The Secret War: Spies, Codes and Guerrillas 1939 - 1945

  • by Max Hastings
  • Narrated by Steven Crossley
  • 30 hrs and 39 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Examining the espionage and intelligence stories in World War II on a global basis, bringing together the British, American, German, Russian and Japanese histories.
In The Secret War, Max Hastings examines the espionage and intelligence machines of all sides in World War II and the impact of spies, code breakers and partisan operations on events.
Written on a global scale, the book brings together accounts from British, American, German, Russian and Japanese sources to tell the story of a secret war waged unceasingly by men and women often far from the battlefields but whose actions profoundly influenced the outcome.
Returning to the Second World War for the first time since his best-selling All Hell Let Loose, Hastings weaves into a 'big picture' framework the human stories of spies and intelligence officers who served their respective masters.
Told through a series of snapshots of key moments, the book looks closely at Soviet espionage operations which dwarfed those of every other belligerent in scale as well as the code-breaking operation at Bletchley Park - the greatest intelligence achievement of the conflict - with many more surprising and unfamiliar tales of treachery, deception, betrayal and incompetence by spies of Axis, Allied or indeterminate loyalty.

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What the Critics Say

"A work of staggering scope and erudition, narrated with supreme fluency and insight, it is unquestionably the best single-volume history of the war ever written...he writes with a wonderfully clear, unsentimental eye...and has a terrific grasp of the grand sweep and military strategy.... But what makes his book a compelling read are the human stories...at the end of this gruesome, chilling but quite magnificent book, you never doubt that the war was worth fighting." (Sunday Times)
"No other general history of the war amalgamates so successfully the gut-wrenching personal details and the essential strategic arguments. Melding the worm's eye view and the big picture is a difficult trick to pull of - but Hastings has triumphed." (The Times)
"Majestic...it is impossible to emerge without a sense of the sheer scale of human tragedy.... To gather all these anecdotes together is a task in itself, but to assemble them in a way that makes sense is something entirely different.... Hastings shapes all these stories, almost miraculously, into a single coherent narrative." (Daily Telegraph)
"In this massive work, the crowning volume of the 10 impressive books he has written about the Second World War, Sir Max Hastings spares us nothing in portraying the sheer bloody savagery of the worst war that the world has yet seen...this magnificent book...is hypnotically readable from the first page to the last." (Sunday Telegraph)
"A fast-moving, highly readable survey of the entire war.... Hastings combines a mastery of the military events with invariably sound judgment and a sharp eye for unusual telling detail...this is military history at its most gripping. Of all Max Hastings's valuable books, this is possibly his best - a veritable tour de force." (Evening Standard)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Lacking in excitement

It feels a bit unfair to criticise this book for making the topic of espionage and special operations during the Second World War for being a bit dry and lacking in action. Max Hastings is pretty explicit in his approach to the subject that he wants to emphasise the much greater importance of the less exciting elements of the secret war over the higher profile drama of special operations etc. I still cannot help but reflect that it is just not as much fun to listen to as I might have expected while at the same time it doesn't hang together as a comprehensive account of the subject in the way that other Hastings works do.

I guess it is largely my own fault for expecting a take similar to those of Ben Macintyre rather than a more scholarly discussion of the impact and spying and spies on the outcome of the War.

None of this is to say that it is a bad book, it isn't. It gives a very good account of an interesting subject but lacked that level of engagement that I have had with others of Hastings' books.
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- David

Excellent writing, poor audiobook narration

Any additional comments?

As to be expected, extremely well-researched and written by Max Hastings. I wish I had bought the paper copy instead of an audiobook, though, as the narrator seems to be reciting the words without paying much attention to the material he is reading. Consequently, there are multiple mispronunciations and incorrect emphases - I had to re-listen in several places to make sense of what was being said.

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- Andrew

Book Details

  • Release Date: 10-09-2015
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Limited