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Sisterhood of Spies: The Women of the OSS Paperback – March 1, 2009

4.2 out of 5 stars 49 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Sisterhood of Spies is a real-life James Bond story, double-X chromosome-style. Here, though, the heroines aren't sex kittens in black spandex, but rather upper-crust women risking their lives in the service of a country at war. Elizabeth P. McIntosh was a reporter in Hawaii when the Office of Strategic Services (the C.I.A.'s precursor) recruited her to aid in its campaign of wartime disinformation. Fifty-five years later, she's taken it upon herself to tell the story of the women who served with her undercover--some of whom have also achieved aboveground celebrity, such as Marlene Dietrich and Julia Child. The narratives contained in Sisterhood of Spies couldn't be any more gripping if they were written as fiction: Nazi interrogation ordeals, daring escapes across mountain passes, expeditions behind enemy lines, even Mata Hari-style affairs. Ms. McIntosh's book is a fond ode to these women and a bravery that has remained unsung too long. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Within the ranks of America's intelligence community retirees, former agent McIntosh is a legend. A one-time war correspondent, the young McIntosh joined the fledgling Office of Strategic Services in 1943 and plunged gamely into her assigned task of running morale operations against the Japanese in Burma and China. She went on to become a longtime employee of the CIA. After WWII, she wrote a rollicking account of her wartime experiences in Undercover Girl (1947), now long out of print but still spoken of admiringly by fellow former agents. In this new memoir, McIntosh includes others in the "sisterhood of spies." Recording the exploits of an international cast, she underscores how women were grossly underused in the wartime spy agency, often being relegated to mainly secretarial duties. But McIntosh doesn't skimp on the adventures of female combatants, such as the remarkable Virginia Hall, aka "The Limping Lady" because of the gait produced by her wooden leg. Hall was so daring she was dubbed by the French Gestapo as "one of the most dangerous Allied agents in France." Another notable female spy was the intrepid Betty Lussier, who was instrumental in forming an extensive double-agent network in France. Amid the tales, interesting nuggets of spy craft emerge?for instance, that Morse code transmission is like handwriting, individualized to the extent that trained recipients instantly recognize a change in the sending "fist." This is an enthralling tribute to the largely unsung Mata Haris who worked undercover to help win the war, told with aplomb by one of their own. 25 photos, not seen by PW.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Naval Institute Press; Reprint edition (March 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591145147
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591145141
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.9 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #81,638 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Some years ago while digging in the National Archives I met the author. At that time she was pursuing the research for this book. When she mentioned that she was the "Undercover Girl" I immediately thought, "AHA, Cynthia!" Well, she wasn't. You will have to read this book to find out who Cynthia was and a whole host of others whose exploits were not so "undercover" ; )! At the time we met Ms. McIntosh's original book "Undercover Girl" was scheduled to be reprinted in the TIME-LIFE WW II espionage operations series, but that was not to be. I finally got a copy of the original and found it to be a fascinating read. This one is obviously not so immediate as her original but still gives the flavor of the wartime experience. The fact that male chauvinism ruled in those days is evident in that they were not paid the same rates and were seldom promoted to their potential-- considering that most of the OSS women where well-educated bilingual (or more) cosmopolitan citizens of many nations of the world, as adept with European royalty as with the natives in the fetid jungles of Asia. Their story is well worth telling and is very interesting reading.
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Format: Hardcover
I have been an avid reader of espionage books for some time. I believe that Elizabeth McIntosh has written an excellent book covering the role of the women involved in the OSS's clandestine operations during WWII. This is an insightful account of how many women (most, if not all the OSS women were well educated, well traveled, and in many cases multilingual) repeatedly endured physical and mental hardships, and risked their lives to help the greater war effort. Unfortunately, the work of Amy Thorpe, Virginia Hall, Maria Gulovich, and others have not been acknowledged until now. I am proud and grateful that these women decided to serve their nation, and only hope others will follow. This book should be an inspiration to any female who wants to serve her country.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
For readers who enjoy history (particularly WWII), McIntosh's "Sisterhood of Spies" is a worthwhile experience. The book looks at women in all areas of OSS during WWII in all parts of the globe. McIntosh's writing style is a bit bothersome at times (too much "gung-ho" spirit for me; that's why I only give it three stars) but she knows her stuff and the profiles of these women and their work during the war more than make up for it. I liked the stories of daring (particularly "the lady with the limp" or the episode to steal the naval codes or the woman captured by the Germans). I learned a great deal about hte different aspects of OSS - the R&A, black propaganda (forging postcards to demoralize the families of Japanese soldiers fighting in Burma). McIntosh does a good job of creating a sense of the lifestyle - the pressures, the challenges. She also gives a good bit of detailed "back story" on the women - showing their life before the war, how they got involved with OSS, how their experiences with OSS transformed their lives, and finally, a glimpse of their lives post-war. These women definitely challenged perceived notions of how women could contribute to the war effort. Most all of them encountered "narrow thinking," particularly from the military branches they were working with, and managed to overcome that. I found the stories both fascinating and inspiring.
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By A Customer on November 2, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I don't normally go for "women's history" books, but I've been reading everything I can on the OSS and this seemed like an interesting side of it. With that attitude, I totally underestimated the stories contained within. As expected, there are chapters on individual women who accomplished extraordinary things during the days of the OSS. The greater value, though, is that by telling even a sentence or two about the many, many women who worked as clerks, analysts, drivers, etc., you get a much better view of the structure of the organization. Many intelligence books concentrate on the medal-winning heroic acts. Here you get those stories plus a clear picture of who was recruited and how; how the offices worked; how information was gathered, analyzed, and consumed; and basically what it was like to work in the organization at the levels below superhero. I have a much better understanding of the day-to-day operations from reading this book. (P.S. I am a woman so don't flip out over my opening statement.)
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Format: Paperback
On a recent flight to Los Angeles, my neighbor noticed my unopened copy of "Sisterhood of Spies" and quipped - "There were women in the OSS? They were all clerks, right?" Little did I know the full scope of what they had accomplished until I had finished the book. Thank you to Elizabeth McIntosh for keeping alive the history of these courageous women in this incredible book. Elizabeth McIntosh and her sisters in arms served both in the back offices and on the front lines - this book will open your eyes to many, but not all of the contributions of women in Intelligence Service.

Amy Elizabeth Thorpe, code-named Cynthia, was one of the first women to work behind German lines during World War II. Her most important job was to steal a communications code book prior to the upcoming invasion of North Africa. McIntosh brilliantly tells the nerve-wracking tale of how Cynthia and her lover infiltrate the embassy to steal the code book.

Not every woman served on the front lines. McIntosh recalls the contributions of women like Mary Painter, who the author states was "an American economist who was an innovator in the use of statistical techniques during the war." McIntosh uses Painter's letters to her sister to retell her contributions during the war. This is just one of the many examples of the primary sources that the author used in writing the book.

Morale Operations, a euphemism for propaganda, was another area in which women made large contributions during the war. McIntosh shares examples of these operations from both the Pacific and European theaters.

Behind every successful organization, there is an efficient bureaucracy to run it. The OSS was no different, even with the added challenge of working with our cousins across the Atlantic.
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