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."

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Movies: Baby Driver

Edgar Wright is best known for his comedy-action collaborations with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost ("Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz," "The World's End"), so you might be surprised by the earnest thrills and romance of his latest movie, "Baby Driver":

Okay, so it's not played entirely straight (there's a hilarious gag involving "Mike Myers Halloween masks"), but in most ways "Baby Driver" is a classic heist-and-car-chase movie. There's an embattled protagonist who just has to do one last job, the love interest whom he has to keep his criminal life secret from, and his crooked cohorts who get in the way in the third act. Judged solely on plot and deeper meaning, the film isn't exactly on par with a "Heat," "Ronin," or "Drive."

Where "Baby Driver" does differentiate itself is in its stylish soundtrack, a wall-to-wall mix of classic rock, soul, and more obscure cuts that transforms the film into a two-hour long music video. Throw in an extremely talented cast (it must be nice to have the likes of Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey, and Jon Hamm play your supporting characters), and you have one heck of an entertaining, crowd-pleasing movie.

Rating: 8/10