Book Review: Agent Garbo: The Brilliant, Eccentric Secret Agent Who Tricked Hitler and Saved D-Day by Stephen Talty

The first research project I ever did in high school was on deception campaigns in WW2. I’d read a little bit about them before, but I didn’t realize exactly how much deception was involved in the Allied efforts against Nazi Germany. Since then, I’ve read just about everything I could find on the subject, and no matter how much I read, I always seem to learn something new.

That was certainly true of Agent Garbo. I had, of course, read about Garbo’s operation — how he had a “spy network” of dozens of fictitious “agents” who fed him “intelligence” that he sent on to the Abwehr. Of course, all of those efforts were coordinated by the British XX Committee, which oversaw all of the double agents operating against the Germans, and they were all absolutely essential to the eventual Allied victory in Europe.

But there was a lot about the man I didn’t know. I’d never read of his experiences in the Spanish Civil War, or his failed businesses, or his propensity for exaggeration and his incredible imagination. I also didn’t realize that his wife was just as responsible for his work with British intelligence as he was — she’s the one who finally got him in with the British government, after he’d tried repeatedly.

Talty’s book is well researched, and well written. This is no dry history text, or boring biography; it is a living story, told as well as any spy thriller ever written. So much of it seems too incredible to believe; truth really is stranger than fiction.

This is a book that I would heartily recommend to anyone who wants to learn more about wartime intelligence in World War 2, or anyone who just wants to read a fascinating account of the life of an extraordinary man.


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