I was really looking forward to this book as I love things about the Second World War and the world of espionage is endlessly fascinating. The book is vast and well researched. It covers the work of spies in Britain, the US, the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and Japan. Hastings is at pains to play down the glamour of spy work and describes how dull most of it was. He seems to have a predudice against the Soviet Union which he regards as a greater evil than Nazism. Many people at the time did not share this view. The upshot of Hastings’ argument is that spy work did not contribute a great deal to winning the war and has been over-glamourised since.
In spite of this there is a vast array of flamboyant and eccentric characters who are described in snippets. I found this intensely annoying as I was reading as I wanted to know more about each person, have their tales fleshed out. It became like reading the telephone book and I started to lose interest about half way through. Perhaps the fault is within me as I usually read fiction. I could so easily have been enthralled but I just wasn’t.
History nerds will probably enjoy this but for me it needed more skill in the writing and I found Hastings’ patrician, condescending tone irritating.