Madame Fourcade’s Secret War by Lynne Olson

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Spying sounds exhausting.

Quick synopsis: The story of Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, the spy master of a massive network in France throughout World War II.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Spying in France during World War II was very often a family affair. Olson notes multiple instances where an entire family would be spies including children younger than their teens. “Pick up some milk, Timmy, and then get me those troops deployment numbers on your way home.”

Fourcade also escaped from the Germans by stripping naked and squeezing between the prison bars.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: If you want to know everything you possibly can about a spy ring, then this is the book for you. Too many great history nerd tidbits to pick just one!

My Take: Olson is one of those talented writers who seems to give you an immense amount of detail about her subject without making it feel like a literary lobotomy. This book is no exception.

Olson chronicles the life of Madame Fourcade focusing mostly on her spy ring during World War II. It is absolutely fascinating to read about how these spies could be both ingenious in their methods while also being complete novices who make stupid decisions. Fourcade ended up in charge of the spy ring because the original leader was kind of a gallant idiot.

Olson toes a tight rope. She throws hundreds of names at the reader while moving at a brisk pace. I could see how some people could be overwhelmed, but it also adds a vital element to understanding Fourcade. Olson’s writing and pace lets the reader feel how Fourcade must have felt. Overwhelmed, exhausted, and dizzy with the sheer amount of chaos going on around her.

And in the end, the Nazis get what’s coming to them. I love happy endings.

Verdict: Great read even for novices or even non-history nerds.

If You Liked This Try:

  • Larry Loftis, Code Name: Lise
  • Neal Bascomb, The Escape Artists
  • Candice Millard, Hero of the Empire
  • Ben MacIntyre, The Spy and the Traitor
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Madame Fourcade’s Secret War by Lynne Olson
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