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A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II Hardcover – April 9, 2019
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From the Publisher
"[An] excellent biography... if Virginia Hall herself remains something of an enigma — a testament, perhaps, to the skills that allowed her to live in the shadows for so long — the extraordinary facts of her life are brought onto the page here with a well-judged balance of empathy and fine detail. This book is as riveting as any thriller, and as hard to put down" -- The New York Times Book Review
“[A] compelling saga of a remarkable woman whose persistence was honed early on by her battles against low gender expectations and later on by her disability.” – USA Today
"A gripping take… a compelling biography of a masterful spy, and a reminder of what can be done with a few brave people — and a little resistance.” -- NPR.org
“Never have I read anything like it. Every page is compelling and demands not just to be read, but absorbed. Every act reflects incredible bravery. This is what heroism looks like…Sonia Purnell has ensured Virginia Hall’s place in that great pantheon.” --FOX News
“A fitting and moving tribute to an amazing woman.” – The Economist
"Reads like a detailed novel… Purnell’s fascinating book supports her description of Hall’s life as a ‘Homeric tale of adventure, action, and seemingly unfathomable courage." —The Columbus Dispatch
"Sonia Purnell has written a riveting account of Hall’s work as a ferociously courageous American spy… [she] writes with compelling energy and fine detail." —The Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Purnell’s writing is as precise and engaging as her research, and this book restores overdue attention to one of the world’s great war heroes. It’s a joy to read, and it will swell readers' hearts with pride.” —Booklist, Starred Review
“A groundbreaking biography that reads like a spy thriller…a suspenseful, heartbreaking and ultimately triumphant tale of heroism and sacrifice.” —BookPage, Starred Review
“Purnell vividly resurrects an underappreciated hero and delivers an enthralling story of wartime intrigue…fans of WWII history and women’s history will be riveted.” —Publishers Weekly
“A remarkable chronicle...this lively examination…shows how, if Hall had been a man, dropping undercover in and out of occupied Vichy, Paris, and Lyon, setting up safe houses, and coordinating couriers for the Resistance, she would now be as famous as James Bond…Meticulous research results in a significant biography of a trailblazer who now has a CIA building named after her.”
“Impressively researched and compellingly written, this brilliant biography puts Virginia Hall−and her prosthetic leg, Cuthbert−back where they belong : right in the heart of Resistance history.” —Clare Mulley, author of The Women Who Flew for Hitler: A True Story of Soaring Ambition and Searing Rivalry
“In this astonishing, intriguing book, Sonia Purnell presents one of the most breathtaking stories yet told of female courage behind enemy lines. Its strength lies not only in Purnell’s intimate and moving portrayal of Virginia’s secret work, but also in the new light shed on the betrayal, bravery, and bungling of Churchill’s Special Operations Executive for which Virginia worked.” —Sarah Helm, author of Ravensbrück: Life and Death in Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women
“What a fascinating story! Sonia Purnell skillfully takes you deep into the covert operations Virginia Hall led in Nazi-occupied France. Readers will find this tale of her cunning and courage riveting.” —Douglas Waller, author of Wild Bill Donovan: The Spymaster Who Created the OSS and Modern American Espionage
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Also a very important corrective to the lack of appreciation of female intelligence operatives during the Second World War. It is not really surprising, but nevertheless infuriating, to see how badly female agents were treated by the men in charge of Allied intelligence operations. Eventually, after her skill and heroism became so evident, SOE and OSS, and the French, did come around to recognizing Virginia Hall’s contribution. But I have to suspect that there were many other women, making great sacrifices, who were never recognized. (And then there was the shameful treatment of Josephine Baker, who was recognized by the French, but ignored by her own country because of racism as well as sexism.) A Woman of No Importance is straight history, and no feminist rant. But in the course of telling this story, Sonia Purnell has made a real contribution to feminist history.
This biography of Virginia Hall takes the reader along with her through both the good and bad times in her life. Her personal determination coupled with her courage comes to life on these pages. The text has been well-researched ....despite an overabundance of missing documents. There were fires, files not in the correct place and who knows what else occurred, so this author has truly done an excellent job.
Personally I feel that Virginia Hall acquired her analytical skills at an early age. She also had an inherent grasp of human nature which enabled her to recruit others. Her personal flaws and fears assisted her in her acute perception of enemies. And, these enemies were many and over a a period of time.
I did wonder throughout the biography, what motivated this lady to keep going despite all odds. Despite her physical pain and depression, she kept going. Her personal despair was always there but she 'soldiered' on to become one of the greatest female spies during WW II. I believe she was searching for the personal peace that we all yearn for in our lives.
This is a thrilling, exciting and, at times over-powering biography of this lady. Excellent descriptions, vivid imagery coupled with clear and concise writing make this one a 5 star plus biography for me.
Excellent, truly excellent read for me.
Most highly recommended.
Top international reviews
I was so impressed that I looked into the author and realised who it was. Sonia Purnell has written a number of biographys and is probably best known for her writting on Boris Johnson. I can't recommend this wonderfully researched book enough.
It is a well researched and highly readable work of history, complete with a useful glossary of agents and their code names, a selection of well chosen photographs, a bibliography of sources written in both French and English and extensive notes, the latter two in particular making it eminently suitable to assist with further study or research. The constant reminders of how Virginia was not used to her full potential because of her gender, however true and however deeply she resented the fact, were the only slight annoyance - though, admittedly, the theme is thoroughly in keeping with the title, "A woman of No Importance".
I part read and part listened to the Audible version of the book, read superbly by Juliet Stevenson, who is talented at adopting a variety of different accents.
To this 72 year old reviewer, reading this book is utterly humbling.
What this incredibly brave American woman did to help secure the allied victory during the axis occupation of Europe during the Second World War is almost beyond belief.
With limited assistance from a male dominated hierarchy shows just how an extremely determined and dedicated woman can succeed with very little recognition until years after her death.
A must read for the discerning reader. A book that will never be forgotten.
I do feel that this story will always have its secrets and the full story may never be told....gripping alm the same....
Would I recomend it - absolutely.