Bookworm: Must-haves for history buffs

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist
Espionage and spy books by Nicholas Reynolds and Nathalia Holt.

Espionage and spy books

  • By Nicholas Reynolds and Nathalia Holt
  • c. 2022, Mariner Books/Putnam
  •  $28-$29.99 512 pages, 400 pages

Imagine that you’re being watched. Everybody wants to know your secrets. They want to know what you know, especially if it pertains to government operations. Keeping secrets, finding them out, espionage and spying have been in the news a lot lately, so maybe it’s time to read about covert tactics, Bondian moves, and the people who made them into art ...

If you’re into history and what-iffing, “Need to Know: World War II and the Rise of American Intelligence” by Nicholas Reynolds ($29.99, Mariner Books) will gnaw at your imagination. What would the world have been like without American advances in spying on enemy communications, plans, and campaigns?

You’ll wonder about that, as you read about what this country didn’t have, prior to Winston Churchill’s influence and his insistence that American spies be recruited and taught, and code talkers and codebreakers be asked to use their talents to thwart the Nazis and other enemies at war. Heroes and heroines are all over inside this book – so many that it’s sometimes hard to keep track. Bonus: there are real espionage stories here, too – thrilling tales that are better than any spy novel you’ve ever read because they’re all true.

Readers who can’t know enough about World War II, and those who are intrigued by espionage will devour this big, comprehensive, wide-reaching book.

Here’s another must-have for American history buffs: “Wise Gals: The Spies Who Built the CIA and Changed the Future of Espionage” by Nathalia Holt ($28.00, Putnam).

Post-wartime, America knew that it could never be without operations like the ones we had during World War II. The world had changed and being ignorant of other countries’ secrets was no longer an option. And so, as part of the efforts for national security during the Cold War, the country utilized the work of four women known to their colleagues as the “Wise Gals,” for their smarts and their smart senses of humor.

Mary Hutchison worked with the Ukrainians to forge an alliance, almost right under Russian noses. Eloise Page worked to keep America safe by unmasking world-wide terror networks. Adelaide Hawkins worked to create a way for spies and agents to communicate with one another in secret. And Elizabeth Sudmeier was almost killed in the Middle East while she was collecting secrets on Russia.

But author Nathalia Holt doesn’t just tell about the Cold War work of these four American heroines. The stories of these women are nicely rounded by the inclusion of their personal lives and loves, and by their frustrations as women in what was then, essentially, a man’s world. This hidden four-way story is a nice addition to the shelves for feminists, readers of Cold War novels, and anyone who relishes a good history book.

And if these two books don’t fit what you’re looking for in an authentic spy story, then be sure to ask your favorite bookseller or librarian. He or she will know exactly what you need to read, and they’ll know exactly where to find those books – in plain sight or undercover.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. Read past columns at marconews.com.