Stalin’s Englishman: Guy Burgess, The Cold War, and the Cambridge Spy Ring

Written by Andrew Lownie
Review by Lucille Cormier

This is an extraordinary biography of the infamous spy, Guy Burgess (1911-1963). Born into one of England’s oldest families, educated at Eton and Cambridge, Burgess spied successfully for the Soviet Union while working for the BBC, the Foreign Office, MI5, and MI6. He was part of the “Cambridge Spies” who espoused communism in their university days and became traitors for their cause. While being kind to his subject, the author does not gloss over the dark side of Burgess‘s life. He weights equally information that characterizes Burgess as a brilliant, charming son of the aristocracy and that which supports the view that he was a despicable louche, a drunk, lecherous sponge. In the end, we are hard put to decide whether Burgess was a useless roué or a tragic hero.

This scholarly tome is rightfully being called “the” definitive biography of Guy Burgess. The author’s research is exhaustive. 60 pages of notes buttress his observations. There is an extensive bibliography, a summary of literature based on Burgess’ story, and a closing chapter, “Summing Up,” that records assessments of Burgess ‘life. It’s fair to say that Mr. Lownie knows Guy Burgess better than anyone. He has given us an excellent resource.