The subtitle of Miranda Carter's remarkably assured debut, Anthony Blunt: His Lives, speaks volumes for the artful spy she brings in from the cold. The so-called "Fourth Man" in the Cambridge spy ring after Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and Kim Philby, Blunt's life embraced a fascinating opposition. On the one hand, he was an exceptional teacher, who inspired and influenced a generation of art historians through his lectures and tuition while director of the Courtauld Institute; on the other, he was a spy who betrayed secrets to the Soviet NKVD (later KGB). This dichotomy of enlightenment and concealment lies at the centre of Carter's spirited inquiry. A product as well as a victim of his times, Blunt's offence was not just espionage, but also his background. Educated at Marlborough, where fellow pupils included John Betjeman and Louis MacNeice, he grew into a louche left-wing homosexual of a familiar Cambridge vintage, a dissident aesthete for whom truth and kinship outweighed loyalty to orthodoxy, and thus the state. When Marxism replaced the Bloomsbury set as the Cambridge de rigeur in the 1930s, Blunt was ideologically seduced by the wildly charismatic Guy Burgess, and became a Soviet talent-spotter, and later double agent. After his sensational public exposure in 1979, he dismissed his activity as akin to "cowboys and Indians", but if his motives remain foggy, Carter makes clear the comic shambles that was British intelligence at the time, more Carry On than John Le Carre, everyone with an agenda, and usually not their own. Miranda Carter's precocious disentangling of the mesh of half-truths that characterise this period of British intelligence, and its intelligentsia, reaps bountiful dividends. Burgess once sniped that Blunt was holding out for canonisation rather than a knighthood, a remark that reflected his highly principled friend's preference for history over politics, despite his clandestine activities. It is history, though, which has the longer memory, and dictates that he is to be remembered more as a spy than an art historian. Blunt's own account of his duplicitous career is embargoed until 2013, and speculation is markedly polarised as to how much it will reveal. Until then, Carter offers a scrupulously researched, finely balanced assessment of his Russian-doll persona and troubled reputation, while boldly establishing her own as a significant new writing talent.--David Vincent
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Used availability for M J Carter's Anthony Blunt
November 2001 : USA Hardback
November 2001 : UK Hardback
March 2003 : USA Paperback
October 2002 : UK Paperback