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.
"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 ReviewsMost Helpful
By mr on 02-04-16
Bored me to death
What disappointed you about The Secret War: Spies, Codes and Guerrillas 1939 - 1945?
Having listened to Max Hastings all hell let loose I gave this a try. The content is bland, dull, boring and I was finding I was switching off with this dull tale playing in the background. Very little structure to the book that I could follow. Only a couple of interesting points before I gave up. I got to 14 or so hours and that was more than enough.
Has The Secret War: Spies, Codes and Guerrillas 1939 - 1945 put you off other books in this genre?
Have you listened to any of Steven Crossley’s other performances? How does this one compare?
I had no issue with the narrator, I feel sorry that he had to read the whole book.
What character would you cut from The Secret War: Spies, Codes and Guerrillas 1939 - 1945?
I couldn't tell you the names of any.
Any additional comments?
Long winded, boring.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
By David on 05-12-15
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.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful