Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Books: Washington's Spies - The Story of America's First Spy Ring

Historian Alexander Rose starts off "Washington's Spies" with a disaster - the legendary capture and execution of young patriot spy Nathan Hale in 1776:

The way Rose tells, it, Hale's ill-fated intelligence-gathering operation was doomed from the start - limited planning, resources, and training meant that Hale was easy prey for the British. And even if Hale had made it back, it was unlikely that the information gained from his single trip behind enemy lines would be helpful to the nascent Revolution. From this painful beginning, a new model emerged: civilian spies living with the enemy using assumed identities to relay information on a regular basis.

"Washington's Spies" tells the story of the men and women in the close-knit "Culper Ring" spy network, many of whom are still unknown. I enjoyed the descriptions of dead drops, coded letters, and spymasters - tradecraft among the privateers and black-market smugglers of British-occupied New York. A couple caveats - it's not a thriller, and it's a dense read (primary sources are quoted as much as possible), so if you want the Cliff's Notes version, you can try watching the AMC drama "TURN: Washington's Spies."


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