John le Carré

British novelist and spy

John le Carré is the pen-name of David John Moore Cornwell (born 19 October 1931), a British writer of spy novels, and a former spy himself.

Luck's just another word for destiny … either you make your own or you're screwed.


  • Every writer wants to be believed. But every writer knows he is spurious; every fiction writer would rather be credible than authentic.
    • As quoted in "Master of the Secret World: John le Carré on Deception, Storytelling and American Hubris" by Andrew Ross, in Salon (21 October 1996); also in Conversations with John le Carré (2004) edited by Matthew Joseph Bruccoli and Judith Baughman, p. 140
  • I use the furniture of espionage to amuse the reader, to make the reader listen to me, because most people like to read about intrigue and spies. I hope to provide a metaphor for the average reader's daily life. Most of us live in a slightly conspiratorial relationship with our employer and perhaps with our marriage. I think what gives my works whatever universality they have is that they use the metaphysical secret world to describe some realities of the overt world.
    • As quoted in "Master of the Secret World: John le Carré on Deception, Storytelling and American Hubris" by Andrew Ross, in Salon (21 October 1996); also in Conversations with John le Carré (2004) edited by Matthew Joseph Bruccoli and Judith Baughman, p. 141

The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (1963)Edit

  • "This is a war," Leamas replied. "It's graphic and unpleasant because it's fought on a tiny scale, at close range; fought with a wastage of innocent life sometimes, I admit. But it's nothing, nothing at all beside other wars – the last or the next."
  • "Who do you think spies are: priests, saints and martyrs? They’re a squalid procession of vain fools, traitors, too, yes; pansies, sadists and drunkards, people who play cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten lives. Do you think they sit like monks in London balancing the rights and wrongs? I’d have killed Mundt if I could, I hate his guts; but not now. It so happens they need him. They need him so that the great moronic mass that you admire can sleep soundly in their beds at night. They need him for the safety of ordinary, crummy people like you and me". (p.231)

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974)Edit

  • He worked for the fleshy side of the Foreign Office and his job consisted of lunching visiting dignitaries whom no one else would have entertained in his woodshed.

Smiley's People (1979)Edit

  • Blackmail is more effective than bribery.
  • So odd to think of the Devil as a fumbler!
  • The neglected are too easily killed.
  • Balls, the lot of it. It's death, that's what I'm suffering from. The systematic encroachment of the big D.
  • You see a lot — your eyes get very painful.
  • There's one thing worse than change and that's the status quo.

The Constant Gardener (2001)Edit

  • [She] reports that [the company] recently donated fifty million dollars to a major U.S. teaching hospital, plus salaries and expenses for three top clinicians and six research assistants. Corruption of university Common Room affiliations is even easier: professorial chairs, biotech labs, research foundations, etc. 'Unbought scientific opinion is increasingly hard to find.'

The Mission Song (2006)Edit

  • Savages...are by nature rash. They have no middle gear. The middle gear of any man is self-discipline.
  • Luck's just another word for destiny...either you make your own or you're screwed.
  • If you're in a hole, don't dig, they say.
  • When you assimilate, you choose.
  • Elections are a Western jerk-off.
  • Why is it that so many men of small stature have more courage than men of size?
  • Peace, gentlemen, it is well known, does not come of its own accord, and neither does freedom. Peace has enemies. Peace must be won by the sword.
  • The friends of my friends are my friends.
  • Never trade a secret, you'll always get the short end of the bargain.
  • We were both hybrids: I by birth, he by education. We had both taken too many steps away from the country that had borne us to belong anywhere with ease.
  • No problem exists in isolation, one must first reduce it to its basic components, then tackle each component in turn.
  • A good man knows when to sacrifice himself, a bad man survives but loses his soul.
  • Nothing in life... even a few broken bones, is without its reward.

Radio interview (November 2008)Edit

Interview with Ramona Koval. The Book Show, Australian Broadcasting Commission Radio National. (19 November 2008)
  • There are some Arabs who think that the Germans did the right thing by the Jews. This makes it easy to recruit Arab terrorist.
  • There is a big difference between fighting the cold war and fighting radical Islam. The rules have changed and we haven't.
  • We were not faced (in the cold war) in a conflict with people who are prepared to die for their cause. We weren't in conflict with people whose idea is to kill as many as they could.
  • In the war on terror we did everything wrong that we could have done.
  • You can't make war against terror. Terror is a technique of battle. It's a tactic that has been employed since time immemorial. You can conduct clandestine action against terrorists, and that must be done.
  • To operate an intelligence network against the Islamist terror is terribly difficult because they don't have a central command and control center such as we would understand. Therefore you cannot penetrate at the top and find out what will happen on the ground.
  • Because we are so unfamiliar with the motivation of the people we are dealing with, we are more afraid of them than we need to be.
  • On one hand we go like hell for every terror cell we can find, we penetrate it, we destroy it. On the other hand, there is a much bigger need for a political solution.

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