Thanks to Malcolm Gladwell for reminding me to read Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre. The book is a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction account of a British espionage caper in the second world war. It sounds excellent. It has been on my reading list since I saw Euan Ferguson’s review earlier this year. By the way, notice how Ferguson does actually review the book, whereas Gladwell mostly expropriates it to serve his larger purpose. (Namely, to demonstrate that spies cannot always be trusted. Quite an insight. Not that Macintyre will object, and, as I say, I am grateful for the reminder.) Agent Zigzag was also wonderful. Read that too if you haven’t already.
US readers may be unaware that Macintyre writes a column for the London Times. His latest report from the UK election trail is fun.
If you look carefully, you can see me in the background at the precise instant Gordon Brown probably lost the election. I am in the knot of journalists who have just witnessed a vigorous exchange of views between Gillian Duffy and the Prime Minister. Mr Brown has climbed back into his car. At that moment, although we cannot yet hear him, Mr Brown is snarling: “That was a disaster . . . she’s just a sort of bigoted woman.”
I, on the other hand, am turning to a colleague and saying: “That was great, the first time he has had a proper conversation with a real voter. I think that will go down as one of Brown’s best performances . . .”
The strange, fizzing, slightly acrid alchemy of a huge breaking story is almost indescribable. We are sitting on the bus, heading back to Manchester from Rochdale, when one of the press pack receives a text saying something important has been picked up on Mr Brown’s radio microphone. Moments later, the full transcript comes through. “That’s it,” someone says. “He’s toast.” The faces of the press handlers are suddenly ashen. The spinning wheels have stopped. I find myself feeling intensely sorry, not for him, but for them. For once, there is nothing they can say.
In this interview with the admirable Five Books, Macintyre recommended his own favourite spy books.