Sunday, April 3, 2011

Agent Zigzag - Ben Macintyre

Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal

and so it is. Agent Zigzag is the story of Eddie Chapman, an English gentleman thief who talked his way out of prison in German-occupied France by becoming a German spy then immediately turned double-agent for Britain.

I quite enjoyed this book. Macintyre found most of the story in recently declassified documents, which gives this outrageous story a strong anchor. It's a deep look at WWII espionage, counterespionage, technology and psychology, but never dull. Chapman is truly a character made for movies - explosives, bank robbery, beautiful women, expensive taste, cover stories and sabotage. And yet often Chapman is restless and bored.

For anybody who likes a spy story (or the tv show Alias) or WWII trivia, this is a must-read. The story is well-written and most of the auxiliary characters are really well fleshed out. Plus there's a certain schadenfreude for the reader as upstanding government employees are compelled to provide a valuable spy with "loose women". The English are appropriately scandalized.

Chapman provided an astounding amount of valuable intelligence to the English at a crucial time in the war and was able to provide just as much valuable misinformation to the Germans, directing bombs away from central London and misleading them about the Allies technological capabilities.

Despite his amazing contribution to the war effort, Chapman was a con man and he was never fully trusted by his British handlers. Macintyre kind of obsesses over Chapman as a psychological study (as did the Germans and the Brits in their time), a man who will "look you straight in the eye while picking your pocket". He's an opportunist, for sure, but at a time of great need he was a patriot. His story is one worth reading, and it seems that Chapman himself would strongly agree.

Macintyre published another book about WWII last year called Operation Mincemeat which made's Top 100 Books of 2010. When I get through the backlog I'll definitely pick that up. At the moment I'm in the middle of Personal History, Katherine Graham's autobiography, two chapters into Acid Dreams, the complete social history of LSD, and I'm quickly consuming Rose by Inga Muscio. Clearly, I lack focus.


miranda. said...

Inga Muscio is the author of Cunt, right? There's an interview with her in the latest issue of Bitch.

This book sounds kind of awesome. Operation Mincemeat is available as an ebook from my library, so maybe after I get my nook I'll check it out.

Abby-Wan Kenobi said...

Yes, and I read it.

It is a little awesome. I was going to buy some books and then I noticed that my "to read" shelf is already one book overfull. Awkward.