John le Carré died at the age of eighty-nine last December, a good thirty years after the end of the Cold War that his spy novels chronicled. He certainly knew whereof he wrote. As a British intelligence agent stationed in West Germany at the height of the Cold War, he had an insider’s view of two of its key crises: the shocking creation of the Berlin Wall on a single day in August 1961, and the defection to Moscow of Kim Philby in early 1963. Those events provided the raw material for his best books. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) begins and ends with the shooting of agents trying to cross the Berlin Wall. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974) was the story of a Philby-like “mole” who successfully burrowed himself into the topmost echelons of the secret service.

Despite le Carré’s political turn,...


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