The best books on secret wartime histories around WW2

Robert Hutton Author Of Agent Jack: The True Story of Mi5's Secret Nazi Hunter
By Robert Hutton

Who am I?

Robert Hutton is the author of Agent Jack, the previously untold tale of the surprisingly large number of British people who tried to help Hitler win World War 2. He spent a decade and a half following British prime ministers around the world for Bloomberg and now writes parliamentary sketches for The Critic while researching intelligence history.


I wrote...

Book cover of Agent Jack: The True Story of Mi5's Secret Nazi Hunter

What is my book about?

Agent Jack tells the incredible true story of Eric Roberts, a seemingly inconsequential bank clerk who, in the guise of "Jack King", helped uncover and neutralize the invisible threat of fascism on British shores. Gifted with an extraordinary ability to make people trust him, Eric Roberts penetrated the Communist Party and the British Union of Fascists before playing his greatest role for MI5: Hitler's man in London. Pretending to be an agent of the Gestapo, Roberts single-handedly built a network of hundreds of British Nazi sympathizers--factory workers, office clerks, shopkeepers --who shared their secrets with him. It was work so secret and so sensitive that it was kept out of the reports MI5 sent to Winston Churchill.

The books I picked & why

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Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies

By Ben Macintyre,

Book cover of Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies

Why this book?

I could have picked any of Ben Macintyre’s books. He writes history as yarn, which is what I tried to do in Agent Jack. That definitely doesn’t mean making things up, but it means trying to tell the tale in a way that will keep the reader on board. British intelligence’s Double Cross operation – playing German spies back against their masters – was huge, but Macintyre keeps it at a manageable size by focusing on a few key agents. There’s a real skill too, in writing a book where everyone knows the ending but that still keeps the reader on the edge of their seat.

Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies

By Ben Macintyre,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Double Cross as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

D-Day, 6 June 1944, the turning point of the Second World War, was a victory of arms. But it was also a triumph for a different kind of operation: one of deceit, aimed at convincing the Nazis that Calais and Norway, not Normandy, were the targets of the 150,000-strong invasion force.

The deception involved every branch of Allied wartime intelligence - the Bletchley Park code-breakers, MI5, MI6, SOE, Scientific Intelligence, the FBI and the French Resistance. But at its heart was the 'Double Cross System', a team of double agents controlled by the secret Twenty Committee, so named because twenty…


The Spy Who Loved: The Secrets and Lives of Christine Granville

By Clare Mulley,

Book cover of The Spy Who Loved: The Secrets and Lives of Christine Granville

Why this book?

This is a great biography of a great subject, Krystyna Skarbek, more famous now as Christine Granville, a Pole who fought with Britain’s Special Operations Executive throughout the war and pulled off some astonishing stunts. It’s a thrilling story, though with a sad ending.

The Spy Who Loved: The Secrets and Lives of Christine Granville

By Clare Mulley,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Spy Who Loved as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In June 1952, a woman was murdered by an obsessed colleague in a hotel in South Kensington. Her name was Christine Granville. That she died young was perhaps unsurprising, but that she had survived the Second World War was remarkable. The daughter of a feckless Polish aristocrat and his wealthy Jewish wife, she would become one of Britain's most daring and highly decorated special agents. Having fled to Britain on the outbreak of war, she was recruited by the intelligence services long before the establishment of the SOE, and took on mission after mission. She skied into occupied Poland, served…


Our Man in New York: The British Plot to Bring America into the Second World War

By Henry Hemming,

Book cover of Our Man in New York: The British Plot to Bring America into the Second World War

Why this book?

I have a vivid memory of opening the file on Britain’s efforts to bring America into the war, declassified only recently, and being astonished at the things that had gone on. Hemming’s book tells this amazing story and raises the ethical question of whether Britain’s end – defeating Hitler – was justified by its means – spreading fake news in the US and even interfering in its politics.

Our Man in New York: The British Plot to Bring America into the Second World War

By Henry Hemming,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Our Man in New York as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"A revelatory and wholly fascinating work of history. Superbly researched and written with gripping fluency, this lost secret of World War II espionage finally has its expert chronicler."
- WILLIAM BOYD

'Gripping and intoxicating, it unfolds like the best screenplay.'
NICHOLAS SHAKESPEARE

The gripping story of a propaganda campaign like no other: the covert British operation to manipulate American public opinion and bring the US into the Second World War.

When William Stephenson - "our man in New York" - arrived in the United States towards the end of June 1940 with instructions from the head of MI6 to 'organise'…


Inge's War: A German Woman's Story of Family, Secrets, and Survival Under Hitler

By Svenja O'Donnell,

Book cover of Inge's War: A German Woman's Story of Family, Secrets, and Survival Under Hitler

Why this book?

We hear a lot about the wars of soldiers and spies, but much less about the lives of ordinary people. In this book, O’Donnell pieces together the story of her grandmother’s life as a young woman in Germany before and during the war. Unlike the tales of daring action, this is a story that is unexceptional, but all the more powerful for it. A reminder that for many people in Europe, the war was something that happened to them, rather than something they did.

Inge's War: A German Woman's Story of Family, Secrets, and Survival Under Hitler

By Svenja O'Donnell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Inge's War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"An extraordinary saga." -David Grann, New York Times bestselling author of Killers of the Flower Moon

The mesmerizing account of a granddaughter's search for a World War II family history hidden for sixty years

Growing up in Paris as the daughter of a German mother and an Irish father, Svenja O'Donnell knew little of her family's German past. All she knew was that her great-grandparents, grandmother, and mother had fled their home city of Koenigsberg near the end of World War II, never to return. But everything changed when O'Donnell traveled to the city-now known as Kaliningrad, and a part…


The Glamour Boys: The Secret Story of the Rebels who Fought for Britain to Defeat Hitler

By Chris Bryant,

Book cover of The Glamour Boys: The Secret Story of the Rebels who Fought for Britain to Defeat Hitler

Why this book?

A history of a different sort of secret, this is the story of a mostly gay group of British members of parliament who tried to warn their government about Hitler. Many had traveled to Berlin in the 1920s and 1930s to enjoy the nightlife, so they had an early sense of how the Nazi government was turning out. But their personal lives made it dangerous for them to oppose their own leaders at home. There’s a personal edge to the book for me, because one of the MPs, Ronald Cartland, was my great-uncle’s commanding officer, and they were killed in the same battle, covering the retreat to Dunkirk.

The Glamour Boys: The Secret Story of the Rebels who Fought for Britain to Defeat Hitler

By Chris Bryant,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Glamour Boys as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A STORY OF UNSUNG BRAVERY AT A DEFINING MOMENT IN BRITAIN'S HISTORY

'Superb' Stephen Fry
'Thrillingly told' Dan Jones
'Fascinating' Neil MacGregor
'Astonishing' Peter Frankopan

We like to think we know the story of how Britain went to war with Germany in 1939, but there is one chapter that has never been told. In the early 1930s, a group of young, queer British MPs visited Berlin on a series of trips that would change the course of the Second World War.

Having witnessed the Nazis' brutality first-hand, these men were some of the first to warn Britain about Hitler, repeatedly…


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