In illuminating and compelling narrative histories including the acclaimed Last Hope Island, Those Angry Days, and Citizens of London, Lynne Olson has deftly explored the multi-faceted political history of the World War II-era. Her new book, Madame Fourcade’s Secret War (Random House, $30), tells the story of Marie-Madeleine Fourcade (1909-1989), who in 1941 became the only woman to lead a French Resistance organization. In charge of the Alliance, a vast network of some three thousand spies and secret radio operators, Fourcade was instrumental in procuring some of the war’s most valuable intelligence. The Alliance’s effectiveness drove the Nazis to hunt down its agents relentlessly, and they killed hundreds of members. They captured Fourcade twice—she escaped both times, and survived the war and occupation to become active in French politics. Olson’s dramatic account, which includes a history of the role of the Vichy government, details on just how MI6 used the intelligence the Alliance gathered, and extended the stories of Fourcade’s associates, introduces a brave and unconventional woman who deserves to be better known.
The tales of the double agents featured in this book sound too good to be true, which makes it all the more amazing that they are. Though all six agents were certainly cunning and brave, they could also be irrational, petty, and selfish—essentially, human. All were crucial to the success of Operation Fortitude, the Allied campaign to trick the Germans into believing that the invasion of France would happen at Calais, not Normandy. MacIntyre brings these spies to life through his vivid descriptions, making it clear that despite the sexy job title and sometimes outlandish duties, these agents suffered and sacrificed.
In Bloodlands, Timothy Snyder argues that the Holocaust is just one part of a larger tragedy: that of the deaths of 14 million--not one a result of combat--in the vast area between Berlin and Moscow. Snyder not only provides an excellent account of World War II on the Eastern front but illuminates the humanity in the countless lives lost due to Hitler’s and Stalin’s cruel policies. Snyder asks each of us not just to condemn but to understand the motivations behind these14 million deaths--so that we make sure we neither forget nor repeat these horrors.