The soft cover edition contains 391 pages, including sixteen pages of glossy photos which this reader found most helpful. It’s more engaging to have an accurate mental image of some of the colorful personalities being described as you read. The framework of the book is the story of a Shell Oil employee who enlists in the RAF, crashes a fighter plane (not in combat) and becomes a war hero. He is then sent to America as a “voluntary informant” (spy). During his tenure as a spy in Intrepid’s network, he hones his writing skills which he uses after the war to pen James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He also wrote the screen play for Albert Broccoli’s production of You Only Live Twice.
During the war years Roald Dahl established a diverse and impressive network of contacts. He could be a poster boy for today’s network marketers! He gained the trust and friendship of people in high places, low places, and everywhere in between. His list of contacts is a name-dropper’s delight: Walt Disney, Charles E. Marsh (Texas newspaper magnate and inspiration for the television series, The Millionaire), Walter Winchell, Clare Boothe Luce, Ernest Hemingway, V.P. Henry Wallace, and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. There were many others but none more important than Marsh. Dahl became Marsh’s protégé and used their friendship as an entrée to establish many of his other contacts.
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. It’s still difficult for me to favorably compare Dahl’s mission (cultivating the friendship and trust of influential men in America while sleeping with their wives) with that of the infantry soldier crawling through hedge rows and dying in fox holes. Perhaps Machiavelli was right when he said, “He who overcomes an enemy by fraud is as much to be praised as he who does so by force.”