How to Learn Through Reading Non-Fiction Books: A Spy Among Friends 

How to Apply Lessons From Reading to Your WorkLife Learning Needs 

A Spy Among Friends by Ben Macintyre read sitting on a park bench, accompanied by an M&S coffee and Victoria sponge
A Spy Among Friends by Ben Macintyre read sitting on a park bench, accompanied by an M&S coffee and Victoria sponge

I took A Spy Among Friends by Ben Macintyre to sit and read awhile over an M&S coffee and Victoria sponge on a park bench in Finsbury Circus park over the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Weekend.

The book tells the story of Kim Philby, who was the most notorious British defector and Soviet mole in history.

Philby’s two closest friends in the intelligence world, Nicholas Elliott of MI6 and James Jesus Angleton, the CIA intelligence chief, thought they knew Philby better than anyone and then discovered they had not known him at all.

Flora Solomon was a long-term friend of Philby. He proposed to her that she might become a Soviet agent. At the same time, his friend, Guy Burgess, was trying to recruit her into MI6. Had both moves succeeded, she would have become a double agent. Solomon was instrumental in exposing Philby as a Russian spy.

Solomon was the first woman hired to improve working conditions at Marks and Spencer. She worked as a store detective, uncovering bad practices. She pioneered the development of the staff welfare system, including subsidised medical services. This directly influenced the Labour concept of the welfare state and the creation of the British National Health Service in 1948.

As I sat reading my book while enjoying  M&S fare, I loved discovering Solomon’s story. I loved connecting the past to the present. I almost expected someone to sit next to me on the park bench and say, “The birds will be flying high tomorrow” Disappointedly, no one did.

I love discovering connections. Connections are what stories are all about. As a creator of WorkLife learning resources, writer of stories and author of the School of WorkLife Book Series, fine-tuning my ability to make connections is important in self-directing my WorkLife learning.

I also love learning the stories behind the story That’s because I find it interesting to understand what impacted people throughout their WorkLife – the situations they encountered and how their characteristics influenced the choices they made.

And I love learning the stories of the behind the scenes/support characters – people who come across as perhaps unassuming, who shun the spotlight and are much more at ease behind the scenes. I find their stories can be quite fascinating.

I recently watched the TV production of A Spy Among Friends. The dark tale of how Philby used friendship as a weapon played out intriguingly over martinis, cricket and, of course, a park bench (or two).

I was reminded of when I heard Ben Macintyre give a talk about the Spy Novels he’s written. He shared stories that demonstrated truth is stranger than fiction.

For the most part I like to read a book before I watch the TV, Film or Stage production. Although oftentimes I discover books through these mediums. And truth be told, whichever initial approach I take, when I follow through with the other approach it increases the learning I take from the story – in that I’m more observant in noticing more of the detail – the subtext of what’s going on within the characters and the situations. I get a greater sense of the real or true story from different perspectives. That’s enlightening and helps develop my power of self-awareness and observation. 

Soft skills that are both superpowers in my book. Both are so important in fine-tuning my ability to self-direct my WorkLife learning. They help me to be more sensitive to what’s going on in the moment in WorkLife situations – the subtext of what’s going on within people and situations. They also help me reflect more deeply after the event. I like to have a debrief with myself to mull things over. This helps me get a sense of what went well and what didn’t go well. 

I do this by simply reflecting on the following questions:

What went well that I want to keep and build upon to be even better?

What went OK but needs some tweaks to be even better?

What didn’t go well that I want to drop or change?

I journal on the answers that come to me by way of self-feedback.

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I love non-fiction that reads like fiction.

I also love fiction that reads like non-fiction.

So, I’m writing a series of Learn Through Non-Fiction and a series of Learn Through Fiction stories.

This is the first story in the Learn Through Non-Fiction series.

Tomorrow’s story will be the first in the Learn Through Fiction series.

My intention is to share one story in each series every weekend.

Saturday will be Learn Through Non-Fiction day.

Sunday will be Learn Through Fiction day.

Musings from me that I hope you will find helpful. 

Short reads that I hope you will enjoy in a relaxed way over a cup of tea or coffee, that will also stimulate ideas that will help you self-direct your WorkLife learning needs through the power of lessons taken from the wisdom of a good book.

Oh, and I love a Spy Thriller – it’s one of my favourite genres – I have a few.

I leave you with a few questions to reflect upon. I encourage you to journal on the answers that come to you.

Insightful self-questions and effective self-feedback will help you self-direct your WorkLife learning needs in the areas that are important to you.

3 questions to help you Learn Through Reading to then apply those lessons to your WorkLife learning needs:

What’s your favourite genre? 

Do you have experiences of reading something from the past that connected to the moment you were in?

How did it help you in your WorkLife learning?

Today’s featured book is A Spy Among Friends by Ben Macintyre

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School of WorkLife helps you self-direct your WorkLife learning through resources that have been created to help you to take ownership of your learning in your own space and in your own time. 

What is Self Directed Learning? 

Self-Directed Learning is when an individual is motivated to take the initiative and responsibility on decisions related to their own learning. It is a series of independent actions and judgements free from external control and constraint. 

Resources to Help You Self-Direct Your Learning 

You may find the books below from The School of WorkLife Book Series helpful in meeting your learning needs as a self directed learner. Tap the book title to see a preview of what’s inside each book.

How To Embrace The Superpower of Self-Awareness

How To Fine-Tune The Superpower of Observation

How To Self-Coach, Direct and Lead Effectively  

Tap The School of WorkLife Book Series to view the complete collection of books. From here, you can tap on each individual title to see a preview of what’s inside each book.

Carmel O’ Reilly is a learning practitioner and writer. She creates resources to help people self-direct their WorkLife learning
Carmel O’ Reilly is a learning practitioner and writer. She creates resources to help people self-direct their WorkLife learning

Founder of School of WorkLife, Carmel O’ Reilly is a learning practitioner and writer. She creates resources to help people self-direct their WorkLife learning.  These include a Collection of Books which originated from her first book, Your WorkLife Your Way and a  Learn Through Reading Series of Case Studies.  which originated from her latest book WorkLife Book Club. 

That’s the power of writing (and reading, which is an integral part of the craft for writers). It helps you find, develop and tell the right story at the right time in all WorkLife situations – in day-to-day communication: WorkLife and feedback conversations, presentations, talks, and negotiations, at interviews, and when socialising and networking in building and maintaining good relationships. The practice of writing helps you to tell the stories that express who you are in an interesting and engaging way.

Published by Carmel O' Reilly

Carmel O’ Reilly: WorkLife Learning Practitioner & Writer Author of WorkLife Book Club, Your WorkLife Your Way and The School of WorkLife book series. Created to help you manage your WorkLife Learning. Blogger & Podcaster: Telling people’s powerful stories about WorkLife challenges & successes Founder of www.schoolofworklife.com My guiding statement is to help people pursue their WorkLives with greater clarity, passion, purpose and pride by creating continuous WorkLife learning programmes that are accessible to everyone.