The best books on female spies and special agents

The Books I Picked & Why

Invisible Agents: Women and Espionage in Seventeenth-Century Britain

By Nadine Akkerman

Invisible Agents: Women and Espionage in Seventeenth-Century Britain

Why this book?

A few years ago I spoke at the London History Festival alongside Nadine Akkerman, and we realised how much the female spies of 17c Britain and the Second World War had in common, not only conveniently overlooked in their own day, but also disregarded subsequently. This brilliant study explores the gendered dimension of early modern spycraft.


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Gabrielle Petit: The Death and Life of a Female Spy in the First World War

By Sophie de Schaepdrijver

Gabrielle Petit: The Death and Life of a Female Spy in the First World War

Why this book?

'There are graves that are alive’, the President of the Belgian League of Remembrance pronounced at Gabrielle Petit’s state funeral in 1919, three years after her execution for espionage. Petit, a young shop-girl, served her country both during the First World War, and as a national legend after her death. Yet a century later, she was all but forgotten. Sophie De Schaepdrijver’s fascinating study not only helps to restore Petit's memory, but also asks important questions about why we should remember, and how such commemoration serves us.


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A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II

By Sonia Purnell

A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II

Why this book?

Over the last few years the female special agents of the Second World War have finally been receiving better attention, with important books on, among others, Noor Inayat Khan by Shrabani Basu, Violette Szabo by Susan Ottaway, and my book on Krystyna Skarbek aka Christine Granville. Purnell's is one of the best, a well-researched look at the life of Virginia Hall, the only agent, male or female, to serve the British SOE, its American counterpart the OSS, and later the CIA. Did I mention that she was a woman and that she had a prosthetic leg?


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A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII

By Sarah Helm

A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII

Why this book?

Excellent book that gets to the fascinating truth of Vera Atkins, the tough and dedicated Romanian born Jewish refugee who became the lynchpin in SOE’s French Section based in London, and led the post-war investigation into what happened to all the female SOE agents who failed to return from service behind enemy lines.


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Madame Fourcade's Secret War: The Daring Young Woman Who Led France's Largest Spy Network Against Hitler

By Lynne Olson

Madame Fourcade's Secret War: The Daring Young Woman Who Led France's Largest Spy Network Against Hitler

Why this book?

45 years after the publication of Marie Madeleine Fourcade’s fabulous memoir, Noah’s Ark, Lynne Olson has filled in the gaps in the remarkable story of the female head of one of France’s most important clandestine war-time intelligence networks. Both books are well worth reading.


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