From one of the foremost historians of the period and the acclaimed author of Inferno and Catastrophe: 1914, The Secret War is a sweeping examination of one of the most important yet underexplored aspects of World War II—intelligence—showing how espionage successes and failures by the United States, Britain, Russia, Germany, and Japan influenced the course of the war and its final outcome.
Spies, codes, and guerrillas played unprecedentedly critical roles in the Second World War, exploited by every nation in the struggle to gain secret knowledge of its foes, and to sow havoc behind the fronts. In The Secret War, Max Hastings presents a worldwide cast of characters and some extraordinary sagas of intelligence and resistance, to create a new perspective on the greatest conflict in history
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“The Secret War” is Max Hastings’ deeply researched history of the Allied and Axis intelligence competition during World War Two. Superbly written, exhaustively detailed and commendably judgmental (but not necessarily uncritical of the British intelligence services), Hastings’ scope of analysis is stunning, with thrilling tales of counter espionage agents (one described as “[a] jaunty little cock sparrow figure,” another carrying “a haversack groaning with blimpish prejudices”), crypt analysts (“the ideal crypt analyst is Beethoven with the soul of an accountant”), spies, double agents, their mistresses and their quirky personalities (“all wartime intelligence departments should be run by civilians in uniform”).
Bletchley Park (“the jewel in the crown”) gets its own chapter, richly detailing the secret “Enigma” “signit” interdiction program and a fair appraisal of...
The format of the book lends itself to incredibly tedious reading of the inherently interesting material. The books lacks a clear narrative, chronological or thematic, which makes it very confusing to follow. There are so many interesting individuals in the Soviet Union NKVD, British Intelligence, American intelligence, the RSHA in Nazi Germany, etc., but, with no establishing timeline to follow the progression of their accomplishments during the war - I just found it very difficult to make sense of anything. Chapters under a vague theme contain a haphazard collection of short biographies of dozens of characters, quotes out of context, quick anecdotes, but no sense of structure to pull them together for a bigger picture.
I think the subject of espionage and intelligence is a fascinating and crucial aspect of World War II, but I personally found this book to be a terrible presentation of it. Perhaps it can be considered a valuable resource for research purposes, because it...
Shelves-full of history books have been written about the triumphs of Allied intelligence in World War II. The Ultra Secret. The Man Who Never Was. Operation Mincemeat. Agent Zigag. Double Cross. A Man Called Intrepid. I’ve read all these and more. (There are hundreds more.) Now comes British journalist and historian Max Hastings with a revisionist view in The Secret War. With his eyes focused on the harsh realities of that all-consuming conflict, Hastings debunks the myths that inspired these books and takes their exaggerations down a peg with a long-lacking sense of perspective. The effect is sobering. This is revisionist history at its best. Anyone who seeks to understand how World War II was really waged should read this book without delay.
Revisionist history: myths debunked
Hastings reviews some of the many fanciful reports that have come out over the years about British and American espionage in World War II. For example, he savages William...
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