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kim philby   From George Smiley and James Bond to Emma Peel and Austin Powers, spies have a hold on the cultural imagination. The public devours their exploits, whether it be loving, coming in from the cold, or even shagging. Yet they pale in comparison to a real-life quartet of English operatives whose escapades cast long shadows on espionage fiction: Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, Anthony Blunt, and Harold "Kim" Philby. Debonair, intelligent, and dedicated Communists, the infamous Cambridge Four worked simultaneously for the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) and the Soviet KGB during the Cold War, successfully compromising Western efforts against the Eastern Bloc for decades. Though Blunt, an art historian, was stripped of his British knighthood upon being revealed as the long-sought "fourth man" in 1979, Burgess and Maclean defected to Russia, tipped off to internal investigations into their activities by Philby. Suspected by both the British and Americans and close to arrest, Philby himself was brought "home to Moscow" by his KGB contacts in 1963 where he lived, as a national hero, until his death in 1988.

While the Cambridge Four have inspired countless works--a fictionalized Burgess (alongside Esmond Romilly) in Julian Mitchell's Another Country, Burgess again in Alan Bennett's An Englishman Abroad, Graham Greene's espionage novels (Greene, a member of SIS counterintelligence, reported to Philby and later wrote the introduction to his friend's book), Miranda Carter's critically acclaimed 2001 biography of Blunt--it is Philby who remains the greatest chronicler of their story. His 1967 autobiography, My Silent War, details his work as a double-agent for over twenty years. Recruited into the SIS in 1940 by Burgess, Philby, nicknamed "Kim" for Kipling's boy spy, rose rapidly through the ranks of British intelligence, eventually becoming the head of MI6's counterespionage operations--a position that made him privy to top-level information on both sides of the Atlantic. His unique situation gave Russia the advantage during the height of the Cold War; as his biographer Philip Knightley notes, "in the history of espionage there has never been a spy like him, and now, with the Cold War over, there never will be." An iconic story of an remorseless agent, Kim Philby's My Silent War is a stylish, absorbing look at espionage, as well as a witty portrait of a urbane chameleon described by the FBI as "a legend--a demon or an antihero, depending on one's philosphical bent."
 
susanna kaysen  

Cross your legs, dear reader, for the memoir The Camera My Mother Gave Me has nothing to do with photography. It isn't a picturesque, heart-warming story of a mother-daughter relationship, either. Instead, it is the tense account of Susanna Kaysen's ill vagina.

Yes, the candid author of Girl, Interrupted once again shares the intimate events of her gynecological illness in snapshot detail. With graceful humor, she captures her awkward adventure through various medical treatments—ranging from estrogen and novocaine cream to tea bag baths—in the brave effort to cure one raw inch of her body. As each doctor, vulvologist, and alternative-medicine nurse offers his or her seemingly random analysis, Susanna remains steadfast in her determination to figure out what is wrong inside her aging body. The mysteriously strange, sometimes gross, and often intimidating ordeal is managed with the support of her sympathetic friends and strong character.

So what was the final diagnosis? Which prescription was the miracle cure? The Camera My Mother Gave Me captures the painstaking process leading up to Kaysen's health revelation. It is a quick read that leaves you with a deep appreciation for 'the bigger picture' that results when you combine the negative side of pain and the positive outcome of understanding.

 
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