The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington Hardcover – 20 Oct 2008
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"Jennet Conant's new book is pure pleasure. Immensely intelligent and entertaining, with a narrative so strongly fashioned it reads, and compels, like the best fiction. All the complexities of friends spying on friends, yet as good a weekend companion as you'll find this year." -- Alan Furst, author of "The Spies of Warsaw"
About the Author
Jennet Conant's profiles have appeared in Vanity Fair, Esquire, GQ, Newsweek, and The New York Times. She was given unrestricted access to Loomis' and Conant's papers, as well as to previously unpublished letters and documents, and she interviewed Loomis' many family members, friends, and colleagues. The granddaughter and grand niece of two of the scientists from the Tuxedo Park community, she is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and Columbia University's School of Journalism. She lives in New York City and Sag Harbor with her husband, "60 Minutes" correspondent Steve Kroft, and their son.
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Top Customer Reviews
Ms. Conant writes about these young men and those they seduced (men into sharing secrets and women often into their boudoirs) in a way that seems like today's gossip, foibles and all. What makes those details interesting is that they often involve prominent Americans like President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, Vice President Henry Wallace, up-and-comer Lyndon Johnson, and influential reporters and columnists. You will probably be especially interested to learn about Charles Edward Marsh, newspaper magnate, trophy wife hunter, and sponsor for promising young men (including Dahl and Johnson).
The book's main weakness is that it seems puffed up a bit to include more gossipy tidbits than are necessary for the story, but which might titillate readers. On the other hand, Ms. Conant resists falling in love with her subjects and writes candidly about their weaknesses, pains, failings, and disappointments.
To me the most interesting parts of the book came where it became transparent that President Roosevelt was using the British spies to help achieve his goals while keeping his own counsel.Read more ›
The book, however, provides insight on behind-the-scenes politics of wartime Washington. I was particularly fascinated reading about those politicians whose names I remember hearing on the radio (or my parents discussing) but to which I never paid much attention as a child. It was especially interesting to read about Roosevelt at his Hyde Park estate in New York, and the early ascent of Lyndon Johnson. It was also interesting to read that the president then had as much opposition as the president now. Things do not seem to change much in politics.
In her introduction, the author notes that "spies are notoriously unreliable narrators." Perhaps this is why the substance of the book remains elusive and the title seems misleading. I think it would have been better titled: "Roald Dahl in Wartime Washington." Then some readers, who have criticized the book, would not have been expecting revelations of espionage that never materialize.
I would recommend this book, which is subtly footnoted (The quotes are cited by page number at the back of the book.) and has a respectable bibliography, to anyone who is interested in the Washington scene of the 1940s. Since I am a layman and not an American Historian, I cannot comment on the reliability of the narrative, but I can say that I found it quite compelling.
Conant does this by focusing on Washington, D.C. during the years when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was U.S. President, and Winston Churchill was British Prime Minister. She also noticeably focuses on celebrated British author Roald Dahl; not that he's not worthy of attention, of course, but it's not clear that he should be the centerpiece of this book. It may be that she simply had access to a cache of his previously unseen materials.
During the prewar period, the British, standing alone against the Nazi war machine, sorely needed American help, and so, with FDR's tacit permission, came up with a desperate scheme, putting in place a ring of British spies in America.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I loved this book. Very near the top of my best books read list! I don't know whether it was the subject matter, the man or what? Everything. Read morePublished 20 months ago by Lindsey Clare Gee-Turner
This was fascinating not only about Dahl but about WWII DC and US. Anyone who is intrigued by Roald Dahl and/or who is a history buff will love this.Published on 31 May 2013 by Brinna S.
This was a fascinating book, in that it managed somehow to be incredibly interesting and remarkably dull at the same time. Read morePublished on 5 April 2013 by C. Ball
I purchased this book expecting an exhilarating read about what spies employed by the British got up to during the Second World War in Washington DC. Read morePublished on 18 Nov. 2010 by T. Lewcock
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