The Irregulars by Jennet Conant
Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington

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Synopsis

When Roald Dahl, a dashing young wounded RAF pilot, took up his post at the British Embassy in Washington in 1942, his assignment was to use his good looks, wit, and considerable charm to gain access to the most powerful figures in American political life. A patriot eager to do his part to save his country from a Nazi invasion, he invaded the upper reaches of the U.S. government and Georgetown society, winning over First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and her husband, Franklin; befriending wartime leaders from Henry Wallace to Henry Morgenthau; and seducing the glamorous freshman congresswoman Clare Boothe Luce.

Dahl would soon be caught up in a complex web of deception masterminded by William Stephenson, aka Intrepid, Churchill's legendary spy chief, who, with President Roosevelt's tacit permission, mounted a secret campaign of propaganda and political subversion to weaken American isolationist forces, bring the country into the war against Germany, and influence U.S. policy in favor of England. Known as the British Security Coordination (BSC) -- though the initiated preferred to think of themselves as the Baker Street Irregulars in honor of the amateurs who aided Sherlock Holmes -- these audacious agents planted British propaganda in American newspapers and radio programs, covertly influenced leading journalists -- including Drew Pearson, Walter Winchell, and Walter Lippmann -- harassed prominent isolationists and anti-New Dealers, and plotted against American corporations that did business with the Third Reich.

In an account better than spy fiction, Jennet Conant shows Dahl progressing from reluctant diplomat to sly man-about-town, parlaying his morale-boosting wartime propaganda work into a successful career as an author, which leads to his entrée into the Roosevelt White House and Hyde Park and initiation into British intelligence's elite dirty tricks squad, all in less than three years. He and his colorful coconspirators -- David Ogilvy, Ian Fleming, and Ivar Bryce, recruited more for their imagination and dramatic flair than any experience in the spy business -- gossiped, bugged, and often hilariously bungled their way across Washington, doing their best to carry out their cloak-and-dagger assignments, support the fledgling American intelligence agency (the OSS), and see that Roosevelt was elected to an unprecedented fourth term.

It is an extraordinary tale of deceit, double-dealing, and moral ambiguity -- all in the name of victory. Richly detailed and meticulously researched, Conant's compelling narrative draws on never-before-seen wartime letters, diaries, and interviews and provides a rare, and remarkably candid, insider's view of the counterintelligence game during the tumultuous days of World War II.
 

About Jennet Conant

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Jennet Conant is the author of the New York Times bestsellers The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington and Tuxedo Park: A Wall Street Tycoon and the Secret Palace of Science That Changed the Course of World War II. A former journalist, she has written for Vanity Fair, Esquire, GQ, Newsweek, and The New York Times. She lives in New York City and Sag Harbor, New York.
 
Published September 9, 2008 by Simon & Schuster. 416 pages
Genres: History, Travel, War, Biographies & Memoirs, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for The Irregulars

Kirkus Reviews

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“With his reckless sense of humor and general air of insubordination,” the author writes, “Dahl may have been mentioned to someone on high as having the makings of an ideal informant, if for no other reason than no one so badly behaved would ever be suspected of working for British intelligence.”...

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The New York Times

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According to Conant, “all Dahl had to do was keep up a cheerful front and eavesdrop his way through the yawning Sunday breakfasts, hunt breakfasts, luncheons, teas, tea dances, innumerable drinks parties, banquets and not infrequent balls.” Certainly Dahl, as Conant shows, was not slow in compil...

Oct 17 2008 | Read Full Review of The Irregulars: Roald Dahl an...

BC Books

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Just as Dahl used Marsh and Marsh’s contacts to establish his own network, Conant uses Dahl’s story to connect the many personalities and the role each played in Britain’s desperate gamble.

Nov 24 2009 | Read Full Review of The Irregulars: Roald Dahl an...

BC Books

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Readers of more current generations will be interested in the intrigues, mysteries, and romantic adventures of a wide variety of characters including heads of state, millionaire business types, spies, and a common soldier who became a war hero.

Nov 24 2009 | Read Full Review of The Irregulars: Roald Dahl an...

AV Club

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Delicious!) Many of them probably had more influence than Charlie And The Chocolate Factory author Roald Dahl, but if Jennet Conant's The Irregulars: Roald Dahl And The British Spy Ring In Wartime Washington is any indication, it's doubtful that any of them had as much fun passing on Washing...

Sep 10 2008 | Read Full Review of The Irregulars: Roald Dahl an...

Entertainment Weekly

B+ Originally posted Sep 12, 2008 Published in issue #1012 Sep 19, 2008 Order article reprints

Sep 12 2008 | Read Full Review of The Irregulars: Roald Dahl an...

Christian Science Monitor

Conant, who also wrote the critically acclaimed “Tuxedo Park” and “109 East Palace,” has a gift for writing large stories based on the activities of seemingly minor figures.

Sep 11 2008 | Read Full Review of The Irregulars: Roald Dahl an...

Tampa Bay Times

Reading The Irregulars, Jennet Conant's wonderfully rendered history of British spy jinks in Washington, D.C., during World War II, my one regret was that Robert Altman, that great director of ensemble casts and vintage scenes, wasn't still alive.

Sep 21 2008 | Read Full Review of The Irregulars: Roald Dahl an...

Deseret News

Best-selling author Roald Dahl is best known for his imaginative books such as "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "James and the Giant Peach" and "Matilda."

Sep 14 2008 | Read Full Review of The Irregulars: Roald Dahl an...

Scotsman.com

Dahl's stream of gossipy reports about the doings of the Washington glitterati were nectar for London, which was terrified the Roosevelt administration would turn hostile after the war ended.

Nov 07 2008 | Read Full Review of The Irregulars: Roald Dahl an...

Bookmarks Magazine

David Walton Chicago Sun-Times 3.5 of 5 Stars "Jennet Conant … has found a wonderfully intriguing story to build her new book around—that of one ally actively spying on the citizens of another while a guest in their country, and one that includes a roster of names readers know from activitie...

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Curtis Brown

The Irregulars Actors Books ...

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