Episodic narrative of author Roald Dahl's role in the World War II British spying efforts in America. This ground, as Conant acknowledges, has been many times plowed already, so she doesn't attempt an exhaustive history, but relies on synopses, brief biographies, and moderately interesting anecdotes to drive this inconsequential account. Dahl was a sometimes appealing but often abrasive character in his own right, who has been the subject of many biographies and memoirs, for example Roald Dahl: A Biographyby Treglown.
As the United States and Britain were soon to become allies in a great world war for the second time in the century, the amount of effort Britain devoted to its American spying efforts beginning in the late 1930's, and the amount of ink devoted to it afterward, seems out of proportion to the benefits to be gained. However, British morale was low, many British politicians (notably Winston Churchill) believed that the country's survival depended on American intervention, and American politics at the time were predominately isolationist, anti-war, and often friendly to German interests (p. 29).
While Conant does not outline the goals of the British efforts in the United States and step through them systematically, the account does focus on these four key areas of effort as events unfolded:
--Get the United States into the war on the side of Britain and France.
--Get Vice President Henry Wallace (he was considered too liberal and not favorable to British interests) out of the government.
--Secure British interests in post-war civil aviation, which was felt to be the major post-war economic reality replacing the British Imperialist domination of the seas which was waning with her impending colonial divestiture and American expansionism.
--keep the United States from establishing close ties with Russia, at the expense of British economic and political ties, both during and after the war.
Given the shared language, similarities in culture, and generally friendly relationship between the two countries (apart from that whole tea party affair and that "Ha! Take that we burned your capital!" thing a few years ago), the "spying" consisted mostly of attending social parties, taking notes, and informally exchanging information at levels below the diplomatic packet. Dahl and his cohorts were never physically endangered, and nothing of great consequence seemed to really take place. The fact that history does indicate that all four goals were achieved may be attributed in some part to secret British political influence, although all things being equal it seems likely these outcomes would have been achieved in any case, and with less effort and ink expended.
Conant's tale is a mild diversion, nothing more. No new information surfaces, so if you are interested in more depth in the subject you would be better served to mine her sources about the period, of which there have been many in the ensuing decades. I was also frustrated to find numerous errors undetected by proofreading, which primarily consisted of incomplete sentences and misspelled words that were still valid words but in the wrong context, a sure indication that the editors relied on spell checker to do their jobs. Whenever I encounter this lack of attention to detail, especially in nonfiction, I caution readers that devoting a higher of level of attention and effort to the finished manuscript than the editors did is unlikely to be rewarded.
"The Irregulars" revolves around Roald Dahl and his activities during World War II, but at times it's almost easy to forget the main character as details of other interesting people are described. A huge portion of this book is about Charles Marsh and Washington D.C. social and political life. The discussion of what role the United States should play in world politics is very interesting background to the political concerns of today. Some of my favorite … more
So up front let me say, I haven't finished this book. I probably won't. It's not bad or anything like that, just a bit... uninteresting. This is something of a surprise since I like reading about WWII and loved Roald Dahl's books back when I was a wee youngster. It's not poorly written or anything, it's just that the subject completely failed to grab my attention. I wish I could say more here, but I really can't. It's possible you may enjoy it more than I did.
In peace or in war, allies spy on each other, sometimes overtly, but most often covertly. Despite their close association in World War II and the desperate need that Great Britain had for U. S. aid, the British maintained a spy and information apparatus in the United States during the war years. This effort was under the overall guidance of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and involved the dissemination of pro-British and anti-Axis propaganda in concert with a conventional spying operation. … more
Conant. Jennet. "The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington', Simon and Schuster, 2008. The Unknown Dahl Amos Lassen There is something about a spy story that keeps me riveted and a true story will definitely hold my attention. Jennet Conant's "The Irregulars" is a fantastic read which I had a hard time putting down. I have always loved the literary works of Roald Dahl since having first studied him … more
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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Amazon Best of the Month, September 2008: Long before Willy Wonka sent out those five Golden Tickets, Roald Dahl lived a life that was moreJames BondthanJames and the Giant Peach. After blinding headaches cut short his distinguished career as a Royal Air Force fighter pilot, Dahl became part of an elite group of British spies working against the United States' neutrality at the onset of World War II.The Irregularsis a brilliant profile of Dahl's lesser-known profession, embracing a real-life storyline of suave debauchery, clandestine motives, and afternoon cocktails. If this sounds oddly familiar, it's no coincidence: both Ian Fleming (the creator of 007) and Bill Stephenson (the legendary spymaster rumored to be the inspiration for Bond) were members of the same outfit. Although "Dahl...Roald Dahl" doesn't quite carry the same debonair ring, there is no discrediting this fascinating look at the British author's covert service to the Allied cause during WWII. --Dave Callanan