Defend the Realm

  • by Christopher Andrew
  • Narrated by Robin Sachs
  • 39 hrs and 43 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

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 20th-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 also 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 reveals the identities of previously unknown enemies of the United Kingdom whose activities have been uncovered by the Service, 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.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

A very throrough and impartial history.

Christopher Andrew has excelled himself in the daunting task of cataloging and critiquing the first century of MI5's work in the UK and around the Commonwealth.
I found the tone both entertaining and witty. This book could have so easily been either too dry or, even worse, too trashy and "spy thriller" like. Thankfully, Defend the Realm is neither. It is, instead, filled with insightful analysis and intriguing new information.
I do have two minor criticisms, however. Firstly, one of the middle sections - dedicated to the Service's role in the break up of the Empire - drags on a little. MI5 did very similar things in almost all newly independent countries and the repetition becomes a little stale. Lastly, the final section on the Service's modern day responsibilities (counter-terrorism) is all too brief. Sadly, this is unavoidable due to the sensitive nature of the book and Andrew Explains this in the foreword.
I would highly recommend Defend the Realm, especially to those interested in 20th century history and most of all those interested in the role of espionage in both World Wars and the Cold War. You will be surprised at all that the Service has achieved and entertained by a brilliant writing style.
I would like to also commend Robin Sachs reading. His voice adds greatly to the success of the audio-book, despite his occasional accents.
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- Matthew

A read that was both informative and captivating

Where does Defend the Realm rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Defend the realm is an unique kind of book. It is a very informative, to the point of being a bit droll at times, but at the same time, it manages to capture the feeling of camraderie and adventure that it describes being present in Mi5. When I finished the book, I felt like I had just finished a career at Mi5 (and not just because of the book's length!), and felt nostalgia for times past.


Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

The feelings of victory at the end of world war one and two were conveyed adeptly to the reader, and they were touching to me.


Any additional comments?

The narrator does a fantastic job of sounding both professional and interesting, which is very much in the spirit of this book.

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- Menachem

Book Details

  • Release Date: 11-03-2009
  • Publisher: Random House Audio