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John le Carré: The Biography

John le Carré: The Biography

by Adam Sisman


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The definitive biography of the internationally adored author of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and A Perfect Spy—arguably one of the most important and influential writers of the post-World War II period—by the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning biographer Adam Sisman

“Admiring without being toadying, detailed without being overstuffed, highly readable and, above all, knowledgeable about the work. . . . Sisman is the kind of thorough, serious writer who inspires trust...and what we take away is a new appreciation of le Carré‘s full range.” —New York Times Book Review

Back in 1963, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold made its pseudonymous author, John le Carré, a worldwide publishing sensation. Since then, le Carré has produced another twenty-one bestselling novels, consistently mining a rich cache of personal material—his own experiences as a British spy for both MI5 and MI6. A master at weaving fiction with fact, le Carré creates complex protagonists who expose tantalizing glimpses into the author’s own character. But appearances are deceptive. The real truth is that David Cornwell, the man behind the pseudonym and one of the world’s most celebrated writers, has remained an enigma for more than half a century.

In this authoritative biography shortlisted for the 2016 Pen Award, the eminent British author Adam Sisman explores how the central themes of Cornwell’s life defined his fiction. From his lonely, “hugless” childhood, spent mostly in the care of his “totally incomprehensible father,” a charming womanizer and con man who could “put a hand on your shoulder and the other in your pocket, both gestures equally sincere,” to his early recruitment by British intelligence and the evolution of his spycraft, to his fraught roles as husband and family man, Cornwell’s personal history encompasses, if not the fictional plots themselves, the basic questions at the heart of his work: What does espionage mean in human terms? To what extent is betrayal acceptable in the name of love? How does a person manage the endless need for forgiveness, especially from oneself?

Written with exclusive access to David Cornwell, his private archive, and his family, friends, enemies, ex-intelligence colleagues, and ex-lovers—and featuring a wealth of previously unseen photographic material—Sisman’s insightful and revealing biography at last brings in from the cold a man whose life has been as complex, confounding, and filled with treachery as any of his novels.

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