The Dirty Tricks Department

The Dirty Tricks Department by John Lisle

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for The Dirty Tricks Department:

“Dirty” is entirely subjective.

Quick synopsis:

The story of the precursor to the CIA and the insane weapons they developed during World War II.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like:

There used to be a Brooklyn Dodgers football team. It has nothing to do with the overall book, but I still found it interesting.

Fun Fact for History Nerds:

A short list of toxins investigated by the OSS R&D Branch: cannabis, heroin, mussel poison, venom from bees, cobras, and copperheads.

My Take on The Dirty Tricks Department:

“Darkly funny” is a term I do not throw around loosely and especially not when referring to war. However, some ideas are so insane as to cross into the realm of hilarity. When you are a scientist testing which excrement smell would work best on enemy soldiers, you must have to laugh occasionally.

This is just one of the tamer examples of irregular warfare discussed in The Dirty Tricks Department by John Lisle. If this wasn’t pulled from real war files, reading about a “cat-bomb” would cause a reader to shut the book and forget it ever existed. Yet here we are.

The story itself needs no storytelling acumen to be captivating. The true test of an author for a book like this is to highlight the farcical elements without losing sight of the fact that many of these ideas are intended to kill. The story of the OSS of World War II, the predecessor to the CIA, has some dark elements which are not funny at all. Luckily, Lisle balances this masterfully. I never laughed (and I laughed a lot) without losing sight of the greater tragedy in the background because Lisle quickly pulls the reader back to the real stakes when the dark humor reaches fever pitch. He also breezes through the content which makes this highly readable even for people who don’t normally read history.

(This book was provided as an advance read copy by Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press.)


A really interesting book that’s a great read for anyone. Buy it here!

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