The Spy Who Came in From the Cold

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold

Book - 2001
Average Rating:
Rate this:
An agent, desperate to end his career as a spy during the Cold War, is caught up in a breathlessly perilous assignment to come in from the Cold and re-enter the West.
Publisher: London, Eng. : Hodder & Stoughton, 2001, c1963
ISBN: 9780143189824
Branch Call Number: LEC
Characteristics: 229 p. ; 24 cm


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
May 23, 2020

It is the early 1960s at the height of the Cold War. Alec Leamas is the Berlin Station Head for the British Intelligence agency known as the "The Circus". Operations in Berlin have not gone well and Leamas is taking the blame.

When Leamas returns to England, the Circus chief - who goes by the name "Control" - gives him a new assignment. Leamas is told to pretend to leave The Circus under bad circumstances and lead a life of isolation, alcohol, debt, and bitterness. The Circus even circulates rumours of incompetence and embezzlement to make his despair more convincing. Sure enough, an agent of the Eastern Bloc approaches Leamas after he` is released from jail on an assault conviction.

Leamas defects to the other side and sows suspicion amongst his enemies. But is Leamas the manipulator or is he the one being manipulated?

John Le Carré is a master at building suspense. For a novel with very little action (much of it is interrogation), I found myself riveted to "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" - anxious to know what will happen next. He kept me guessing until the end - pointing the reader in one direction, before pulling back the curtain to reveal a new twist.

On the surface, this is a complex spy novel with espionage and double agents and double-crossings and triple-crossings.

But there is a subtext to this novel that elevates it from good to great. The Communists of the East and the Democracies of the West each hold to ideals that they believe are best for their society. Yet, the agents protecting these societies are willing to completely ignore those ideals to protect their societies. To them, values are meaningless when a war must be won. To protect the interests of the state, bad guys are protected, and idealists are destroyed. England may believe in democracy for its citizens, but The Circus will abandon all national principles to win the Cold War. Leamas has become almost numb to this hypocrisy. He strives to ignore the moral issues and just do his job. If it were not for the love story, he would have succeeded.

Jul 28, 2019

Le Carre at his best.

Nov 03, 2018

Did not finish-too many characters!

Aug 11, 2018

Leamas’ network of spies is destroyed. He is called back from Berlin to London where his boss, Control, wonders if Leamas is “burned out.” Leamas spirals into poverty, alcoholism and anger, ending in imprisonment for an assault. Friendless, Leamas is approached by East German counterintelligence. Now Leamas leaves the cold to enter the deep freeze of the apostate, the betrayer of his past life and his country. But in this novel, things as they appear are not things as they are.

The idea of the ‘cold’ is the central one in this novel. “A man permanently isolated in deceit” lives in the cold, according to Leamas. ‘Control’ says to Leamas, “We have to live without sympathy, don’t we? … We act it to one another, all this hardness; but we aren’t like that really. I mean … one can’t be out in the cold all the time; one has to come in from the cold…”. So the cold is the place where spies live a duplicitous life, apart from and alienated from others, acting a role, using others as instruments of a state’s political goals. The concept of the ‘cold’ links to the novel’s love interest where the hard-bitten Leamas actually connects with another person. The novel documents betrayal after betrayal, they are piled up, one on top another.

Oct 15, 2017

Needing help with the vocabulary of the period, I Googled the phrase  "Pudeur Anglaise", and landed on a glossary for the novel. The website is called Book Drum, a great resource, with many useful features.

Dec 19, 2016

another excellent one from John Le Carre. Feeling sad for the ending, that's what the cold war done to human, use humanity to kill and hurt.

LPL_IanS Sep 30, 2016

First time spy novel reader here. I loved it. I thought Le Carre's prose was excellent. The plot was superbly constructed. And the book was highly entertaining. It has a somewhat slow start, and I agree with another reader that at times the mixture of Cold War, spy, and English jargon could leave me feeling a little lost. That said, it's a spy book! I don't need to be one step ahead of the story at all moments.

I have a feeling this is book that will stick with me for a while. I highly recommend it.

Feb 08, 2016

Great plot and great writing. This is a classic spy novel for those who like this genre.

Jun 29, 2014

My first John Le Carré book, and definitely not my last. It's one of the best spy books I've read, although it seemed as if the main character didn't have a plan until about halfway through the book. Great plot twist at the end, and ultimately the book ended the way it should.

Indigo_Cobra_8 Mar 23, 2013

I had read many glowing reviews about this book and had been excited to read it. Maybe I'm just not suited to the whole spy genre, but I didn't enjoy this as much I thought I would. The first chapter drew me in, but the rest of the book held considerably less action and was more conversational/interrogational. The twist near the end caught me, and I enjoyed the last few chapters, but overall, I found the book a bit dull.

View All Comments


Add a Summary
FavouriteFiction Oct 14, 2009

Alec Leamas, a British agent in early Cold War Berlin, is sent on a difficult mission. He is asked to play a disgraced agent, a target of ridicule, and therefore be able to infiltrate deep into communist territory.


Add a Quote
Jun 29, 2014

"Leamas watched him take a cigarette from the box on the table, and light it. He noticed two things: that Peters was left-handed, and that once again he had put the cigarette in his mouth with the maker's name away from him, so that it burns first. It was a gesture Leamas liked: it indicated that Peters, like himself, had been on the run." pg.73

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability

There are no age suitabilities for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at BPL

To Top