The best books on World War II intelligence history

Mary Kathryn Barbier Author Of Spies, Lies, and Citizenship: The Hunt for Nazi Criminals
By Mary Kathryn Barbier

Who am I?

I am a professor at Mississippi State University and a historian of World War II in general and, more specifically, of WWII intelligence history. My interest stems from a research topic that my Ph.D. advisor recommended and that became the subject of my dissertation – Operation Fortitude, which was the deception plan that provided cover for the Normandy Invasion. While my own research interests are focused on the intelligence history of the Normandy invasion, I am increasingly drawn to intelligence history or novels that showcase the people, technologies, and other theaters of war.

I wrote...

Spies, Lies, and Citizenship: The Hunt for Nazi Criminals

By Mary Kathryn Barbier,

Book cover of Spies, Lies, and Citizenship: The Hunt for Nazi Criminals

What is my book about?

In the 1970s news broke that former Nazis had escaped prosecution and were living the good life in the United States. Outrage swept the nation, and the public outcry put extreme pressure on the U.S. government to investigate these claims and to deport offenders. The subsequent creation of the Office of Special Investigations marked the official beginning of Nazi-hunting in the United States, but it was far from the end.

Drawing from this report as well as other sources, Spies, Lies, and Citizenship exposes scandalous new information about infamous Nazi perpetrators, including Andrija Artukovic, Klaus Barbie, and Arthur Rudolph, who were sheltered and protected in the United States and beyond, and the ongoing attempts to bring the remaining Nazis, such as Josef Mengele, to justice.

The books I picked & why

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I Worked Alone: Diary of a Double Agent in World War II Europe

By Lily Sergueiew,

Book cover of I Worked Alone: Diary of a Double Agent in World War II Europe

Why this book?

As the title of this book indicates, Lily Sergueiew was a double agent during World War II. She volunteered to become a spy for the Germans although she never intended to fulfill that role. She was determined to fight the Germans in her own way – as a double agent in the employ of the British. Sergueiew kept a diary of her activities from when she first approached the Germans until she quit working for the British in late June 1944. After the war, Sergueiew used her diaries to write a memoir in French. Before her death in 1950, she translated her memoir into English, and most of it was published posthumously in France in 1966 and in England in 1968. I recommend this book because it provides insight into why a young woman would choose to fight against the Germans who occupied her beloved France, the training that she underwent, and how she ultimately joined, and then was fired from, the British Intelligence Service. In addition, while there were women who fought in France for the Special Operations Executive (SOE), the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), or the French Resistance, Lily Sergueiew was one of a few (mostly male) Europeans who actively sought out the job of a double agent to fight against the Germans. Sergueiew’s memoir shines a light on a strong woman, who wanted to fight for a just cause in her own way.

The London Cage: The Secret History of Britain's World War II Interrogation Centre

By Helen Fry,

Book cover of The London Cage: The Secret History of Britain's World War II Interrogation Centre

Why this book?

Intelligence was collected in multiple ways by all sides during World War II. The British housed German prisoners at a site called the London Cage, which was located in an upper-class London neighborhood. The London Cage was later used as a Nazi war criminal detention site. While in residence, the German prisoners underwent interrogation, in some cases what we would now call “enhanced interrogation” and in others while under the influence of “truth drugs.” As Fry’s book reveals, the post-9/11 “enhanced interrogations” were not the first of its kind. I recommend this book because it demonstrates the lengths to which governments, in this case the British government, would go during wartime to gather actionable intelligence about an enemy.

Destination Casablanca: Exile, Espionage, and the Battle for North Africa in World War II

By Meredith Hindley,

Book cover of Destination Casablanca: Exile, Espionage, and the Battle for North Africa in World War II

Why this book?

This is an exciting new book by Meredith Hindley. Instead of Humphrey Bogart and Rick’s Café, this book features interesting real people, such as the famous singer Josephine Baker, who, although not members of armed forces, still did their part to help the Allied cause. After conducting extensive research in archives and secondary sources, Hindley crafted an engaging narrative in which she connects exiles who gathered information about the Germans with the fight for control of North Africa and the Mediterranean. I recommend this book because it provides a human dimension to the story of the Battle for North Africa.

The Message

By Mai Jia,

Book cover of The Message

Why this book?

The Message is a novel about five codebreakers and one traitor. Set in China during World War II when the Chinese resistance challenged the Japanese backed puppet government, this is a complex counterintelligence novel, written by a Chinese storyteller, who is no stranger to the Chinese intelligence services. By telling the same story from two different perspectives, Mai Jia, as a colleague recently suggested, intentionally problematized the truth because both versions were plausible. I recommend this book because it provides insight into the multilayered intelligence story of wartime China, it is one of the few books on this topic, and it was written in China and published outside of the country with permission from the government.

Night Soldiers

By Alan Furst,

Book cover of Night Soldiers

Why this book?

Night Soldiers is the first in the Night Soldiers novel series written by Alan Furst. This is a novel that I assigned to one of my classes, and my students really liked it. Furst wove a complicated story that followed the main character – Khristo Stoianev – from before the war when he was recruited to join the Soviets’ NKVD, to spy training, a mission to Spain during the Civil War, to betrayal and finally his efforts to escape from the bondage imposed by his Soviet masters. I recommend this book not only because my students enjoyed it, but also because it is a captivating story that compels the reader to follow it to the end.

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