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The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington Paperback – September 8, 2009
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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 more James Bond than James 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 Irregulars is 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
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
This carefully researched chronicle of Dahl's WWII espionage ought to be more interesting than it is—the word spy ring suggests thrilling acts of derring-do, yet they never come. While occasionally intriguing, this is too frequently a dry collection of old gossip with too many tangents discussing minor characters, their real estate and their clothing. Simon Prebble reads creditably and distinctively, and his English accent is perfect for the subject. But even he cant hold ones attention in this excessively digressive, slowly paced academic work. Its a pity, because this is a comprehensive look at a topic that most people probably know little about: England's efforts to counter American isolationism. A Simon & Schuster hardcover (Reviews, June 9). (Sept.)
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.
Top customer reviews
The information on the careers of Fleming and Stevenson doesn't go much beyond the surface and can be gleaned from other, better books.
Tedium aside, The Irregulars still succeeds on two fronts, as a Biography of Dahl's formative years, and as a time capsule of the social scene in the Capitol during WWII. If you are a fan of either Roald Dahl or gossip columns and society pages, you might find something in this book to hold your interest. Otherwise I suggest you look to 109 East Palace for an example of Conant at her best.
Dahl (author of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate, inter alia) was an RAF pilot in the early part of WWII. He was badly injured in a plane crash and could no longer fly. He went to work as the air attache at the British Embassy in Washington, but he was really sent there to help convince America to join the war as a member of the British Security Coordination.
His overseers at the Embassy did not always know what or why he was doing something for the BSC. They were none too happy with this situation and periodically tried to have Dahl reassigned back to England. The same was not true for the social and political elites in DC. The work required him to work his way into the elite social scene in DC which meant that he was rubbing elbows with, and building relationships with, many of the most important people in the country. In fact, he became friends with the Roosevelts, the Vice President, numerous Congressmen, wealthy businessmen who supported election campaigns, and the doyennes who gave the parties that one just couldn't say no to. He had access to the people that mattered, and he knew how to constructively use that access to influence American policy toward Britain and the war.
Dahl also began his career as a writer at this time. He wrote essays about his war time experiences for magazines and began writing children's story books. His book, The Gremlins, attracted the attention of Walt Disney who wanted to make a movie of the book. That didn't work out, but Dahl went on to write for the movies as well. This led him to some of Hollywood's most influential actors, writers, producers and studio heads.
Conant does a great job, not just telling us the facts of the situation, but of turning real people into fascinating .characters