The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington

The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington

by Jennet Conant
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The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington by Jennet Conant

When Roald Dahl, a dashing young wounded RAF pilot, took up his post at the British Embassy in Washington in 1942, his assignment was to use his good looks, wit, and considerable charm to gain access to the most powerful figures in American political life. A patriot eager to do his part to save his country from a Nazi invasion, he invaded the upper reaches of the U.S. government and Georgetown society, winning over First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and her husband, Franklin; befriending wartime leaders from Henry Wallace to Henry Morgenthau; and seducing the glamorous freshman congresswoman Clare Boothe Luce.

Dahl would soon be caught up in a complex web of deception masterminded by William Stephenson, aka Intrepid, Churchill's legendary spy chief, who, with President Roosevelt's tacit permission, mounted a secret campaign of propaganda and political subversion to weaken American isolationist forces, bring the country into the war against Germany, and influence U.S. policy in favor of England. Known as the British Security Coordination (BSC) -- though the initiated preferred to think of themselves as the Baker Street Irregulars in honor of the amateurs who aided Sherlock Holmes -- these audacious agents planted British propaganda in American newspapers and radio programs, covertly influenced leading journalists -- including Drew Pearson, Walter Winchell, and Walter Lippmann -- harassed prominent isolationists and anti-New Dealers, and plotted against American corporations that did business with the Third Reich.

In an account better than spy fiction, Jennet Conant shows Dahl progressing from reluctant diplomat to sly man-about-town, parlaying his morale-boosting wartime propaganda work into a successful career as an author, which leads to his entrée into the Roosevelt White House and Hyde Park and initiation into British intelligence's elite dirty tricks squad, all in less than three years. He and his colorful coconspirators -- David Ogilvy, Ian Fleming, and Ivar Bryce, recruited more for their imagination and dramatic flair than any experience in the spy business -- gossiped, bugged, and often hilariously bungled their way across Washington, doing their best to carry out their cloak-and-dagger assignments, support the fledgling American intelligence agency (the OSS), and see that Roosevelt was elected to an unprecedented fourth term.

It is an extraordinary tale of deceit, double-dealing, and moral ambiguity -- all in the name of victory. Richly detailed and meticulously researched, Conant's compelling narrative draws on never-before-seen wartime letters, diaries, and interviews and provides a rare, and remarkably candid, insider's view of the counterintelligence game during the tumultuous days of World War II.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781416580324
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 09/09/2008
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 99,470
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Jennet Conant is the author of Man of the Hour: James B. Conant, Navigating a Dangerous Era and the New York Times bestsellers The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington and Tuxedo Park: A Wall Street Tycoon and the Secret Palace of Science That Changed the Course of World War II. She has written for Vanity Fair, Esquire, GQ, Newsweek, and The New York Times. She lives in New York City and Sag Harbor, New York.

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The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
DuctorCE More than 1 year ago
Five weeks after my second birthday, at around 4 o'clock on a Saturday afternoon while having tea at my family home in London, Adolf Hitler exploded into my life. He decided to send 348 bombers - Heinkels, Dorniers and Junkers, plus 617 Messerschmitts forming a block 20 miles wide and filling 800 square miles of sky - to kill me. He didn't succeed, but by the end of the war 60,000 British civilians were not so lucky. Until the middle of 1944 there were more British civilian deaths than military. I do not profess memory of the start of the Blitz, but I do remember the end of it - and the aftermath. This experience makes me a sponge for anything to do with World War II - and there is never a shortage of subject matter. My latest read has been Jennet Conant's The Irregulars. I found Conant's work engrossing. I had difficulty putting it down and almost read it at a sitting. The work is essentially a biography of Roald Dahl. Had it been advertised as such, it would have never left the store as I always found his writing a little quirky. But it is so much more than that. It is the story of a very attractive, wounded flying ace (Roald Dahl), who is sent to the British Embassy in Washington in 1942. He graduates from Air Attaché to intelligence agent whose sole purpose is to infiltrate the rarefied air of Georgetown society and use it as a springboard into US government circles. He achieves this by wooing the women and wowing the men with the ultimate aim of influencing decisions in England's favor. In the process of depicting this, Conant introduces us to everybody who is anybody in World War II America. Dahl's nefarious sexual exploits are described with dignity and charm, and are never sordid. According to Conant, all of the agents were extremely handsome and charming, which tended to pall over time. But then; perhaps they were. This story of deceit, duplicity and moral ambiguity is meticulously researched and beautifully written, and I will certainly be seeking out other work by this very talented lady. If it never occurred to you that Great Britain had spies in America during the Second World War, I urge you to read this and be amazed. Whether you invest $18.45 in Amazon, or borrow it from your local library, get this book. You will not regret it.
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In-Quest More than 1 year ago
I showed my sister the book right after I started reading it. She mentioned the main character is the author who wrote Willy Wanka and the Chocolate Factory. Strange I thought. I read books about World War II and this book has a lot to do with World War II but more of a biography of a social spy. Although his life is interesting and he surely went to parties with the rich and famous and stayed at Hyde Park as a guest of Mrs. Roosevelt, I guess I should stick to reading more battle related war stories. But, if you like name dropping and high society stuff by all means read on.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago