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The Brenner Assignment: The Untold Story of the Most Daring Spy Mission of World War II Hardcover – October 7, 2008

4.2 out of 5 stars 46 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Military historian Brenner (We Were One: Shoulder to Shoulder with the Marines Who Took Fallujah) brings a cinematic style and considerable expertise to this engrossing tale of a behind-enemy-lines mission during the last year of WWII. Conducted by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS, the predecessor to the modern CIA), the plan was to cut "a carotid artery of the Third Reich," the infamous Brenner Pass through the mountains between Austria and Italy, leaving the German army in Southern Italy isolated. Arguably one of the war's most dangerous operations, it was led two OSS operatives who never met: Stephen Hall, a combat engineer trained in demolitions, who conceived and sold the plan (and himself) to the newly formed OSS; and Howard Chappell, a Fort Benning paratroop trainer recruited by the OSS to train the team of "shadow soldiers" who would infiltrate Nazi Germany under Hall's command. Unfortunately, the main theater of operations had shifted to France by the summer of 1944, and the team was shorted critical logistical support. With thorough research and new interviews, O'Donnell provides an insightful look into the internal struggles of the burgeoning OSS as well as a real-life espionage adventure of bravery, ingenuity and sacrifice.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Kirkus Reviews
“O’Donnell clearly enjoys narrating war’s gristle along with its meat; small successes and failures ground the story in the reality of sabotage, reconnaissance, capture and escape, torture and murder. Along the way, the participants’ motivations, allegiances, thoughts and actions come alive in vigorous, exciting prose. A taut real-life thriller.”
Charles Pinck, President, The OSS Society
The Brenner Assignment” is an important contribution to the still unfolding history of the Office of Strategic Services, perhaps the most remarkable organization in American history. A fascinating tale of brains, brawn, and bravado.”
Rick Atkinson, author of Day of Battle
“Remarkable and very readable. Patrick O’Donnell has transformed an obscure World War II spy mission into a vivid and improbable adventure yarn.”
John C. McManus, author of The Americans at D-Day and Alamo in the Ardennes
“Patrick O’Donnell is a first-rate storyteller and one of our most perceptive historians. Few writers give as much of themselves to bring history to life. The Brenner Assignment is vintage O’Donnell—a pulse-pounding thriller that reads like a novel.”
Bookviews.com, 4/09
“O’Donnell is a skilled military historian…Anyone with an interest in WWII will want to read [this] excellent book.”
“Beginning with an inherently engaging tale of wartime derring-do, the author adds extensive research—from the OSS files at the National Archives to interviews with eyewitnesses including Italian partisans and the 90-year-old Chappell—and sprightly prose. The result is a first-rate spy tale.”
Internet Review of Books, October 2008
“This book cries out to be made into a movie. Two heroes on the same quest, a grand setting, evil Germans, spies and traitors, and a beautiful countess. What more would it need?...A tale untold until now…It’s a great story…Anyone interested in the details of a struggle as full of cruelty and heroism as any war has ever been will keep turning the pages right through to the end.”
Library Journal, 10/15/08
“This exciting narrative of war at the personal level will be a good supplement to subject collections."
Rocky Mountain News, 11/6/08
“O'Donnell draws from primary documents and interviews with the story's main characters, lending the story historical truth…A valuable read for WWII buffs.”
Bookgasm.com, 11/08
“The best spy thriller of the year is a true account of one Howard Chappell, a captain who was one of the first OSS operatives…This is material that could not be made up. The story is told through not only detailed notes of missions, but of Chappell’s personal diaries, where you just feel for what he must have been going through. It is jaw-dropping that everything in The Brenner Assignment is 100 percent real, making the writings of certain spy masters look like fairy tales…This is no Hollywood tale where things are tied up nicely, making this book even more of a must-read, since there are moments where you can’t believe what is going on and how these people pulled off these missions…Brenner could easily be referred to as the real-life Where Eagles Dare, but that would be a disservice to the men behind this history…O’Donnell has created a work of non-fiction that surpasses the greatest works of spy fiction.”
The Electric Review, 11/08
“A fast-paced Word War Two epic that grips the reader with a sharp intensity seldom seen in today’s middle-of-the-road literature. Melding the blow-by-blow reportage of Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song with the high drama of Hemingway’s best short fiction, military historian Patrick O’Donnell manages to tell the story of a small platoon of Americans who were assigned a dangerous and almost impossible task…While most World War Two stories written today mistakenly attempt to be bigger than life, what’s best about The Brenner Assignment is that it captures the human elements of war in true-to-life wordscapes (showing that valor and bravery are often only the by-products of ordinary men persevering against hard-edged odds). Featuring immaculate prose and exhaustive research, O’Donnell has created a movie in book form that will captivate its reader from start-to-finish. If there’s a veteran in the house, this book makes for a natural gift that will entertain as it educates and enlightens.”

Curled Up with a Good Book, 11/08
“A wonderful telling of this daring spy mission…Patrick O’Donnell keeps the reader enthralled with his smoothly flowing historical narrative… O’Donnell makes those people who had died alive again…Highly recommended to those interested in World War II in Italy, spy stories, the OSS, or a good ol’ hero story."
The Advocate, 10/11/08
“As strange and glorious as the most wildly conceived espionage fiction…Prose that could come right out of a spy thriller…O’Donnell is not only a first-rate historian, he’s a world-class storyteller…He fleshes out history with a combination of hard evidence and intimate biography of the major players. If this were fiction, it would be remarkable; as an overlooked piece of world war history, it’s priceless.”
Deseret News, 11/23/08
“If moviemakers ever run out of material for James Bond movies, they could always Anglicize the true stories of heroic American war saboteurs Stephen Hall and Albert Chappell…O'Donnell's story is compelling because the author has done so much legwork… World War II book lovers should enjoy The Brenner Assignment for the larger-than-life risks and successes of a few daring American paratroopers…O'Donnell's valuable history certainly proved one thing: More than 63 years after it ended, World War II still has incredible stories to tell.”
Infodad.com. 11/20/08
“The book’s story is told with novelistic, even cinematic impact, and is sure to thrill fans of the derring-do of that war…O’Donnell writes nonfiction as if he is creating a thriller…He effectively presents not only the American operatives but also their enemies…And he traces the Brenner Pass assignment carefully, including what went right and what went wrong—bringing to life the small triumphs and failures that, collectively, can win or lose a war…O’Donnell’s use of primary sources is impressive, as is his ability to knit the various parts of this story together. It is a well-told, true tale.”
HistoryWire.com, 11/20/08
“[A] made-for-the-movies saga.”
Washington Post Express, 11/19/08
“In stark yet evocative prose, O'Donnell deftly shows how a young, idealistic Army lieutenant attempted to cut off access to the Brenner Pass.”

Providence Journal
, 12/7/08
“Tell[s] for the first time the real-life story of how Office of Strategic Services warriors worked behind enemy lines to shut off the supply channels of Nazi Germany into Italy…The classic spy story O’Donnell succeeds in creating is complex, suspenseful, romantic, and reads like fiction.”

Augusta Metro Spirit
, 11/26/08
“For the first time, the most daring operation of World War II is brought into the light in a wonderfully crafted narrative…Most readers will have to remind themselves they are reading a non-fiction account…Interested in military history or thrilling stories, here’s a powerful combination of the two.”
PopMatters.com, 12/4/08
“A story not widely known of unbelievable bravery, heroism, and commitment…A gripping old-fashioned tale of good (American agents and Italian Partisans) vs. evil (Nazi SS and Gestapo) with evil finally defeated and made to atone…Written with cinematic pacing and simplicity and with a cast of characters that are reminiscent of the black and white war films made during the war or shortly after.”

BiblioBuffet, 10/5/08
“[It] has captured my attention so thoroughly it was hard to put down…The story that is emerging (even from the first few pages) is thrilling. I can already recommend this.”

Washington Post Express
, 11/19/08
“The story of an improbable and important WWII mission—one that’s never been told before.”

America in WWII
, 02/09
“O’Donnell, who wrote brilliantly of the current Iraq War in We Were One, has revealed a little-known story of World War II…in fast-moving and engaging prose…Read[s] like a good suspense or spy novel. O’Donnell entertains thoroughly while bringing to light a locale and struggle few students of the war know about.”

Italian America
, Winter 2009
“For the first time, the facts behind the most daring covert operation of WW II are revealed in this true adventure story…Tapping thousands of recently declassified files, documents and interview...

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press (October 7, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030681577X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306815775
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.2 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #252,722 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

"One of the world's preeminent military historians." - Military Review, U.S. Army

Combat historian, bestselling author, and public speaker Patrick K. O'Donnell has written ten critically acclaimed books that recount the epic stories of America's wars from the Revolution to Iraq. He is a premier expert on elite and special operations units and irregular warfare. O'Donnell's books are described as "nonfiction that read like fiction."

WASHINGTON'S IMMORTALS: The Untold Story of an Elite Regiment Who Changed the Course of the Revolution is his newest book.

His bestseller, BEYOND VALOR, which tells the gripping tales of U.S. WWII Ranger and Airborne veterans, won the William E. Colby Award for Outstanding Military History. O'Donnell's WE WERE ONE: Shoulder to Shoulder With the Marines Who Took Fallujah is required reading for Marines and is on the Commandants' Professional Reading List.

His other books include: FIRST SEALs: The Untold Story of the Forging of America's Most Elite Unit; INTO THE RISING SUN: WWII's Pacific Veterans Reveal the Heart of Combat; OPERATIVES, SPIES, and SABOTEURS: The Unknown Story of the Men and Women of WWII's OSS; THE BRENNER ASSIGNMENT: The Untold Story of the Most Daring Spy Mission of WWII; THEY DARED RETURN: The True Story of Jewish Spies Behind the Lines in Nazi Germany (the story behind the "Real Inglorious Bastards"); and GIVE ME TOMORROW: The Korean War's Greatest Untold Story - The Epic Stand Of The Marines Of George Company; DOG COMPANY: The Boys of Pointe du Hoc -- The Rangers Who Accomplished D-Day's Toughest Mission and Led the Way Across Europe;

His books have been Main or Alternate selections of the Book-of-the-Month, History, and Military History Book Clubs. Reviewers from media outlets as diverse as The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, Jerusalem Post, Los Angeles Times, CNN, C-SPAN, and National Public Radio (NPR) have hailed his publications.

O'Donnell has been studying World War II and modern war since childhood. He has a passion for finding ways to preserve the oral histories of America's combat veterans for generations to come. Nearly two decades ago, he founded The Drop Zone, the first online military oral history project and virtual museum. This award-winning website contains many of the thousands of interviews O'Donnell personally conducted with veterans and their adversaries, making it one of the largest private collections of historical materials from elite and special operations troops.

As an expert on WWII espionage, special operations, and counterinsurgency on the modern battlefield, the historian has helped with production and writing for numerous documentaries produced by the BBC, the History Channel, and others. See Discovery/AHC's Against the Odds: Bloody George at the Chosin Reservoir based on his book Give Me Tomorrow, and History Channel's Shoot Out D-Day Fallujah https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bKPmnwAtZSM . His book, They Dared Return, is the award-winning documentary: Real Inglorious Bastards https://youtu.be/b_HPrFLy-GM. He has appeared as a guest on countless television and radio shows on NPR, CNN, FOX, Discovery, and other networks.

He also provided historical consulting for DreamWorks' award-winning miniseries Band of Brothers, as well as for the billion-dollar Medal of Honor game franchise.

O'Donnell not only writes about combat--he's experienced it firsthand. During the Iraq war, he was embedded with military units as the only civilian combat historian to volunteer and spend three months in Iraq documenting the experiences of troops in battle. He fought with a Marine rifle platoon (Lima Company 3/1) during the Battle of Fallujah, surviving several ambushes, and carried a mortally wounded Marine out of a firefight with Chechen insurgents. (See WeWereOne.com and The History Channel's: Shoot Out D-Day Fallujah.)

On his second tour to Iraq, he served as a war correspondent for Men's Journal and Fox News, reporting on the conflict in Iraq from the perspective of the Marines on the ground. He has written for Military History Quarterly (MHQ) and WWII Magazine and is a contributor to The National Review, as well as a variety of nationally recognized publications.

He also provided historical consulting for DreamWorks' award-winning miniseries Band of Brothers, as well as for the billion-dollar Medal of Honor game franchise.

His skills and expertise have been tapped by private sector firms and government agencies, including DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). For the agency, O'Donnell worked on modern weapons systems for urban warfare, researched and analyzed counter-insurgency strategies and tactics, and assessed German technology from WWII, focusing on its application to the modern battlefield.

Because he believes in experiencing the places and people about which he writes, O'Donnell has traveled to nearly all of the battlefields of North America and many of the WWII battlefields in Northern Europe. In addition, each one of his books contains scores, if not hundreds, of oral history interviews, combined with years of archival research. For example, The Brenner Assignment was based on 10,000 primary source documents.

The author credits serendipity for leading him in the right direction, because the stories he tells somehow always find him.
His websites include:



Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Start off with one great writer, Patrick K. O'Donnell, add a daring spy mission; then add a world at war, some really bad guys and lots of action and suspense, and you have the essence of a great book. "The Brenner Assignment: The Untold Story Of The Most Daring Spy Mission Of World War II" is that book and it captures a story that is so fascinating it truly is worthy of being made into one of those huge blockbuster action films.

For history buffs and readers who enjoy spies, war, suspense and action entertainment they do not get much better. Written like a great novel this story will hold reader's attention from page one to the end. O'Donnell reminds us of why we enjoyed his other writings so well - he is a first rate story-teller!
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Format: Hardcover
After the fall of Mussolini in 1943, Italy saw an increase in partisan warfare against the Germans. While Allied troops were slowly pressing north, partisan bands of almost every political stripe were formed, disrupting the German rear areas and tying down troops needed for the front. Seeing an opportunity to make life harder for the Germans, the newly-created OSS (Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of CIA) parachuted agents behind enemy lines, tasked with the mission to aid the partisans and to conduct commando operations. Few missions were more daring than the plan to block the main German supply route through the Brenner Pass on the Italo-Austrian border. It was the brain-child of Captain Stephen Hall, an OSS agent with an adventurous streak. Parachuted into northern Italy, his exploits could have been the subject for an action movie, had he succeeded. A fellow OSS agent, Captain Howard Chappell, entered the area the same way together with his team, and with one of his objectives to link up with Hall. His colleague had disappeared, though, and was in the clutches of the Gestapo...

The blurb for the book likens it to movies like "Where Eagles Dare", and isn't far off the mark. Daring American agents, sadistic Gestapo officers, brave (and not-so-brave) partisans, double agents, traitors, mysterious countesses, sabotage, capture, escapes, and missions that could alter the course of the war (or so it was believed) - "The Brenner Assignment" has it all. Now, this might sound like a cheap thriller, if it wasn't for O'Donnell's research, which is based on original documents and interviews with people directly involved in the story. For those of you who like a (mostly) well-written, exciting and true (as far as can be told) story from WW2, the book is bound to be a great read.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The true story this book tells should be gripping, tense, and cinematic. It has all the elements: heroes, villains, beautiful women (both good and bad), spies, war, and more. Yet it is none of those. The writing is pedestrian at best, although it strives irregularly for a novelistic flair. If it were drier, it might be palatable as a straight history; if it were better written, it could be a terrific page-turner. Sad to say, it's neither.
I'm glad to have read it, in the sense of having learned about an interesting time, and a daring plan, but I certainly wish the experience hadn't felt so much like work! There are places where the failings might be blamed on a bad book-to-Kindle conversion, but there are far too many awkward turns of phrase, or thuddingly cliched descriptions, to ever enjoy the reading itself.
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Format: Paperback
This story had all the elements necessary for a very successful book. I won't repeat what others have said regarding the plot,I'm more concerned with how poorly written "The Brenner Assignment" was. The author, who claims to have spent years researching this work and has several other books to his name should have been able to produce a much better product. Some of the book's major problems are its accuracy, organization, and style. The poor writing style was immediately apparent and undercut a genuinely interesting, exciting, and tragic story.

The author skims important details and his book seems to include a lot of filler. I've read a good deal of military history and most authors spend time detailing the training and backgrounds of the protagonists. Author Patrick O'Donnell skims much of this, mostly speaking in generalities. The OSS training program is covered in what amounts to three pages! Since the author had access to several veterans of the OSS, he could have written a very interesting chapter on the training program alone. Unfortunately, there aren't too many in-depth chapters in this book. Many of the paragraphs are constructed by taking a quote which is self-explanatory, then re-wording the quote before moving on to the next paragraph. These scant paragraphs make up the wisp-like chapters, several of which are only one, two, or three pages long. The lack of in-depth writing stands in stark contrast to the author's claims of having spent years poring over classified documents and interviewing veterans. There are an awful lot of university level, "It is likely that...[this happened]" statements. The author probably should have spent time focusing on his treasure trove of primary sources.

"The Brenner Assignment" was poorly organized.
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