Wednesday 29 January 2020

Book Review: Codebreakers and Spies by Michael Smith

Last Updated: 12 October 2021

Codebreakers and Spies by Michael Smith book cover

AD* | Codebreakers and Spies tells the astonishing story of how Britain's intelligence operatives, experts and special operations teams contributed to the Allies' victory in the Second World War. The work of the Bletchley Park codebreakers in breaking the German Enigma cypher is estimated to have cut the length of the war by around two years, saving countless lives, while the Double Cross system, in which German secret agents were 'turned' by the British to feed their Nazi agent-runners with false information, ensured the success of the D-Day landings.

Codebreakers and Spies not only reveals new details about these remarkable operations but also tells the compelling story of how MI6 turned the disaster of lost networks across Europe into triumph. The stories range from extraordinarily courageous to bizarre, with desperation driving the intelligence services to recruit astrologers and even a stage magician to help retrieve intelligence and allied aircrew from of Nazi-occupied Europe. Intelligence historian Michael Smith thrillingly recounts the daring and often moving lives of the heroes and heroines who risked their lives for victory.

I have always been interested in history and for many years, I have enjoyed learning more about the World Wars. However, intelligence was an aspect I knew little about until I visited Bletchley Park last year and learned more about the vital role that the Codebreakers based there played during the War. This book provided the ideal opportunity to build on this knowledge and allowed me to understand more about the bigger picture of intelligence operations at this time.

Packed full of interesting information and factual snippets, each chapter of Codebreakers and Spies focuses on a different aspect of the intelligence services. From various units and divisions to operations, Allied and enemy movements, all are discussed and laid out in a clear and concise manner.

The book gives a great overview of the bigger picture, providing all the necessary information without performing a deep dive into any one element of intelligence. It provides a useful initial platform from which readers could then go away and partake in further reading on any topics of particular interest.

There are also plenty of supporting photographs, images, and reproductions of real documents displayed between the pages of the book. The type-written letters, memos with notes scribbled by hand, and photographs of the real people who each played their own part in the war really help to bring each operation to life in a brilliant way. When reading about some of the operations performed during the war, it's easy to forget the very real human element to it - this book is great at bypassing that and providing an insight into the bravery and selflessness of these countless individuals.

It took me a long while to read this book as there was simply so much information to take in. I always prefer reading about the social impact of the war to the more tactical military side of things, so I did find myself glazing over a bit during these sections of the book. Nonetheless, it was an eye-opening read and I look forward to undoubtedly exploring the topic more in the future.

Rating: 3 stars

Codebreakers and Spies is available to buy now.

If you like the sound of this book, you might also enjoy...

* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Are you interested in reading the book and learning more? Let me know in the comments below!

1 comment:

  1. I don't usually read non-fiction, and while the subject of this sounds good, it seems like it wasn't executed all that well. If a non-fiction book can read like fiction, then you can tempt me! If not, never mind... I'll pass.