A Life in Secrets

Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII
Narrated by: Nicola Barber
Length: 19 hrs and 19 mins
4 out of 5 stars (25 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

From an award-winning journalist comes this real-life cloak-and-dagger tale of Vera Atkins, one of Britain’s premiere secret agents during World War II. 

As the head of the French Section of the British Special Operations Executive, Vera Atkins recruited, trained, and mentored special operatives whose job was to organize and arm the resistance in Nazi-occupied France. After the war, Atkins courageously committed herself to a dangerous search for 12 of her most cherished women spies who had gone missing in action. Drawing on previously unavailable sources, Sarah Helm chronicles Atkins’s extraordinary life and her singular journey through the chaos of post-war Europe.  

Brimming with intrigue, heroics, honor, and the horrors of war, A Life in Secrets is the story of a grand, elusive woman and a tour de force of investigative journalism.

©2008 Sarah Helm (P)2018 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“Brilliant...One can only admire the way that Helm put together all the pieces of the puzzle.” (The Washington Post)

 “Fascinating...Compelling...Gripping...A stupendous job of reporting.” (The New York Times)

“Helm's account is a chilling reminder of the ghastliness of WWII.” (Entertainment Weekly)

What members say

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

History brought to life!

This book is exceptionally well researched and surprisingly unbiased. The fact that it is a true story almost defies thinking!

1 person found this helpful

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we will never know much of what she knew/did

This was subject matter I would not have expected to choose or care a thing about. I became aware of Vera from the 30+ hours of Sarah Helm's thorough history of Ravensbruck (concentration camp for women). She was a Romanian born British intelligence officer who worked in the France section of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) during WWII. While espionage has captivated many, Ian Fleming's James Bond fans to name just some, Miss Atkins' story was deep & interesting beyond her short time in a leadership role from London during the war. It stretches from her childhood in Romania across many countries & decades & characters. This woman had an intimate personal view of the inside of goings on in a complex time. Unfortunately much of her story died with her in 2000, but, following in the footsteps of others who followed it somewhat earlier, this author tireless dug for evidence & drew some conclusions of her own that are very thought provoking & entertaining to hear.

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A life in secrets

I know the story of Vera Atkins and very much wanted to listen to this book. Narrator has an obvious lisp which is very annoying. Did not finish the book,

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An exemplary work of research and journalism.

The book was not at all what I expected, but one cannot but admire the hard work of research and writing facility of the author. Vera Atkins remains a fascinating enigma, as do many of the major players in the book .Ms Helm conclusions , though entirely subjective, are well supported by her prose. There has been much written by other authors of this time in history and of the SOE and it is unrealistic to expect a consensus of these who existed in a cloak of secrecy. The narrator , Nicola Barber , was superb.

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  • honora
  • 10-30-18

Fascinating history of SOE operations WWII

This is a meticulously researched book . The author uses this biography of a key figure to delve into and document complex interactions between agencies and enemies during and after WW2. Her research leads the author to interview and meet numerous people -often descendants - from both sides . Through records , from a diverse range of worldwide sources , a compelling picture is painted of the central figure Vera Atkins, the SOE staff , the secret agents , the role of German officials and officers , resistance members , the horror of imprisonments suffered , the strangeness of the war crimes trials, and the many unanswered questions . This book spells out clearly the repeated and serious errors of judgement made by Maurice Buckminister which led to the death of many agents and resistors in France . The post war period is very well described. This is a serious book well worth reading (or listening to ) for anyone interested in WW2 in Europe . It presents a more realistic view of the role of SOE operations than that portrayed in more popular books and films . Congratulations to Sarah Helm .

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 07-08-19

Really interesting

An interesting listen but not necessarily a bed time listen. Descriptions are graphic in places.

1 person found this helpful

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  • 39!
  • 12-30-19

Historic Importance

A great book which has the listener amazed at the bravery of many people during the Second World War. I have gone on to read other books similar to this. This book is and incredible story of bravery and sacrifice, and one woman's plight to look after her girls even in death. It shows how lucky we are that people such as these put their lives on the line during this time of world unrest. My Nan was alive a living in London when this was taking place, it makes me feel like I have a direct connection to these events. this is a must read for anyone interested in WW2 history, and I challenge you not to be moved by this story of real events. Thanks you Sarah Helm for a fascinating listen. And thanks to Nicola Barber for making it an engaging listen that you can't pause.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 12-04-19

Incredibly informative

I thoroughly enjoyed this audiobook. Vera Atkins was a very interesting character and this book delves into this in a respectful but non-biased way. Anybody with an interested in the SOE or womens roles during WW2 would take alot from this book.

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  • Janie
  • 11-01-19

important work on SOE and F section in WWII

Good story. Slightly irritating that narrator spoke numbers in an American manner. It seemed more emphasis was placed on certain agents such as "Norah" yet others were only mentioned briefly.

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  • Paul
  • 04-20-19

Brilliant.

loved the detail provided by the research of this remarkable story. How much owe the brave people that risked their lives during WWII.

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  • Jennifer
  • 02-02-20

Extraordinary

Sarah Helm. What an incredible researcher. The story of how she found answers is as compelling as the story of Vera. The readers performance was a delight