A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II

Penguin. Apr. 2019. 368p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780735225299. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780735225305. BIOG
In her latest work, journalist Purnell (Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill) examines the life of Virginia Hall (1906–82), an American woman who became an Office of Strategic Services (OSS) spy in occupied France in World War II, despite being originally turned down for U.S. Foreign Service because of her gender and prosthetic leg. In the face of this rejection, she traveled to England, joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE), and was deployed to France. There she became a master of disguises, recruiting sprawling spy networks and directing guerilla operations. When America joined the war effort and began looking for qualified OSS operatives, Hall moved over to the new spy agency. Even then, it took months of background checks for her to be allowed into CIA headquarters. Her 14-year career with the CIA saw her rise to the highest rank open to women—one of only five women in covert operations to do so at the time.
VERDICT Purnell's work is well researched, fast paced, and gives a captivating look at one of World War II's unsung heroes. This will interest readers intrigued by the history of espionage as well as women's and military history.

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