Agent Josephine: American Beauty, French Hero, British Spy

PublicAffairs: Perseus. Jul. 2022. 592p. ISBN 9781541700666. $32. BIOG
Josephine Baker moved from St. Louis to France in the early 1920s and quickly became a highly successful entertainer, renowned for her costumes and energetic performances. Lewis’s (Operation Relentless) biography captures another facet of Baker: her role as a spy for the Allied Forces during World War II. How does a world-famous Black celebrity become a successful intelligence agent? By hiding in plain sight, Lewis argues. Having grown up in American segregation, Baker understood discrimination and instinctively recognized Nazism as an insidious evil. While performing throughout the war, often for British and American troops, Baker worked with her road manager/companion Jacques Abtey to gather intelligence for the Allied Forces, often risking their lives in treacherous settings. Even when gravely ill and confined to a clinic in Casablanca, Baker turned her hospital room into a conduit of information. She and Abtey later earned accolades for their wartime service.
VERDICT An extensive, well-researched tribute to Baker’s bravery; will appeal to any fan of biographies of outstanding women.
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