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Based on remarkable new research, acclaimed historian Alexander Rose brings to life the true story of the spy ring that helped America win the Revolutionary War. For the first time, Rose takes us beyond the battlefront and deep into the shadowy underworld of double agents and triple crosses, covert operations and code breaking, and unmasks the courageous, flawed men who inhabited this wilderness of mirrors—including the spymaster at the heart of it all.
In the summer of 1778, with the war poised to turn in his favor, General George Washington desperately needed to know where the British would strike next. To that end, he unleashed his secret weapon: an unlikely ring of spies in New York charged with discovering the enemy’s battle plans and military strategy. Washington’s small band included a young Quaker torn between political principle and family loyalty, a swashbuckling sailor addicted to the perils of espionage, a hard-drinking barkeep, a Yale-educated cavalryman and friend of the doomed Nathan Hale, and a peaceful, sickly farmer who begged Washington to let him retire but who always came through in the end. Personally guiding these imperfect everyday heroes was Washington himself. In an era when officers were gentlemen, and gentlemen didn’t spy, he possessed an extraordinary talent for deception—and proved an adept spymaster.
The men he mentored were dubbed the Culper Ring. The British secret service tried to hunt them down, but they escaped by the closest of shaves thanks to their ciphers, dead drops, and invisible ink. Rose’s thrilling narrative tells the unknown story of the Revolution–the murderous intelligence war, gunrunning and kidnapping, defectors and executioners—that has never appeared in the history books. But Washington's Spies is also a spirited, touching account of friendship and trust, fear and betrayal, amid the dark and silent world of the spy.
I was only in recent years made aware of the Culper spy ring, and the idea fascinates me. Given the perceptions of what lines could and could not be crossed by certain classes of individuals, this entire story flies right in the face of what the general public would expect. The idea that Washington - the man who would not tell a lie, according to popular legend - was as deceitful as they come to win the war for Independence? That's just priceless.
The story as presented here is not really for entry-level students of the Revolution. The author gives you the stories and personalities on the new players within the spy ring, but you're expected to know the more prominent figures on both sides, a considerable amount of the politics, and an understanding of the attitudes at different levels. It's completely understandable to make those assumptions of the reader, given that this is more of a story for those already interested and somewhat immersed in the history of the time. The good news is that anyone who finds themselves not up to speed but still willing to dive in head first can get by in the broader view with their Wiki-scholar credentials. Obviously, the more you know about the big picture, the easier it is to appreciate the details of the story told here. I worked from a fairly solid knowledge base, but I'm certainly no expert. I still needed reference points from time to time. The rest worked itself out for me.
The only real issue I had is that the story does jump around a bit here and there. It's all easy enough to track if you pay heed to the dates and the narrative that unfolds. Others might have difficulties following the details of the coding or the other elements of spycraft, but for me that was part of the selling point of this book. This is geek-level history, and it's fun for me to finally have those details. Considering this is a story that went largely unknown for so long, I applaud the author for putting it all together for the interested reader. Well done.
22 of 22 people found this review helpful
Would you listen to Washington's Spies again? Why?
I'd definitely listen again because there were many characters and nuances that I never heard before about all the spies.
Who was your favorite character and why?
Definitely Woodhall, in my opinion, was the dominant hero in the spy ring but it seems like history doesn't pay mind like they do the other characters in the accounting.
Which character – as performed by Kevin Pariseau – was your favorite?
I liked how the character of Washington was portrayed as a person in conflict with himself and others in the spy ring.
Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?
I wish but LIFE always makes me stop and pause the book.
8 of 8 people found this review helpful
Those who are looking for the archival geekiest will not be disappointed. The author has uncovered and assembled a tremendous historical gift. Given the passage of 235 years, makes the book all the more impressive.
The screenwriters for Turn have taken many liberties with the book. However, both are to be congratulated for amplifying the importance of the sacrifice and capturing the essence of those Loyalists, Neutrals, & Patriots. I strongly recommend this book for anyone wanting to learn more about this chapter of the American Revolution and the fledgling clandestine service. Bravo!
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
The key thing I discovered reading this book was that General George Washington was a natural spy master. This book is about the Culper Spy Ring. The spy ring operated during the American War of Independence and provided Washington with information on British Troop movements.
In 1778, General George Washington appointed Major Benjamin Tallmadge as director of Military Intelligence, charged with creating a spy ring in New York City. The ring operated for five years and no member was ever unmasked. The ring developed a sophisticated method of conveying information to Washington.
Obtaining information about spies is normally a difficult task as they usually keep information about themselves secret. Alexander Rose tells he found all the letters from the spy member to and from General Washington in the Library of Congress. He used these letters as the bases for his story. The book is well written in fact it reads more like a novel than a history book. The author was able to develop a detailed profile on each of the spy ring members. There are Austin Roe, Caleb Brewster, Abraham Woodhall and Anna Strong.
I understand that the book is being adapted to television. If you are interested in the American Revolution or in just a good spy story this book is for you. Kevin Pariseau narrated the book.
14 of 16 people found this review helpful
Was driven to this book by the recent television adaptation. Not that I ought to be surprised to learn that a television program did not follow the historically accurate train of events, but— wow! A finely far-pushed use of the words "inspired by".
This book tells the true story as we know it to have been. An excellent telling of an otherwise overlooked part of the American Rebellion.
8 of 9 people found this review helpful
I read this book after watching the series TURN! for 2 years on television. This was a very good book, but it did teach me that the television series took a lot of creative license. The book is the real story and the television series is the "prettier" version. I was very interested to learn the real truth behind the characters I had been watching for two years. It is a wonderful book on a part of American history that is not well known.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
Even-handed and dryly funny at times. Somewhat written with phrasing and word choice of late Eighteenth Century English, this text can feel worst at times. However, I'd still rate it superior to other sources on the topic. This Audible reading was just right. The reader timed his breath breaks perfectly and had a good voice.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
This was well written and very enlightening about a time of gentlemanly war that was not quite so rosy as believed. The Revolutionary War was a bitter affair with tremendous suffering carried out by a generation not so dissimilar from this we venerate today the bore the sufferings of WWII. A great generation and a great introduction to the secret war. The broader coverage of the Culper ring and the events of the time is very well explored.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
Introduced to the story of Washington's Culper ring by the TV series 'Turn', I decided it would be worth getting to know the book it was based on. And the book is hugely superior, entertaining though the series is. Rose covers far more (other intelligence stories, outside the Culper ring) and, as a history, it has none of the implausible soap elements of the TV version: the silly love interest, for instance, or the terribly fiendish side of the less likeable characters.
The book is well written, at a fine pace, and Kevin Pariseau gives the good writing, the narration it deserves. Well worth listening to.
3 of 4 people found this review helpful
What did you love best about Washington's Spies?
It was a brief only about six hour so quick and to the point
What did you like best about this story?
Just hearing about the backgrounds of the spies and how they never wanted any credit or recognition. Just impressed with their patriotism
What do you think the narrator could have done better?
The narrator seemed like a kid reading a book report. Just wasn't my favorite narrator
Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?
Yeah it was certainly short enough but not on your edge type of story.
Any additional comments?
I just got finished reading a longer more detailed account about Washington's spies so this was a quick read and recap. Also I am watching the TV series "Turn" and it makes the tv show much more enjoyable
5 of 7 people found this review helpful