even with colleagues that would have considered him close he never dropped his guard.

Although Robert Cecil sets out to separate fact from fiction, suggesting that many sources have skewed the facts and engaged in disinformation. Having read other accounts and watched various documentaries about the Cambridge spies and their impact, I would agree that these accounts have been technicoloured and embellished with poetic license sanctioned throughout. However, I think overall given that very little if anything was ever really revealed by the spies themselves, they do go some way to forge an understanding as to the motives that drove the Cambridge Spy-Ring, in this case, Donald McClean, to follow the path that he chose. Accordingly, the facts are ambiguous and leave it up to your own interpretation as to what made McClean and the others tick. Only they truly know. This book falls into that speculative category, we are no closer to comprehending what drove these men to follow the paths they did from reading this book.

I would rate this book 3.5 stars and I would like to thank Thistle Publishing for a copy of the book in return for an honest review.
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What makes a spy? Who, where? Why and how...
This book is a very good and detailed account of why Maclean (one of Cambridge five) became a spy, how he lived and why he made the choices he made.
The story is told through a very well researched picture of European and world history and politics of between wars period and cold war.
The choices of Maclean are explained through psychology of father-son relationship, public school education and sexual choices and experiences.
Author did a good job paining a picture of 'justifiable' choices and paths taken.
A sideways glance at spy industry of 20th century.
A worthy read for those interested in history and those of us who believe spies are not all 007.
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A thought provoking and eloquently written book by a former associate of Donald Maclean, one of the members of the infamous Cambridge spy ring. It gives an excellent account of the motives behind  Maclean’s treachery and the ongoing subterfuge during his career with the British Government. 
Donald Maclean came from a very privileged family, yet he chose to actively spy for the Russians. He continued spying even when Stalin betrayed some of Maclean’s values and principles.
Having been through the detailed UK Security Vetting process myself, I find it astonishing that the screening during that period was almost non-existent. He was a known Communist supporter during his time in Cambridge, yet he was never outed by the Old Boy’s Network. Seemingly, even the author was aware of Maclean’s political leanings yet did nothing about it. 
 Maclean was not acting alone and four other of his colleagues were eventually implicated in treason, yet none were ever brought to justice. The spy ring inflicted enormous damage to Britain’s security services and damaged the future relationship with the US.
A recommended read for those interested in the Cold War and events surrounding the Cambridge Five.
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Spies and intrigue during the Cold War. Donald MacClean was part of a group of men known as the Cambridge Comintern. They betrayed their friends and country because they believed in a cause.  He had the non-conformist attitude that he had inherited from his father which helped push him into the Communist Party.  He started as an agent in the thirties and spied for the Soviets thru WW2. He was part of what some call the sinking ship philosophy, ready to go down and die for what he believed in. A true story of MacClean and his years in Washington spying on the Manhattan Project for Stalin. Well written and researched. For all those who like history and want to know more about working undercover as Soviet agents. I received this book from Net Galley and Thistle Publishing for a honest review and no compensation otherwise. The opinions and thoughts are my own.
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I don’t know the reasons behind this reprint of a book that is already been written 24 years ago, but it is still an interesting read. Even nowadays, the words ‘Russian spy’ are guaranteed to peak interest in the news and this story tells you exactly why. Although some parts of the book go a little deep on the philosophical path, and are thus sometimes not so easy to read, the book as a whole is an interesting read.

Thank you NetGalley and Thistle Publishing for sending me a digital copy of this book for review purposes.
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‘A biography of Donald Maclean (25 May 1913 – 6 March 1983)’

What makes this particular account of a member of the Cambridge Spy Ring so engrossing is that Robert Cecil was a personal acquaintance of the individuals involved and had also worked in the Foreign Office.  So, who was Donald Maclean?  His father, Sir Donald Maclean, had law firms in London and Cardiff.  Sir Donald was also a Member of Parliament, serving as the President of the Board of Education from 25 August 1931 until his death on 15 June 1932.  Donald Maclean had a public-school education, followed by a degree at Cambridge.   While at Cambridge, he was known to have left-wing views, and was asked about that at interview:

‘Yes, he conceded, he had had strong political sympathies, adding, ‘And I haven’t entirely shaken them off.’ 

In October 1935, he started work at the Foreign Office.  By then he had been recruited by the Soviet NKVD (later the KGB).  Maclean was able to pass information to the Soviets during World War II.  After the war ended, Maclean was posted to Washington, D.C., between 1944 and 1948, where he had access to non-technical detail on atomic development.  Mr Cecil was posted to Washington at the same time.

In 1951, Maclean escaped to the Soviet Union.  His treachery had badly damaged Anglo-American relations, and the information he fed to the Soviet Union fuelled the race for atomic weaponry.
Mr Cecil includes enough detail of events to provide context for those readers unfamiliar with this period of history.  He also makes it clear that the Foreign Service changed as consequence: the ‘old boys’ network’ was replaced by more modern security processes.

I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in the infamous ‘Cambridge Five’ and the history of the Cold War.

This book as first published in 1988, five years after Donald Maclean died.  The author, Robert Cecil, died in 1994.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Thistle Publishing for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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I hadn't read about British double-crossing Communist spy mole Donald MacLean before, or known the difference between M15 and M16 either; but Robert Cecil leaves no stone unturned in this definitive tell-all about MacLean's upbringing, education, career, family and ultimate demise. Their personal encounters, parallel careers in British diplomacy, and mutual acquaintances add a level of authenticity to Cecil's collection of facts and history, making for an interesting story that is informative as well. I particularly enjoyed the theories/backstory to so many aliases/assumed names.  I was confused by how MacLean was able to go unpaid by the Soviets for so many decades, but I guess it has something to do with the prevalence of British diplomats with Lord and Sir titles affixed to their names. Likewise after his defection/disappearance, I wondered how his wife Melinda was able to afford fancy tuition for the kids and fancy travels without any income. 

My main take-away from reading about Donald MacLean, his latent homosexual tendencies, and also homosexual Guy Burgess, homosexual Philip Toynbee, homosexual John Vassall, homosexual Anthony Blunt, homosexual Sir Roger Casement, etc was the ridiculousness of "the lesson that a deviation in one direction may indicate deviation in another," and that homophobia was as pervasive then as it was devastating. I'm happy to read in BBC news today that Section 377, a British colonial-era law prohibiting "unnatural acts," is to be annulled in India, and I find it interesting that "of the 71 countries around the world in which same-sex sexual relations are illegal, more than half are former British colonies or protectorates", according to research provided by the International LGBTI Association.

Loc 1698 missing word or extra period.
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A Divided Life: A Personal Portrait of the Spy Donald MacLean by Robert Cecil is the biography of a British spy during the Cold War. Cecil served for thirty years in the Diplomatic Service, after reading History and Modern Languages at Cambridge. During the War, he was seconded for two years to ‘C,’ the chief of the Secret Intelligence Service. In 1968 he took up a Readership at the University of Reading, and from 1976 until retirement in 1978 he was Chairman of the Graduate School of Contemporary European Studies.

Thinking back many Baby Boomers remember the Cold War and the feeling that it would last forever or until it became a hot war and ended the world. It seems almost inconceivable that the majority of the population under thirty-five has no recollection of the Cold War as many were not even born yet. Capitalism and Communism fought in many proxy wars from the end of WWII until the fall of the Soviet Union. It was a competition for supremacy of ideology. The majority of the world fell into one of the two camps almost without exception. Outside of the war-torn third world, national populations fell into clear-cut, homogeneous, blocks of one side or the other. It was hard to believe how one would give up their country and ideology and switch sides.

Americans who did it rarely acted for ideology. The book and movie Falcon and the Snowman reflected excitement and rebelliousness of the two young men. John Walker sold secrets for money. The Rosenbergs might have truly been ideological supporters; they had been members of the communist party. In Europe, things were a little different. Communists had a history in national and international politics. Communism was more closely associated with labor and worker's rights and the antiwar movement.

Cecil was in a unique position of knowing and working with MacLean and relates a more personal look at one of the people who became one of the Cambridge Five. The Cambridge Five passed information to the Soviet Union during WWII and afterward until the early 1950s. The members included MacLean, Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt, John Cairncross, and Kim Philby. MacLean disappeared in 1951 and defected to the Soviet Union. He remained "missing" for five years until Kruschev finally admitted to the defection five years earlier. MacLean would become part of Soviet society earning a Ph.D. and working with the Soviet government in areas dealing with the West. It is difficult to believe that someone who embraced the ideas of communism would also adopt the dictatorship of Stalin and not recognize that even after Stalin, the USSR was not a workers paradise or even remotely close to anything Marx wrote.

The author's relationship with MacLean creates a warmer biography of a human and not an ideologue. The writing seems fair and without apology, but it explains some of the why, and how someone from a well-off background would leave it behind for a system the only nominally supported his political views.
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Russians! Spies! Today’s headlines? Possibly, but spies for Russia were in the news almost seventy years ago. The Author had a close to connection to the infamous British spy, Don MacLean and in this well-documented and serious piece of research he presents the history of the times leading up to and after World War II.

Don Maclean was raised in England, in an upper class family. His father, Sir Donald Maclean had law firms in London and Cardiff and was a Member of Parliament. He briefly served as the Minister of Education. Don Maclean, the son, went to public school and then Cambridge. While at Cambridge in the 1930’s, he became enamored with the Marxist vision and was subsequently recruited by the Soviet NKVD (precursor to the KGB.)

The author/historian attended Cambridge a few years after Maclean, but even at that time the author realized Maclean was a communist. “Donald and his friends unquestionably believed that it was only a matter of time before communism was everywhere.” (However, the author dryly notes that Maclean did not feel barred from enjoying the pleasures of capitalism while he waited for the communist paradise.) Maclean is presented as an ideological spy- spying because he believed in communism and not for money. 

After graduating from Cambridge, Maclean qualified for the Foreign Diplomatic Service and began to construct a legitimate career while he pursued his nefarious trade as a spy. Thus, Maclean was able to pass information to the Soviets all during World War II, and even more alarming, after the War ended, Maclean was posted to Washington, D.C. where he had access to the non-technical secrets of the plans for future atom bombs and atomic development. 

When Maclean was outed in the early 1950’s he escaped to the Soviet Union, and eventually his wife and children joined him. At the time, British-American relations were strained by this discovery of espionage. And the author feels it was the end of an era- the Foreign Service could no longer depend upon loyalty to the Crown, it had to develop modern security protocols.

This is not a story of cloak and daggers and thrilling spy escapades. Maclean always had a Russian handler, but the point of this book is to flesh out the history of the times. The author gives us a serious presentation of the facts which will appeal to true history lovers, especially British readers who may have more context to understand the times. Recommend.

Thank you to Thistle Publish for a review copy.
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I received a DIGITAL Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  														
From the publisher --- 														
In this perceptive biography of Donald Maclean, Robert Cecil draws on his close acquaintance with the man, first at Cambridge and then as his colleague in the Diplomatic Service, to give an insider’s view of Maclean and his circle of ideological spies: Burgess, Philby and Blunt. He details Maclean’s recruitment as an agent by the Comintern in 1934, his early years in Paris, marriage, breakdown in Cairo and ultimate flight, with Burgess, to the Soviet Union.
The heart of the book is Maclean’s years in Washington from 1944-48, a time when crucial decisions about the post-war world were being made. Maclean was assigned top secret work connected with the development of the atomic bomb – the ‘Manhattan Project’. He was undoubtedly Stalin’s best source in Washington, and Russian knowledge of US nuclear capabilities fuelled the atomic-weaponry race. His treachery did immense damage to Anglo-American relations. The other casualty, which Cecil is well-placed to describe, was to the gentlemanly culture of the Foreign Office and the sense of trust within the Service.

This is a very interesting biography of someone I have never heard of before but was nonetheless engrossing. Kids these days know nothing of the intrigue of war (both real and "cold"), unless they are actually listening in class and not on their phones, tablets, iPads, etc. (Sorry, that was a little librarian rant there...) 
Maclean was part of the "Cambridge Five":  a ring of spies in the United Kingdom, who passed information to the Soviet Union during World War II and was active at least into the early 1950s. None were ever prosecuted for spying.
I enjoyed how the information was presented, as many biographies are dry as dust and now I want to read about the other four of them. Yay!! - Netgalley found me other books to read :-) !!
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This was a first hand account of life in England during the depression, war years and cold war years.  It was really a memoir written by Robert Cecil. He was a student at Cambridge with those recruited to be double agents for the Soviets.  He knew the Cambridge Five well and followed their careers.  

At the time he wrote the book, 1988, Cecil was 75 years old and obviously eager to make the public aware of just what had happened to turn the heads and loyalties of his friends.  Also in 1988 the Communists were still in control of not only the USSR, but Eastern Europe, including half of Germany so it was a totally different world than the one we find ourselves in today.

With so much turmoil in our world right now and with so many loyalties being questioned, I think it’s a good time to review these facts and bring them into the current era.

This book was very informative and chuck full of important information, but a difficult book to read because of the manner of writing.  I would recommend it to everyone interested in politics or in maintaining freedom in our world.  

I received this book from NetGalley and Thistle Publishing in exchange for an honest review.
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In this illuminating biography of Donald Maclean, author Robert Cecil draws on a close family connection and a path that in many ways followed that of Maclean’s. They went to the same children’s parties because their respective families knew each other well. Cecil followed MacLean to Cambridge, but they weren’t there at the same time. They were later to become colleagues in the Foreign Office/Diplomatic Service. Whilst both were posted to Washington DC immediately after World War Two had ended, both would regularly journey to New York; Cecil to attend the lectures of the Russian mystic and philosopher PD Ouspensky, Maclean to meet his Soviet controller. Indeed, Cecil asked Maclean’s advice on the problem of travelling to NY in the working week. There were no red-eye shuttle flights back then. Maclean’s advice: “make it [the time] up by working on a Saturday afternoon.”

This is a magnificently researched book. Cecil draws on this meticulous research in addition to his own personal knowledge of the man, Maclean, and those closest to him. It is also clear that colleagues of Maclean were prepared to speak openly to Cecil, whom they liked and trusted, when they would have refused other biographers. The result is a book that brings Maclean and the period vividly alive.

The book covers all the relevant periods including Maclean’s recruitment as an agent by the Comintern (Communist Internationale); his early years in Paris; marriage to Melinda; his breakdown in Cairo; and ultimate flight, with Burgess, to the Soviet Union.

Perhaps the most fascinating part of a wholly fascinating book deals with Maclean’s years in Washington from 1944-48, a time when crucial decisions about the post-war world were being made. Maclean was assigned top secret work connected with the development of the atomic bomb–the ‘Manhattan Project’ or ‘Alloy Tubes’ as it was dubbed by the British. He was undoubtedly Stalin’s best source in Washington, and Russian knowledge of US nuclear capabilities fuelled the atomic-weaponry race. Maclean’s treachery did immense damage to Anglo-American relations. 

The blurb for this book also mentions another “casualty, which Cecil is well-placed to describe…” “… to the gentlemanly culture of the Foreign Office and the sense of trust within the Service.” The author does describe it well from an insider’s perspective. It made me shudder as to how ineffectively the secrets of the country were guarded. It seemed to be a classic case of ‘the old boys’ network’ at work rather than some benign “gentlemanly culture” as per the book description.

Of course, another casualty was Maclean’s family life. His children were brought up in Soviet Russia. His marriage was in tatters after his wife, Melinda, had joined him in Russia. Despite his treachery, I did have some sympathy for him as he clearly loved his wife and children. It was also clear he was a true idealist. He did not engage in spying for money or the thrills. He did it as a true believer in Marxism. Sadly, his religion-like fervour blinded him to the truth.

I received a free digital copy of this book from the publisher Thistle Publishing. I was under no obligation to review it and all opinions expressed are my own.
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I loved it!!it was very intriguing and diverse from what I usually read.
I couldn't put it down and I read it in one sitting while I took a break from my homeworks and it was so good.
For sure I will reccomed it to my family and friends !
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