Alexander Rose: Review of Ben Macintyre's "Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies"

Alexander Rose is the author of “Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring” and “American Rifle: A Biography.”

Ben Macintyre is the leading practitioner of oddball-powered history. A connoisseur and celebrant of eccentricity, he specializes in often hilarious, sometimes tragic, but always fizzily exhilarating tales of madcap exploits and bizarre adventures.

His first book, “Forgotten Fatherland,” excavated the story of Nietzsche’s sister and her founding of Nueva Germania, a racially pure colony of vegetarian anti-Semites in Paraguay. Macintyre then went on to Adam Worth, the master thief who inspired Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation of the Holmesian supervillain Professor Moriarty....

For all its narrative verve, entertainment value and stylistic fireworks, “Double Cross” is nevertheless, like its two predecessors, an exemplar of what might be called “shallow” intelligence history. That is, Macintyre has been beguiled by the distinctly uncertain testimony of the spies themselves into believing that their derring-do wins wars. He lauds Fortitude as “an undisputed, unalloyed, world-changing triumph,” heedless of the other, greater, often more pertinent military and political factors deciding German strategy. The lopsided result brings to mind Aesop’s fly, who in the fable lights upon a chariot axle and vaingloriously declaims upon all the dust he’s raised....

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