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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The unfamiliar terrain of Britain's American colonies made it vital for both sides to gain knowledge of enemy troop movements during the Revolutionary War. But acquiring that information called for a level of espionage that neither side was prepared for, requiring both to make up many of their operational procedures as they went along. Rose (Kings in the North) focuses on a small band of Americans, longtime friends who created an intelligence network known as the Culper Ring to funnel information to George Washington about the British troops in and around New York City. The author quotes extensively from their correspondence, showing how contentious the relationship between the general and his spies could get, especially when Washington thought they were underperforming. Rose also delves into technical aspects of the Culpers' spycraft, like their attempts at cryptography and invisible ink. Although his story is compelling in its descriptions of occupied New York, where patriots and loyalists lived together in an uneasy balance, it is diffused somewhat by lengthy digressions into the more well-known spy tales of Nathan Hale and Benedict Arnold. Be sure to follow along with the footnotes, too—Rose works in several more anecdotes among his documentation. (May 2)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“Alexander Rose tells this important story with style and wit.”—Pulitzer Prize–winning author Joseph J. Ellis
“Fascinating . . . Spies proved to be the tipping point in the summer of 1778, helping Washington begin breaking the stalemate with the British. . . . [Alexander] Rose’s book brings to light their crucial help in winning American independence.”Chicago Tribune
“[Rose] captures the human dimension of spying, war and leadership . . . from the naive twenty-one-year-old Nathan Hale, who was captured and executed, to the quietly cunning Benjamin Tallmadge, who organized the ring in 1778, to the traitorous Benedict Arnold.”The Wall Street Journal
“Rose gives us intrigue, crossed signals, derring-do, and a priceless slice of eighteenth-century life. Think of Alan Furst with muskets.”—Richard Brookhiser, author of Founding Father
“A compelling portrait of [a] rogues’ gallery of barkeeps, misfits, hypochondriacs, part-time smugglers, and full-time neurotics that will remind every reader of the cast of a John le Carré novel.”—Arthur Herman, National Review

From the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam; Reprint edition (May 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553383299
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553383294
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (254 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,142 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

A little about myself. I was born in the United States, grew up in Australia, and educated (sort of) in Britain, worked in Canada, but now live in New York (well, sort of). For several years, I was a journalist but went into the History Business around the time my book, "Washington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring," first appeared. It's since been used as the basis for the AMC drama series, "Turn: Washington's Spies," for which I also serve as writer and producer.

These days, I keep the wolves from the door by reviewing the odd book for the newspapers and cranking out the occasional article for various magazines. My next book, "Men of War: The American Experience of Battle at Bunker Hill, Gettysburg, and Iwo Jima," is coming out on June 9, 2015.

I always like to hear from readers, so if you have any questions or comments or requests, please feel free to contact me, either by email (, on Twitter, or through The FaceBook.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

94 of 95 people found the following review helpful By bru888 on March 11, 2014
Format: Paperback
I live on Long Island, near Setauket, the scene of much of the action in this book. A local historian wrote a review of this book for our hometown newspaper in which she compared "Washington's Spies" to the currently popular "George Washington's Secret Six" by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yeager. Here is some of what she had to say:

"Kilmeade and Yaeger have spun more than one story here. This non-fiction book hovers dangerously close to the side of fiction" [whereas] "Historians can refer with confidence to Alexander Rose’s book."

The reviewer provides this side-by-side comparison of Rose’s book with Kilmeade’s and Yaeger’s:

“Washington’s Spies”
Bibliography: 16½ pages, including 4½ pages of primary sources alone.
Notes: 60 pages, documenting every quotation and inference.

“Secret Six”
Bibliography: 6 pages, with 3 primary sources listed.
Notes: None.

I will add this: Not only is "Washington's Spies" the better history, it is well-written history that will keep you reading from cover to cover. It's not just about the Culper Spy Ring; it's also an interesting look at life in New York City and on Long Island during the Revolutionary War. You will gain added insight as to why the British lost that war and their American colonies by indulging in neglect, greed, corruption, and brutality that ultimately hardened the resolve of Patriots and lost the allegiance of many disheartened Loyalists.

I give 5-stars to "Washington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring."
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147 of 152 people found the following review helpful By Bill Hawkins on July 6, 2006
Format: Hardcover
As the title above indicates, I'm a collector of books set in Revolutionary America as well as the author of a frontier novel. I usually take my time reading a book because I like to savor it as I read. However, much to my wifes surprise, I finished the book in only a few days. I enjoyed the book so much that I wanted to keep on reading when I usually would have paused. The book reads like a novel and Mr. Rose has a unique talent for being able to transport the reader to the time of the revolution and put an entire conflict into perspective. He did a terrific job of capturing the pace of life, which can be a difficult thing to do with the written word. I have literally read over a thousand books on the revolution, and this book is in my top 5. Best of all the book can be trusted to be true to history and is not an attempt at revisionism. You won't go wrong by ordering this book.
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65 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Revolutionary War Buff on June 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Rose obviously did an incredible amount of work on this book. I finished it last night. All I can say is Wow, the pages just flew by.. I have whole bookshelves loaded down with volumes on the Revolution, so it's not often I'm surprised by anything I read about it but I was this time! I recommend Washington's Spies to anyone with even a passing interest in military history, George Washingto, espionage, or just great history writing.
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By jwsouth on July 25, 2006
Format: Hardcover
If you've slogged through some of Edmund Morris' or David McCullough's work and said, "That was good...but long..." then Mr. Rose's book may be for you.

I've always wondered why there's never been a well-known movie or book about the tragic, heroic Nathan Hale. The first chapter explains why!

My only critique of Mr. Rose's work is that at some points he throws a dizzying amount of names and places at you, and you have to flip back to review the introduction of recurring characters in the text.
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45 of 49 people found the following review helpful By K. McNulty on May 24, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The Culper Ring was a secret spy network run by General George Washington during the War of Independence which operated in New York City. It had five members: Abragham Woodhull, Robert Townsend, Caleb Brewster, Austin Roe and Benjamin Tallmadge (who was Nathan Hale's best friend at Yale University). Together they (as Rose says) "spied the daylights out of the British." The author does more than tell their story, but goes deeper and examines the whole "secret world" of the Revolution, the one you dn't read about in the history books. Including smuggling, gun-running, kidnapping, piracy, and even the British attempt to destroy the Continental dollar by flooding us with counterfeits. I wish I had this back in college. A fascinating eye-opener and wonderfully written.
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57 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Monty Rainey VINE VOICE on June 29, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Being a devoted history buff with special interest in 18th century American history, I consider myself pretty well versed in that area. I didn't really think there was much I hadn't read yet about the Revolutionary War. But then I picked up WASHINGTON'S SPIES: THE STORY OF AMERICA'S FIRST SPY RING by Alexander Rose and discovered a whole portion of the fight for independence that I knew very little about.

I was originally drawn to this book wanting to research more on the life of Capt. Nathan Hale, which is certainly an integral part of Rose's work, but it goes much farther than that. What I discovered was a most enlightening look at a world within the mechanisms of war in the field of intelligence and espionage. I had never really considered the importance of the role played by these characters.

Rose's finished product is gruelingly meticulous in presenting us a valuable look into the inner workings of America's first spy ring. It is well written, flows well and presents the war effort from a perspective largely overlooked in the annals of American history. The note section is unbelievably comprehensive composing 80 of the 360 pages of this book.

If you're seeking a look into the Revolutionary War from a new angle, you will not want to miss reading this one. It's probably not for everyone. If you don't already have a pretty sound understanding of the war's events, this book may drag on a bit for you, but I believe it would be well worth the effort and will certainly render insight into the war from a largely untapped venue.

Monty Rainey

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