cover image The Secret War: Spies, Ciphers, and Guerrillas, 1939-1945

The Secret War: Spies, Ciphers, and Guerrillas, 1939-1945

Max Hastings. Harper, $35 (640p) ISBN 978-0-06-225927-1

Hastings (Catastrophe: 1914) further solidifies his gift for combining scholarship and readability in this scintillating overview of intelligence operations in WWII. He moves through the large, highly specialized body of knowledge to share the whole story: machines and code books, agents and double agents, deceptions and illusions. Combining chronological and thematic approaches, Hastings makes a strong case that "it is impossible justly to attribute all credit for the success or blame for the failure of an operation to any single factor." Even the vaunted ULTRA system was part of a structure dependent on human skill, judgment, and intuition. Stalin's discounting of the barking "dogs in the night"%E2%80%94the stream of accurate intelligence on Germany's intentions in 1941%E2%80%94brought the U.S.S.R. to the brink of catastrophe. In contrast, the U.S. victory at Midway owed much to Adm. Chester Nimitz accepting the word of radio intelligence that, still in its early stages, was "practically the only source" of reports in the Central Pacific. Hastings takes readers behind the lines with Britain's Special Operations Executive and describes parallel missions in such neutral states as Ireland and Portugal. He also provides character sketches of a number of clandestine agents. Hastings tells it all in a book everyone interested in WWII should acquire. (May)