The Secret World: A History of Intelligence

Book review by Deane Barker tags: spies, history

This book is exactly what it claims – a magisterial history of intelligence and espionage. But, it left me a bit frustrated. (I wrote a blog post about this.)

The book is a series of anecdotes, with no framework for understanding the larger issues of intelligence. It’s episodic – a series of vignettes, basically. One could say that’s all history really is, but I was looking for more over-arching principles. I was trying to find out what the “gestalt” of intelligence was.

I tried to draw some principles out of it:

  • Spying has been going on forever

  • Lots of countries spy in part from the insecurity of their leaders – it’s an ego thing

  • World War II was basically own on the back of intelligence, specifically SIGINT

  • SIGINT might be the most important type of intelligence; everything has to be communicated, and if you can listen to an understand those communications, then you essentially become one with the enemy

  • “The Art of War” is a semi-big deal among the intelligence community. Lots of people read it, lots of people quote it


There’s more, but because the book didn’t concentrate of them, they escape me. In the end, I read a lot about This Person Doing This and That Person Doing That. I don’t feel like I understand and comprehend intelligence at much of a deeper level than I did when I started, and that’s a shame.

Book Info

Christopher Andrew

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