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

Boston: Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt, 2012. Pp. xvi, 302. Illus., appends., notes, biblio., index. $28.00. ISBN: 0547614810.

The Most Important Spy of World War II

Stephen Talty, author of several works on obscure corners of history, such as Secret Agent, on American WW II spy Eric Erickson,and Operation Cowboy, on the rescue of the Lipizzaner horses, give us a lively look at the life and work of Juan Pujol Garcia, probably history’s most successful amateur spy.

Garcia (1912-1988), who came to be known by the cover name “Garbo,” was arguably the most important intelligence operative of the Second World War, who pretty much merits the seeming hype of this excellent book’s sub-title. Pujol, aided by his wife, both total amateurs to spy craft and lacking actual access to important information, became, with difficulty, a volunteer double-agent for the British. By the peak of his activities, on the eve of the Normandy landings, Pujol “ran” a wholly bogus network of agents across Britain supplying fabricated intelligence to the Germans that played a critical role in shaping the outcome of the invasion. It’s a tale in some respects so improbable it would have been rejected if presented as fiction. 

Despite their seeming improbability, and the reader’s inevitable knowledge of the outcome of the Allied D-Day landings, Talty recounts Pujol’s adventures in such a way as to maintain considerable suspense.  In the process, he giving us looks at life on the covert-side of the war, with insights into spy craft, the workings of both the British and the German intelligence services, and the improbable life and invaluable work of an otherwise rather ordinary man. An excellent read for anyone.

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Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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