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M: Maxwell Knight, MI5's Greatest Spymaster (Paperback)
  • M: Maxwell Knight, MI5's Greatest Spymaster (Paperback)

M: Maxwell Knight, MI5's Greatest Spymaster (Paperback)

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Paperback 416 Pages / Published: 01/02/2018
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Waterstones Says

Our Non-Fiction Book of the Month for February. Truth proves far stranger than fiction as Henry Hemming unveils the complex and brilliant man who was the template for Ian Fleming’s ‘M’.

Waterstones Non-Fiction Book of the Month for February 2018

From the author who uncovered the story of the genius defector Geoffrey Pyke in Churchill’s Iceman comes a true tale of espionage to rival any Le Carré thriller. M is the extraordinary history of Britain’s greatest spymaster and the double lives of the men and women under his agency; the secret keepers of the British establishment.  

To his friends, he is Max. To most of his colleagues in MI5, Britain’s counterespionage agency, and to his sprawling family of undercover agents, he is better known as ‘M’. 

Maxwell Knight was a paradox. He was known to his agents and colleagues simply as ‘M’, and was rumoured to be part of the inspiration for the character ‘M’ in the James Bond series.

A jazz obsessive and nature enthusiast (he is the author of the definitive work on how to look after a gorilla), he is seen today as one of MI5's greatest spymasters. He was the first in MI5 to grasp the potential of training female agents and a man who did more than any other to break up British fascism during the Second World War - in spite of having once belonged to the British Fascisti himself.

Knight became a legendary spymaster despite an almost total lack of qualifications. What set him apart from his peers was a mercurial ability to transform almost anyone into a fearless secret agent.

‘M’ is about more than just one man however. In its pages, Hemming reveals for the first time in print the names and stories of seven men and women recruited by Knight, on behalf of MI5, and then asked to infiltrate the most dangerous political organizations in Britain at that time. Until now, their identities have been kept secret outside MI5. Drawn from every walk of life, they led double lives-often at great personal cost-in order to protect the country they loved. With the publication of this book, it will be possible at last to celebrate the lives of these courageous, selfless individuals.

Drawing on declassified documents, private family archives and interviews with retired MI5 officers as well as the families of MI5 agents, M reveals not just the shadowy world of espionage but a brilliant, enigmatic man at its centre.

A page-turning spy story, Matt Charman, Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Stephen Spielberg's Bridge of Spies, and Mammoth Screen, producers of Poldark and Victoria, are producing a big budget television series based on the book.

British author Henry Hemming is a popular journalist and writer of non-fiction. His most recent work has focused on the history of the British secret services in the twentieth century. His books include M, Churchill’s Iceman and In Search of the English Eccentric.

Publisher: Cornerstone
ISBN: 9781784752040
Number of pages: 416
Weight: 311 g
Dimensions: 198 x 129 x 27 mm


'...a fluently written and highly entertaining biography.' - The Sunday Times

'Fascinating biography ... Hemming has done a superb job" - Ben Macintyre, The Times

'Excellent biography... The author has done a terrific job of unscrambling Knight's muddled life' - The Sunday Times

'Jaw-droppingly revelatory biography.' - Mail on Sunday

'Compelling new biography... Hemming has done a wonderful espionage job of his own, scouring obscure files to bring long-hidden agents and their exploits to light. It is also a gripping portrait of an era, now long gone, when the establishment could accommodate such extravagant oddness.' - Daily Telegraph 

'Henry Hemming has found a peach of a subject... Full of new material, fresh interpretations and uncompromising integrity... He has managed the great feat of producing a rattling good read that is also a major piece of revisionist history' - Wall Street Journal 

'Hemming has written a very readable, thoughtful and comprehensive account' - Alan Judd, Literary Review 

'I raced through Henry Hemming's book, constantly having to remind myself that it wasn't a work of fiction. It really has everything you'd want from a great espionage story: incredible agents risking their lives; the highest possible stakes, with the safety of the world hanging in the balance; and at its heart a complicated, mercurial spy master in Maxwell Knight spinning an ever more intricate web.' - Matt Charman, Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Bridge of Spies

'Engaging and suspenseful' - Financial Times 

'Lively contribution to a maverick literature' - The Observer

'Crammed with cracking stories and founded on sound research, Henry Hemming's biography of Maxwell Knight - `M' - stands comparison with the bestselling books of Ben Macintyre.' - Adam Sisman 

'Absolute proof that assiduous digging in the archives can produce scoops. This is intelligence research at its best, especially in the identification of hitherto anonymous agents. Definitely a great contribution to the literature.' - Nigel West 

'A fascinating portrait of a complex man. Espionage writing at its best.' - Charles Cumming, author of A Divided Spy

'A cracking read, which both informs and entertains in equal measure.' - Robin Handbury-Tenison, Country Life

'Henry Hemming's excellent new life of Maxwell Knight [...] the most convincing, balanced and intricate biography of this extraordinary figure.' - Alex Bughart, The Spectator

'A terrific life of the brilliant and eccentric spymaster' - The Sunday Times

'A jaw-droppingly revelatory biography' - Mail on Sunday 

'This is a terrific book, well researched and superbly written' - The Guardian

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This book tells the story of Maxwell Knight, animal lover, jazz enthusiast, and one of MI5's greatest spymasters. The primary focus is on Fascism and Communism prior to, and at the start of, World War Two, and a... More

Richard Watson

“A Surprising Spy”

Maxwell Knight may have been the inspiration for M in James Bond. His career as a spy handler before and during the Second World War provides a revealing angle on fascism, communism and the response of the... More

Paperback edition
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