Saturday, October 8, 2016

George Washington's Secret Spy War

George Washington's Secret Spy War: The Making of America's First Spymaster by [Nagy, John A.]

George Washington's Secret Spy War: The Making of America's First Spymaster- John A. Nagy
St. Martin's Press
Release Date: September 20, 2016

Rating (Out of 5):

Synopsis: George Washington was America’s first spymaster, and his skill as a spymaster won the war for independence.
George Washington’s Secret Spy War is the untold story of how George Washington took a disorderly, ill-equipped rabble and defeated the best trained and best equipped army of its day in the Revolutionary War. Author John A. Nagy has become the nation’s leading expert on the subject, discovering hundreds of spies who went behind enemy lines to gather intelligence during the American Revolution, many of whom are completely unknown to most historians. 
Using George Washington’s diary as the primary source, Nagy tells the story of Washington’s experiences during the French and Indian War and his first steps in the field of espionage. Despite what many believe, Washington did not come to the American Revolution completely unskilled in this area of warfare. Espionage was a skill he honed during the French and Indian war and upon which he heavily depended during the Revolutionary War. He used espionage to level the playing field and then exploited it on to final victory.

As someone who has only started to read in depth about the American Revolution I was very interested to try this book and learn about more about the battles that took place behind the scenes- of personalities and spy rings, and perhaps how some everyday people helped to influence the outcome of the war.

Sadly, the book ended up being a considerable disappointment.  While an enormous amount of research clearly went into this book, the advance copy I received contained so many problems as to be practically unreadable at times.  Abrupt topic changes and convoluted arrangement of subjects made it very difficult to follow the progress of events.  It would have been much easier to follow if the book had been arranged more in a linear timeline, so that the reader could follow the progress not only of the war, but of what Washington learned and how he grew his spy networks based on building experiences over the course of the war.  Often a great deal of detail would be given about something that didn't seem particularly important, then something that seemed very important would be mentioned with no follow through, leaving me to wonder why it was mentioned at all.  A large amount of repetition on certain topics, sometimes almost word for word, also made this a very frustrating book.  There are only so many times I needed to be told that Washington preferred to act on information from multiple, independent sources; or that spies often worked for whoever could pay them best; or how it was impossible to control smuggling and how spies could take advantage of smuggling to get information through enemy lines.

I have learned that the author passed away in April 2016, which might account for some of the lack of polish to the book.  The writing was uneven, transitions were nonexistent, and the books' sequence of events convoluted and incredibly difficult to follow.  Hopefully the final copy of the book was edited to improve on all of this.

Overall, this was a disappointing book and I ended up with virtually no more understanding of Washington's spy rings than I when I began, and was incredibly frustrated with the book.  It is quite possible that more advanced American Revolution scholars will get more out of the book than I did.  However for the amateur, like me, I would recommend if you pick up the book at all to read the conclusion only- a repeat of the book as a whole with no additional information to provide.  It will save you considerable frustration and you can then go on to find a book that might be more readable, informative, and enjoyable.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley for an honest review. 

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