A Divided Life by Robert Cecil

‘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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