Enter your search into one or more of the boxes below:
You can refine your search by selecting from any of the options below:
Your Shopping Basket
A Year of Books
Account Services


Find Blog:

November 2018

Read an extract from Peter Frankopan's The New Silk Roads
15th November 2018

Read an extract from Peter Frankopan's The New Silk Roads

The New Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan

Peter Frankopan's The New Silk Roads is the highly-anticipated follow-up to his seminal history, The Silk Roads, bringing the story of global interconnectedness into the present and looking at where it might lead in the future. The New Silk Roads moves eastwards from Europe to, ultimately, China, taking in Russia and the Middle East along the way. Contemporary political realities in the west, such as Brexit in the UK and President Trump in the USA, lean towards ideas of isolation and separation. Frankopan shows how different this is further east along the Silk Roads, where relationships have been tied closer. The New Silk Roads explores the changing centres of power and the worldwide implications of these changes. We’ve an extract from the chapter ‘The Roads to the East’ below.

For a limited time we also have signed copies of The New Silk Roads.


The Roads to the East


Twenty-five years ago, when I was about to leave university, the world seemed a different place. The Cold War was over, leading to hopes for peace and prosperity. ‘The heroic deeds of Boris Yeltsin and the Russian people’ had steered Russia onto a course of reform and democracy, said President Bill Clinton at a meeting with the Russian president in Vancouver in 1993. The prospect of a ‘newly productive and prosperous Russia’ was good for everyone, he noted.  


Hopeful times lay ahead too in South Africa, where fraught negotiations to end apartheid had advanced sufficiently for the Nobel committee to award the Peace Prize for 1993 to F. W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela for their ‘their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa’. The award of the prestigious prize was a moment of hope for South Africa, for Africa and for the world  – even if it later emerged that many of Mandela’s closest confidants urged him not to accept the prize if it meant having to share it with a man they referred to as ‘his oppressor’. Mandela insisted, however, that forgiveness was a vital part of reconciliation.


Things looked promising in the Korean peninsula, where, in an echo of the discussions that took place in 2018, an outline agreement was reached between the US and North Korea to great fanfare about the peaceful reunification of Korea and about a pathway for denuclearisation that was welcomed as a significant step forward for non-proliferation and also for a safer region and for a safer world.


In 1993, an important agreement was also reached between China and India that established the framework for dealing with disputed border issues that had been a source of rivalry and bitterness for three decades – while both sides also agreed to reduce troop levels along the frontier and work together towards a conclusion that was mutually acceptable. This was important for both countries at a time when economic expansion and liberalisation was at the forefront for their respective political leaders. In China, Deng Xiaoping had recently undertaken a tour of the southern provinces to press for faster reforms, and to deal with hardliners who opposed the liberalisation of markets that had seen the stock exchange open in communist China in Shanghai in 1990.


In India, as elsewhere, there was a push for growth in the early 1990s – although few expected much from a small software company that struggled to list its stock in Mumbai in February 1993. Despite its size and potential, India was an economic minnow and the technology sector was tiny and untested. Those who were brave and bought shares in Infosys Technologies did well if they held on to their stock. The company reported an operating profit for the year ended 31 March 2018 of over $2.6bn – on turnover of more than $10bn. Shares were worth 4,000 times more than they had been twenty-five years earlier. The foundation of a new airline in a small Gulf State seemed like a long shot, too. Founded in November 1993, Qatar Airways began operating two months later in what many assumed would be a modest operation that handled a few local routes, for which demand would be minimal. Today, the airline has a fleet of over 200 aircraft, more than 40,000 staff and flies to over 150 destinations – winning armfuls of accolades that few would have thought possible two and a half decades ago. It is also the largest shareholder in International Airlines Group (the owner of British Airways, Iberia and Aer Lingus) – as well as holding a 10 per cent stake in Cathay Pacific. In April 2018, it agreed to buy 25 per cent of the shares of Moscow’s Vnukovo international airport – the third largest in Russia.


Good news did not abound everywhere in 1993, as a truck bomb at the World Trade Center in New York and a coordinated series of bombings in Mumbai that killed more than 250 people showed. Sarajevo, a city already famous for the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and the road to war in 1914, was submitted to a siege by Bosnian Serb forces that lasted longer than the Battle of Stalingrad during the Second World War. Scenes of snipers shooting at civilians as they crossed the streets became commonplace, as did terrible images of the devastation caused by mortars being fired into the city from the neighbouring hills. The reappearance of concentration camps in Europe, and of genocide at Srebrenica and Gorazde in the mid-1990s provided a brutal reminder that even the most horrifying lessons from the past can be easily forgotten.


Some of the troubles of the early 1990s were more familiar. In Britain, for example, political discourse was shaped by poisonous debates about membership of the European Union and calls for a referendum. These almost brought down the government, and led to the prime minister, John Major, referring to members of his own cabinet as ‘bastards’.


These events are all in the recent past. And yet they now feel distant and seem to evoke a different age. I listened to an album called Pablo Honey by a promising new band called Radiohead as I prepared for my final exams in the summer of 1993. Little did I know that the most prophetic song of the year was not ‘Creep’ – which has gone on to have been streamed more than a quarter of a billion times on Spotify – but one that won at the Oscars that year. ‘A whole new world,’ Aladdin promised Jasmine, ‘a new fantastic point of view.’ Indeed, she agreed. ‘A whole new world, a dazzling place I never knew’ A song based on a story from and set along the past of the Silk Roads foretold its future.


Peter Frankopan author photograph

Peter Frankopan is Professor of Global History at Oxford University where he is also Senior Research Fellow at Worcester College. The Silk Roads: A New History of the World was published by Bloomsbury in 2015.





Read an extract from Emily Wilson's new translation of The Odyssey
6th November 2018

Read an extract from Emily Wilson's new translation of The Odyssey

The Odyssey translated by Emily Wilson

The Odyssey’s appeal is perennial; the Ancient adventure story has lost none of its power and pull over the years. Emily Wilson’s stunning new translation is the first by a woman of this poem about the aftermath of war, journeying and travellers, family and home. Odysseus and the cast of characters he encounters in his efforts to return home after the Trojan War are vividly drawn and his journey is told with verve and rhythm. Read an extract from this epic, now available in paperback, below.


Book 11

The Dead


“We reached the sea and first of all we launched
the ship into the sparkling salty water,
set up the mast and sails, and brought the sheep
on board with us. We were still grieving, weeping,
in floods of tears. But beautiful, dread Circe,
the goddess who can speak in human tongues,
sent us a wind to fill our sails, fair wind
befriending us behind the dark blue prow.
We made our tackle shipshape, then sat down.
The wind and pilot guided straight our course.
The sun set. It was dark in all directions.


We reached the limits of deep-flowing Ocean,
where the Cimmerians live and have their city.
Their land is covered up in mist and cloud;
the shining Sun God never looks on them
with his bright beams—not when he rises up
into the starry sky, nor when he turns
back from the heavens to earth. Destructive night
blankets the world for all poor mortals there.
We beached our ship, drove out the sheep, and went 
to seek the stream of Ocean where the goddess
had told us we must go. Eurylochus
and Perimedes made the sacrifice.
I drew my sword and dug a hole, a fathom
widthways and lengthways, and I poured libations
for all the dead: first honey-mix, sweet wine,
and lastly, water. On the top, I sprinkled
barley, and made a solemn vow that if
I reached my homeland, I would sacrifice
my best young heifer, still uncalved, and pile 
the altar high with offerings for the dead.
I promised for Tiresias as well
a pure black sheep, the best in all my flock.
So with these vows, I called upon the dead.
I took the sheep and slit their throats above
the pit. Black blood flowed out. The spirits came
up out of Erebus and gathered round.
Teenagers, girls and boys, the old who suffered
for many years, and fresh young brides whom labor
destroyed in youth; and many men cut down
in battle by bronze spears, still dressed in armor
stained with their blood. From every side they crowded
around the pit, with eerie cries. Pale fear
took hold of me. I roused my men and told them
to flay the sheep that I had killed, and burn them,
and pray to Hades and Persephone.
I drew my sword and sat on guard, preventing
the spirits of the dead from coming near
the blood, till I had met Tiresias.


First came the spirit of my man Elpenor,  
who had not yet been buried in the earth.
We left his body in the house of Circe
without a funeral or burial;
we were too occupied with other things.
On sight of him, I wept in pity, saying,


‘Elpenor, how did you come here, in darkness?
You came on foot more quickly than I sailed.’


He groaned in answer, ‘Lord Odysseus,
you master every circumstance. But I
had bad luck from some god, and too much wine  
befuddled me. In Circe’s house I lay
upstairs, and I forgot to use the ladder
to climb down from the roof. I fell headfirst;
my neck was broken from my spine. My spirit
came down to Hades. By the men you left,
the absent ones! And by your wife! And father,
who brought you up from babyhood! And by
your son, Telemachus, whom you abandoned
alone at home, I beg you! When you sail
from Hades and you dock your ship again
at Aeaea, please my lord, remember me.
Do not go on and leave me there unburied,
abandoned, without tears or lamentation—
or you will make the gods enraged at you.
Burn me with all my arms, and heap a mound
beside the gray salt sea, so in the future
people will know of me and my misfortune.
And fix into the tomb the oar I used
to row with my companions while I lived.’


‘Poor man!’ I answered, ‘I will do all this.’ 


We sat there talking sadly—I on one side
held firm my sword in blood, while on the other
the ghost of my crew member made his speech."


Emily Wilson author photograph, credit Ralph Rosen

Emily Wilson is a classicist and Professor of Classics at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the first woman to publish a translation of Homer's Odyssey into English.

Author photograph © Ralph Rosen




Will Ashon Tells Us About The Wu-Tang
5th November 2018

Will Ashon Tells Us About The Wu-Tang

Chamber Music by Will Ashon

A book about one of the most important albums of all time, in 36 interlinked 'chambers', Chamber Music tells the story of the seminal Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and how it changed the world. Chamber Music is scholarly, provocative, funny, satirical and fundamentally compelling reading. Ranging from the FBI's war on drugs to the history of jazz to the future of politics, it’s as explosive and complex as the album itself.

Will Ashon has selected five of his related essential reads for us, which you can read below, and we have an exclusive extract from Chamber Music.


Will's Picks


The Souls of Black Folks: Essays and Sketches by W.E.B. Du Bois

Any book which still holds its meaning and significance 115 years after it was written has to be counted a masterpiece. What a shame that such a masterpiece is still necessary. A hybrid work of huge rigour and real emotion.


Can't Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation by Jeff Chang

The first real attempt at a social history of the complete story of hip hop, it’s full of interesting details and real passion for the music and culture. Essential.


The Souls of Black Folk by WEB Du BoisCan't Stop Won't Stop by Jeff ChangThe Tao of Wu by The RZAThe New Jim Crow by Michelle AlexanderMumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed


The Tao of Wu by The RZA

Of the two Wu-related books the RZA has released this is the best. Very concerned with matters of spirituality, it’s as surprising, insightful and intelligent as you’d expect from the man who came up with the Wu-Tang Clan’s initial five year plan.


The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

One of the key texts for understanding the post-Civil Rights backlash in America which coincided with the early lives of the members of the Wu-Tang. A brilliant, detailed example of scholarship and controlled outrage.


Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed

I’d recommend anything and everything by Ishmael Reed, but this novel, set in the 1920s and concerned with the Jes Grew dance ‘plague,' is one of my favourites. The book makes a slightly tangential appearance in “Chamber Music” and is as funny, wild, spiritual, outrageous, serious and formally bold as the music and culture it describes.




It takes twenty-fuve minutes to ride one of the Staten Island ferries from St George terminal across the Upper New York Bay to Whitehall terminal in Manhattan. The boats go every half hour, day and night, every fifteen minutes during rush hour. Back when Enter came out, a round-trip ticket would set you back 50 cents but today it’s free.[i] Sitting on one of these boats—down on the lower decks where the locals gather, leaving the views to camera-happy tourists—everything suddenly becomes clear. You’re making passage across an ocean.


You can smell it as soon as you get anywhere near to the water. Upper New York Bay is the place where the icy fingers of the Atlantic, funnelling down through
t he East River and up through the Narrows, meet each other and the Hudson in a churning, roiling mass of cross currents. Salt—you feel it in your nostrils and you know, somehow, that it means a significant journey, an epic. You don’t cross any stretch of water by boat without the journey carrying extra consequence, but the sea is water as deity, not merely a minor break or interruption in landmass, but a thing unto itself, a whole different category. The sea is powerful and capricious, changing shape, shifting, liaising with the moon. It makes the sky larger as well, scale altered by its flatness, so that mere humans are spots, insects trapped on the meniscus between one and the other. Or, as Inspectah Deck puts it, melding together references to both ‘America the Beautiful’ and Robert Crawford’s U.S. Air Force song and hence removing any landfall from the equation, ‘Across the clear blue yonder / Sea to shining sea!’


Even before the horrors of the Middle Passage,
 Africans of many nations and peoples had an intimate relationship with water, physical and spiritual. Those dragged into slavery from inland regions may have been culturally, religiously and linguistically diverse but they were united most strongly by their engagement with the Niger-Senegal-Gambia river complex. ‘For the Bambara in Senegambia,’ W. Jeffrey Bolster points out in Black Jacks, ‘an androgynous water spirit called Faro maintained an individual’s soul or vital life force after death... Ibo peoples from near the Bight of Benin had similar associations with the transmigration of souls 
in water... For historic Kongo peoples a watery barrier called the Kalunga line divided the living from the spirit world... To Africans water was clearly a potentmetaphor for life beyond this world.’ This tradition 
is both continued and transmogrified in the ‘marine maroon colony’ of Drexciya, the utopia imagined by
the Detroit techno duo of James Stinson and Gerald Donald, where slaves thrown overboard during the Middle Passage learn to breathe water and build a 
new civilisation beneath the waves. It can be seen, 
too, in the notion that death will somehow ‘undo the transformative Middle Passage’, so that the singer Bessie Jones could state that ‘the sea brought us, the sea shall take us back’. More prosaically, for many, many years, jobs at sea offered African Americans both (relative) freedom and the ability to make a living. Black seamen were common in whaling crews, as evidenced by Moby Dick. When the pirate Blackbeard (Edward Teach) was finally killed in 1718, five of his eighteen-man crew 
were people of colour. And while Northern, abolitionist army regiments were still segregated during the Civil War, it has been estimated that 20–25% of sailors in 
the integrated navy were Black.


African water traditions collided and melded with European ones, both in terms of seamanship and in
 the way those sailors conceptualised the ocean. To the beliefs they brought from their homelands were added stories of Moses parting the waters, of Noah and his ark, of Jonah in the belly of a whale. The ancient Greeks provided Poseidon and Proteus the shapeshifter and the story of Odysseus, his boat tossed hither and thither on his return from the sacking of Troy, washed up on this island or that, challenged on each one, scrabbling for survival. RZA mentions having read a version of this book as a child, but it’s the stories of the Hong Kong film industry (another city separated by a huge bay, crossed by ferry, another place where cormorants bob and duck between boats) which he chose to repurpose.


All the same, think of those isles. The ferry picks its way past Liberty Island, where a siren welcomes travellers towards her with a promise which Ellis Island shows she can’t necessarily keep. The irony of this icon of immigration can’t be lost on people whose ancestors were shipped here in chains—and perhaps Method Man and U-God pondered this as they worked at Liberty’s feet. To the other side is Governor’s Island, traditionally a symbol of state power, from the British onwards, now transformed into a fairground, much like American politics. Further away up the East River, out of sight, lies Rikers Island, a cyclops-cave prison, where members
of the Wu-Tang (Ghostface Killah leaps to mind) have spent time against their wishes. And full steam ahead lies Manhattan—Mammon!—the site not just of high finance but of some of the most expensive land in the world, humans pushed upward in a dizzying profusion of towers, helicopters flying in low overhead like a corporate re-enactment of Apocalypse Now. There are pleasure boats out here, jet skis coming down the East River in a line, the sailboats of the wealthy, but what lies behind you is work. A barge carries three huge trucks. Ranks of cranes lie ready to disgorge goods from vast container ships, their arms mimicking the angle of the raised limb of Liberty. Two great grey hulks moored up in New Jersey look like warships, though they’re just unliveried, the colour of undercoat. A landscape of lunar silos huddles near to Bayonne. The Verazzano Bridge,
 at your back, makes the Williamsburg and Brooklyn bridges look like toys.


Staten Island lies outside. Its status as part of New York is contingent, unlikely—and certainly other New Yorkers seem to have very little time or interest in the fifth borough, the only one among them to vote Republican, the land itself hunched tight up against New Jersey as 
if for protection beneath a bigger brother’s muscled arm. If the feeling isn’t exactly mutual, there’s some kind of wounded pride involved in coming from the outskirts, from feeling excluded. ‘It’s an area that’s not noticed,’ says the photographer Christine Osinski, who has lived on the North Shore since the early 1980s. ‘ The people are not noticed. It had an edge to it. It’s not happy. It’s a tough edge. The people and the houses and the landscape—I think that’s where the edge comes from.’


Once you see Ellis Island you understand New York as a border, a kind of Kalunga line. Staten Island comes before the border. Any journey into Manhattan involves crossing that line—literal, social, metaphorical—and 
in doing so, it becomes an invasion, at the very least an incursion. You’ve travelled past the gate, avoided the sentinel, you’ve dragged your boats up on shore, ready to wreak havoc in the counting houses of this, the new Rome. Stuck on a small piece of rock which can never provide everything its population needs, comfortable with water, inured to the devastation it can wreak, island people are marauders. So watch them maraud.



[i] A week before the album was released, Rudy Giuliani won the New York City mayoral elections, relying on Staten Island votes. Part of the price the rest of the city paid for these votes was the removal of ferry fares.


Will Ashon Author Photo, credit Arthur Lol

Will Ashon is the author of Strange Labyrinth: Outlaws, Poets, Mystics, Murderers and a Coward in London's Great Forest (Granta 2017) and two novels. He previously ran BIG DADA records where his artists included Roots Manuva, MF DOOM, Kate Tempest and Diplo.



Read an extract from Horatio Clare's The Light in the Dark
2nd November 2018

Read an extract from Horatio Clare's The Light in the Dark

The Light in the Dark by Horatio Clare

Horatio Clare's new book, The Light in the Dark, is a personal journey through the winter months that will resonate with everyone for whom the season can feel unrelentingly bleak. Winter can be the toughest season for many people and Clare writes with honesty and eloquence about his own struggles with depression. The Light in the Dark shows how being in and working with the rhythms of nature can help find the magic of the season and the reassurance that spring will return.

Below, we have an extract from this thoughtful and moving book.




In high pressure the air itself seems to recede, as though the cold fires of the stars and the moon draw further away, leaving a vast, deep bowl of freezing, exhilarating, space. The early mornings with their slow dawns are beautiful. There was a brush of frost, then two days later a white freezing. At daybreak the meadow below the lane was frosted, leaving a handsome dark border, unfrozen, running under the trees where the field reaches the beck. I was beginning a long journey and the taxi driver was delighted by the cold: ‘It’s minus two!’ he said, in the way we might exclaim, ‘Twenty-eight degrees!’ in summer.


‘Look! Winter!’ he said, pointing at our neighbours scraping their whitened car windows.


As the train crossed the viaduct above the roofs of Todmorden the whole town was steaming, the vapour from boilers and showers curling in perfect focus into the frigid air. There was much goose  business abroad, gaggles gathering on the Rochdale Canal, and small skeins of the birds, Canada geese, flying over Smithy Bridge. I wondered if the cold was bringing flocks from further north down to join the locals, or if the first snap energises them the way it does us.


Further along the canal, heading for Manchester, with the light widening and tautening as it does just before the sun makes his entrance, three horses picked up their feet as they trotted along the towpath by a lock. Everything about them was alive, their movements skittish, palpable energy in their quick steps, as if the ground was tingling under their hooves. In Manchester’s Victoria Station a slightly haggard Santa selling The Big Issue did not look incongruous in the cold. He gave his ‘Ho- ho-ho!’ to commuters with genuine amusement. When the sun did come, it threw a blinding gold glare across the plain between Manchester and Liverpool. Small ponds and plashings were frozen coins.


There have been ominous sunsets like spilled fire under brooding cloud, and in daylight the bare trees reveal the country and its creatures in a clarity the other seasons deny. Cold winters do away with claustrophobia, and they are a gift to birdwatchers. We watched a great spotted woodpecker at work on a branch which frosty moss had made emerald. He looked immaculate in black and white, red cap feathers and his scarlet undertail coverts like ashy boxer shorts. In Welsh lore the dragons still thrive – they have merely taken the form of green woodpeckers. The whole woodpecker family have something dragonish about them. They may not have arrow-head tails, but they do have extremely long tongues, for scooping bugs out of holes in tree trunks.


It does not do to romanticise drizzle, rain on motorways, months of strip-lighting, office windows black at four o’clock, concrete skies, sock-damp, rain-prickle, mould-steam, deadbeaten fields, sodden livestock and the chilly tug like foot-sucking mud that winter can exert upon the spirit. But the cold does offer great compensations, like the subtle colours, the days as bright as a magpie’s cackle, and those stretched tones that bruise the blue of a cold sky in its fading.


Horatio Clare Author photograph

Horatio Clare lives in West Yorkshire. He is a critically acclaimed author and journalist. His first book, Running for the Hills: A Family Story, won the Somerset Maugham Award. His second book, Truant, is ‘a stunningly-written memoir’, according to the Irish Times. A Single Swallow: Following an Epic Journey from South Africa to South Wales, was shortlisted for the Dolman Travel Book of the Year; Down to the Sea in Ships: Of Ageless Oceans and Modern Men won the Stanford-Dolman Travel Book of the Year 2015. Horatio’s first book for children, Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot, won the Branford Boase Award 2016 for best debut children's book.


Photo © James Bedford



Stephen Fry on the Heroes of Ancient Greece
30th October 2018

Stephen Fry on the Heroes of Ancient Greece

Heroes by Stephen Fry

Stephen Fry is back with more tales from Ancient Greece in his new book, HeroesHeroes is the exhilarating companion to Mythos, this time around focusing on the stories of the heroic mortals of Ancient Greece. Retold with Fry’s customary wit and verve, Heroes relates the battles, riddles, monsters and labours faced by the likes of Theseus, Jason and Oedipus. Our exclusive extract below introduces Heracles and the source of his epic struggle.


We have a limited amount of signed copies of Heroes - order yours while stock lasts!


Crime and Punishment


Heracles’s life in Thebes was almost modern in its rhythms. Each day he would kiss goodbye to his wife Megara and children and go off to work, killing monsters and toppling tyrants. Today’s commuter finds less drastic ways to defeat competitors and bestial colleagues perhaps – the dragons we slay may be more metaphorical than real – but the manner and routine is not so very different.


One fateful evening Heracles returned to the family villa to be met by two small but fierce and burning-eyed demons in the doorway. He charged them at once, grappled them to the ground, broke their backs and stamped on their screeching heads until they lay crushed and dead at his feet. Suddenly, a great dragon came screaming out of the house towards him, fire streaming from its mouth and nostrils. He rushed at it, closed his hands around its scaly neck and squeezed with all his strength. Only as the life went of the monster and it slipped dead to the floor did Hera lift the mist of delusion she had visited on him. Looking down, he now saw with appalling clarity that the dragon he had killed was his wife Megara and the two demons were his beloved children.


It was one of Hera’s cruelest interventions, and evidence of the unfathomable depth of her hatred. She had been growing ever more frustrated at the sight of her loathed enemy living so happy and fulfilled a life. She chose to strip Heracles down to a state of absolute nothingness, to take in one swift and irreversible moment everything that mattered to him. Not just those he loved most, but his reputation too. When news broke of what he had done, no one would speak to, or come near to, him. He was polluted. From hero to zero is a tired phrase today, but nobody before had so swiftly gone from universal love and admiration to loathing and contempt.


Heracles’s grief was overpowering. He wanted to die. But he knew that he must punish himself by undergoing an unrelenting penance. Only then would he feel fit to meet the souls of Megara and his children in the underworld. Without purification from a king, oracle, priest or priestess, those responsible for blood crimes had to attempt to cleanse themselves by a life of exile and atonement. If they failed to expiate their crimes, the Erinyes, the wild Furies, would rise up from Erebus and chase them down, ailing them with iron whips until they went mad.


Heracles exiled himself from Thebes, and went on his knees* to Delphi to seek guidance.


‘To atone for his abominable crimes Heracles must take himself to Tiryns and supplicate himself before the throne,’ the Pythia chanted.


Heracles could not know this, but the priestess had been entranced by Hera and the words were hers.


‘For ten years he must serve without question,’ the priestess continued. ‘Whatever he is told to do, Heracles must do. Whatever tasks he is set to perform, these must Heracles willingly undertake. Only then can he be free.’


Hera’s spirit left the priestess and the voices of Apollo and Athena now enthused† her.


‘Do all that you are asked without stint, without com- plaint, and immortality will be yours. Your father has promised it.’


Heracles did not want immortality, but he knew he must obey in any case. He turned his feet towards the road leading to Tiryns, capital of Mycenae. Its king was the now fully- grown Eurystheus, Heracles’s cousin, the one whose premature birth had been induced by Hera all those years ago to ruin Zeus’s plan to secure the throne for Heracles.


Eurystheus had none of Heracles’ heroic attributes, none of his strength, spirit, generosity or air of command. He had grown up all too aware of the reputation of his stronger, finer and more popular cousin, and he had long smouldered with hatred, envy and resentment.


What self-control it took for Heracles to kneel in front of Eurystheus’s throne and beg for expiation we can only guess.


‘The filth of your unnatural crimes has revolted all people of feeling,’ said the king, savouring every moment. ‘You will not be worthy to live in the world of men until you have paid the full price. Ten tasks you will perform for me over ten years without assistance or payment. When you have completed the last of them I may be disposed to forgive you, embrace you as my cousin and allow you your freedom. Until then you are bound to me as my slave. The Queen of Heaven herself has ordained it. Is this understood?’


Hera had instructed her instrument well.


Heracles bowed his head.


* A practice of self-mortification that still goes on. I have seen with my own eyes penitents arriving on their knees at the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico. Some of them have kneel-walked hundreds of miles to get there. Far from being Herculean, they are usually ancient and diminutive old ladies.

Enthusiasm meant, originally, possession by a god. The verb ‘enthuse’ was a later American English back-formation.


Stephen Fry author photo

Stephen Fry is an award-winning comedian, actor, presenter and director. He rose to fame alongside Hugh Laurie in A Bit of Fry and Laurie (which he co- wrote with Laurie) and Jeeves and Wooster, and was unforgettable as General Melchett in Blackadder. He has hosted over 180 episodes of QI, and has narrated all seven of the Harry Potter novels for the audiobook recordings. 




Read an extract from Ben MacIntyre's thrilling real-life espionage tale, The Spy and the Traitor
26th October 2018

Read an extract from Ben MacIntyre's thrilling real-life espionage tale, The Spy and the Traitor

The Spy and the Traitor by Ben MacIntyre

The Spy and the Traitor is a real-life Cold War spy thriller about KGB double agent, Colonel Oleg Antonyevich Gordievsky. Working undercover for MI6 he passed on information priceless to the West about Soviet Russia and was such a high-level asset even the Prime Minister didn’t know his true identity. In this compelling story, Ben MacIntyre combines impeccable research with first-hand accounts—including from Gordievsky himself—The Spy and the Traitor is a compelling tale of secrets, lies and audacious daring. Read on for an introduction into the dangerous world of Cold War espionage.


We have a limited amount of signed copies of The Spy and the Traitor, get yours while stock lasts!



18 May 1985


For the KGB’s counter-intelligence section, Directorate K, this was a routine bugging job.


It took less than a minute to spring the locks on the front door of the flat on the eighth floor of 103 Leninsky Prospekt, a Moscow tower block occupied by KGB officers and their families. While two men in gloves and overalls set about methodically searching the apartment, two technicians wired the place, swiftly and invisibly, implanting eavesdropping devices behind the wallpaper and skirting boards, inserting a live microphone into the telephone mouthpiece, and video cameras in the light fittings in the sitting room, bedroom and kitchen. By the time they had finished, an hour later, there was barely a corner in the flat where the KGB did not have eyes and ears. Finally, they put on face masks and sprinkled radioactive dust on the clothes and shoes in the closet, sufficiently low in concentration to avoid poisoning, but enough to enable the KGB’s Geiger counters to track the wearer’s movements. Then they left, and carefully locked the front door behind them.


A few hours later, a senior Russian intelligence officer landed at Moscow airport on the Aeroflot flight from London.


Colonel Oleg Antonyevich Gordievsky of the KGB was at the pinnacle of his career. A prodigy of the Soviet intelligence service, he had diligently risen through the ranks, serving in Scandinavia, Moscow and Britain with hardly a blemish on his record. And now, at the age of forty-six, he had been promoted to chief of the KGB station in London, a plum posting, and invited to return to Moscow to be formally anointed by the head of the KGB. A career spy, Gordievsky was tipped to ascend to the uppermost ranks of that vast and ruthless security and intelligence network that controlled the Soviet Union.


A stocky, athletic figure, Gordievsky strode confidently through the airport crowds. Inside him, though, a low terror bubbled. For Oleg Gordievsky, KGB veteran, faithful secret servant of the Soviet Union, was a British spy.


Recruited a dozen years earlier by MI6, Britain’s foreign-intelligence service, the agent codenamed NOCTON had proven to be one of the most valuable spies in history. The immense amount of information he fed back to his British handlers had changed the course of the Cold War, cracking open Soviet spy networks, helping to avert nuclear war and furnishing the West with a unique insight into the Kremlin’s thinking during a critically dangerous period in world affairs. Both Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher had been briefed on the extraordinary trove of secrets provided by the Russian spy, though neither the American President nor the British Prime Minister knew his real identity. Even Gordievsky’s young wife was entirely unaware of his double life.


Gordievsky’s appointment as KGB rezident (the Russian term for a KGB head of station, known as a rezidentura) had prompted rejoicing among the tiny circle of MI6 officers privy to the case. As the most senior Soviet intelligence operative in Britain, Gordievsky would henceforth have access to the innermost secrets of Russian espionage: he would be able to inform the West what the KGB was planning to do, before it did it; the KGB in Britain would be neutered. And yet the abrupt summons back to Moscow had unsettled the NOCTON team. Some sensed a trap. At a hastily convened meeting in a London safe house with his MI6 handlers, Gordievsky had been offered the option to defect and remain in Britain with his family. Everyone at the meeting understood the stakes: if he returned as official KGB rezident then MI6, the CIA and their Western allies would hit the intelligence jackpot, but if Gordievsky was walking into a trap he would lose everything, including his life. He had thought long and hard before making up his mind: ‘I will go back.’


Once again, the MI6 officers went over Gordievsky’s emergency escape plan, codenamed PIMLICO, and drawn up seven years earlier in the hope that it would never have to be activated. MI6 had never exfiltrated anyone from the USSR before, let alone a KGB officer. Elaborate and hazardous, the escape plan could be triggered only as a last resort.


Gordievsky had been trained to spot danger. As he walked through Moscow airport, his nerves ragged with internal stress, he saw signs of peril everywhere. The passport officer seemed to study his papers for an inordinate length of time, before waving him through. Where was the official who was supposed to be meeting him, a minimal courtesy for a KGB colonel arriving back from overseas? The airport was always stiff with surveillance, but today the nondescript men and women apparently standing around idly seemed even more numerous than normal. Gordievsky climbed into a taxi, telling himself that if the KGB knew the truth, he would have been arrested the moment he set foot on Russian soil, and already on his way to the KGB cells, to face interrogation and torture, followed by execution.


As far as he could tell, no one followed him as he entered the familiar apartment block on Leninsky Prospekt, and took the lift to the eighth floor. He had not been inside the family flat since January.


The first lock on the front door opened easily, and then the second. But the door would not budge. The third lock on the door, an old- fashioned deadbolt dating back to the building of the apartment block, had been locked.


But Gordievsky never used the third lock. Indeed, he had never had the key. That must mean that someone with a skeleton key had been inside, and on leaving had mistakenly triple-locked the door. That someone must be the KGB.


The fears of the previous week crystallized in a freezing rush, with the chilling, paralysing recognition that his apartment had been entered, searched and probably bugged. He was under suspicion. Someone had betrayed him. The KGB was watching him. The spy was being spied upon by his fellow spies.


Ben MacIntyre author photo, credit Justine Stoddart

Ben Macintyre is the multimillion-copy bestselling author of books including Agent Zigzag, Operation Mincemeat and A Spy Among Friends. He is a columnist and Associate Editor at The Times, and has worked as the newspaper's correspondent in New York, Paris and Washington. He regularly presents BBC series based on his acclaimed books.



© W&G Foyle Ltd
Foyles uses cookies to help ensure your experience on our site is the best possible. Click here if you’d like to find out more about the types of cookies we use.
Accept and Close