Synopses & Reviews
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 entree 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.
"What could be more intriguing than the young writer Roald Dahl destined to create such classics as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory assigned by His Majesty's Government to Washington, D.C., as a diplomat in the spring of 1942, charged with a secret mission? Dahl's brief was to gather intelligence about America's isolationist circles (indeed, he infiltrated the infatuated Claire Boothe Luce in more ways than one) and propagandize for prompt American entry into the European war. The United States had technically been at war with Germany since December 1941. However, the U.S.'s attention was focused mainly on the Pacific theater and such pro-German political figures as Luce and Charles Lindbergh meant to keep it that way. Dahl's most important job was to influence public opinion generally and the opinions of Washington's powerful specifically. As bestselling author Conant (Tuxedo Park) shows in her eloquent narrative, Dahl's intriguing coconspirators included future advertising legend David Ogilvy and future spy novelist Ian Fleming. Most fascinating, though, is Dahl's relationship with the great British spymaster William Stephenson, otherwise known as 'Intrepid.' This all boils down to a thoroughly engrossing story, one Conant tells exceptionally well. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A] wonderfully rendered history of British spy jinks in Washington....Conant captures the grace, humor and high spirits of the Roosevelt White House." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"Part gossip, part history, Conant's book...is fitfully amusing in a Vanity Fair sort of way." Booklist
"With this excellent history of personalities and politics during World War II, Conant adds successfully to her previous books that have made vivid the war's background players. Highly recommended." Library Journal
"A fascinating glimpse of the intrigue and spying inside the British-American alliance in wartime Washington." Ben Bradlee
"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
Following her bestselling accounts of the most guarded secrets of the Second World War, Conant offers a rollicking true story of spies, politicians, journalists, and intrigue in the highest circles of Washington during the tumultuous days of World War II. 16 pages of b&w photographs.
About the Author
Jennet Conant is the author of the 2002 New York Times bestseller Tuxedo Park: A Wall Street Tycoon and the Secret Palace of Science That Changed the Course of World War II. A former journalist, 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.
Table of Contents
THE USUAL DRILL
PIECE OF CAKE
ONE LONG LOAF
THE WAR IN WASHINGTON
THE GLAMOUR SET