In the mysterious manner with which these things happen, David Cornwell was approached in the early 1950s by the British intelligence service MI5 and then enrolled to work for them and MI6 undercover as a diplomat in the British embassy in Bonn. He was asked to report on left-wing students. At the same time, he was beginning to write under the name of John le Carré (that lowercase l says something about the man). Almost as soon as he found a publisher, he resigned from intelligence work. He was the first to say that his career in the secret services had been unspectacular, but all the same the Cold War with the Soviet Union was the overriding issue of the day and he knew enough to make it his principal subject matter.

Critics and then the public took it for granted that le...


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