Military

THE WOMAN ALL SPIES FEAR by Amy Butler Greenfield

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I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

When Elizebeth Smith accepted a job studying Shakespeare’s First Folio on a wealthy man’s estate, her primary motivation was to escape her domineering father’s household. But this unusual opportunity would set her life on a new and unexpected course. On the estate, she met fellow employee William Friedman and the two began collaborating on code breaking projects. Their partnership would become both professional and romantic, skyrocketing them both into positions as elite cryptanalysts for the United States government. Though William would become famous for heading the team that cracked the Japanese code machine “Purple” and for his role in the fledgeling NSA, Elizebeth’s contributions to her country were less celebrated and in some cases attributed to others–men, of course. But Elizebeth’s incredible work not only saved American lives in both World Wars but broke down barriers for women in intelligence work and pushed the boundaries of code breaking.

Spanning two wars and featuring colorful characters from eccentric millionaires to rumrunning gangsters, this true story at times feels like fiction. Though marketed to teens, adults will enjoy this fascinating biography just as much as younger readers. Greenfield is honest about holes in the historical record but still manages to uncover enough information to piece together a cohesive picture of Friedman’s secretive life and contribution to counterintelligence. Bits of code included in the text along with instructions for deciphering it add a beautiful interactive element to the book. I highly recommend this one to teens and adults alike!

THE PRINCESS SPY: THE TRUE STORY OF ALINE GRIFFITH, COUNTESS OF ROMANONES by Larry Loftis

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Though Aline Griffith’s contributions to the war effort in 1940s Europe were entirely clandestine, her life after leaving the OSS was anything but. She married into Spanish nobility, attended parties with stars like Audrey Hepburn, and published a series of sensational memoirs about her time as a spy.

But how much of Aline’s memoirs was sensationalism, and how much (if any) was truth? Larry Loftis set out to answer these questions and in THE PRINCESS SPY, brings the real Aline Griffith to light. Though there were fewer murders and death-defying feats than her memoirs suggest, Aline’s impressive fieldwork, her involvement in a lesser-known theater of the war, and her courtship with various bullfighters and noblemen make her a fascinating figure by any measure.

Though Aline’s story anchors the narrative, Loftis includes deep-dives into the overall work of the OSS in Spain, especially where it involves her recruiter, Frank T. Ryan, and colleague Edmundo Lassalle. For this reason, I would recommend THE PRINCESS SPY not only to biography readers but also to any WWII or military history enthusiast who enjoys narrative non-fiction.

LONE SURVIVOR: THE EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT OF OPERATION REDWING AND THE LOST HEROES OF SEAL TEAM 10 by Marcus Luttrell with Patrick Robinson

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In 2005, Marcus Luttrell and three other members of SEAL Team 10 began tracking a Taliban leader in the mountains of Afghanistan, a mission called Operation Redwing.  But when several Afghan goat herders stumbled upon the SEALs, Marcus and his teammates made a decision that would cost them their lives.  Unsure of whether the goat herders had allegiance to the Taliban, and unwilling to execute them for fear of being prosecuted for war crimes upon their return to the States, the SEALs released them.  The goat herders immediately reported the SEALs to the Taliban, who had them surrounded within hours.  In the bloodbath that followed, Marcus’ three teammates on the ground—as well as every SEAL in the rescue copter that came to help them—were killed.  Marcus survived (barely) and struggled to evade the Taliban warriors who were tracking him through the wilderness, hoping for a rescue he wasn’t sure would ever come.  But ironically given the source of the SEALs’ betrayal, Marcus’ salvation would also come in the form of Afghan goat herders.

Lone Survivor is part biography, part military history, and part survival narrative.  As far as the writing/storytelling goes, it took me a really long time to get into the book.  The first half was a bit scattered and confusing as it jumped back and forth in time and in and out of story and political commentary; it took me a really long time to get into it, and I almost gave up.  But about halfway through, beginning with Luttrell’s description of SEAL BUD/S training, the narrative got more straightforward, and it became very engaging.  The account of the battle is gruesome, horrifying, and heartbreaking.  I have not seen the movie yet, but my brother, who is in the Navy, has this to say, “The movie was better, even though I know the book was more accurate.  The movie was more believable, because it was simplified, and when you hear everything those SEALs went through it is so crazy it’s hard to believe.”  He also says the storytelling in the movie flows better, which does not surprise me now that I have read the book.  I do hope to see the film someday, but it will have to be at a time when it doesn’t matter if I have a few sleepless nights.  A horrifying and thought-provoking account of the reality of war, and a heartfelt tribute to the friends Marcus lost.

SHADOW DIVERS: THE TRUE ADVENTURE OF TWO AMERICANS WHO RISKED EVERYTHING TO SOLVE ONE OF THE LAST MYSTERIES OF WORLD WAR II by Robert Kurson

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The world of commercial diving is competitive.  The minute a shipwreck’s location is leaked, dive teams will sprint to it, hoping to get their hands on some of its fascinating artifacts.  The divers that received the secret coordinates to “something big” lying sixty miles off the coast of New Jersey (and 230 feet below the ocean’s surface) were excited to explore an untouched wreck.  But they were not prepared for what they found: a sunken German U-Boat, undocumented in any historical record.  The divers were elated with the discovery–especially John Chatterton and Richie Kohler, two experienced and adventurous divers who also shared a passion for history.  Each diver hoped to be the one to discover the U-Boat’s identity and its story.  But diving to 230 feet is perilous, and it wasn’t long before the wreck began to claim lives.  As most of the surviving divers gradually gave up on the dangerous wreck, only Chatterton and Kohler remained, determined to discover the U-Boat’s identity–even at the risk of their own lives.

I could not put this book down!  Before I began reading Shadow Divers, I knew nothing about commercial diving.  The logistics and dangers of deep sea dives are fascinating, as are the stories of the people who engage in such a life-threatening activity.  Between the danger and suspense of each dive and the intriguing mystery of the U-Boat, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough!  I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in history, who likes survival stories, or even who enjoys reading thrillers.  It is wonderful–a new favorite!

Thanks for the recommendation, Sally!