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A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the…
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A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII (2005)

by Sarah Helm

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An account of the role of Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents during the Second World War.
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 twelve 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.
The book, A Life in Secrets, reveals the utter disregard for human lives through British incompetence and German savagery. On one hand, it highlights the naïve stupidity, the stubborn prejudices and inherent righteousness of the Allies, whilst condemning the evil brutality, the blind faith and the rigid obedience of the German war machine.
Failures and malpractice on both sides led to the unnecessary torture and deaths of individuals who had been led like ‘lambs to the slaughter’ for the sake of the ideological ambitions of those in power.
The book is a gripping exposé of the worst traits of humanity. Sometimes difficult to follow, but reads like a detective story, uncovering clue after clue in addition to false trails. A work of thorough painstaking investigation, providing compelling reading about little known ‘murky’ aspects of the Second World War. ( )
  MasseyLibrary | Mar 23, 2018 |
This is a fascinating book. I had never heard of Vera Atkins even though I have quite a decent collection of SOE related material. I found it initially because I was doing research for a short story based in WWII with a female protagonist. I was looking for a role model for my character who was female, strong and able to be calm in the face of great adversity. This book was a boon. Exceptionally well researched and very easy to read, I found it a wonderful account of female involvement in espionage during WWII. I would recommend this book to anyone who had an interest in WWII, particularly the clandestine side of things, or to anyone who is interested in reading about strong women in history. In comparison to the trials and tribulations these women went through, it makes the issues of young women today in Western society seem completely trivial and irritating. I would love to send a few people I know back in time and insert them into the situations described in this book and see how they get on. Oh no, I broke a nail!! Disaster!! NOT. ( )
  KatiaMDavis | Dec 19, 2017 |
I don't remember how this book ended up on my TBR list - maybe because I read Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulks, which is mentioned in the epilogue. I didn't know anything about Vera Atkins and I couldn't remember knowing anything about SOE either, but this book kept me hooked from start to finish. Vera Atkins definitely had a fascinating life, even if the author acknowledges that there are various things that remain unknown, not the least because Vera Atkins herself got rid of some papers during her lifetime, and never spoke about some periods of life with friends or family. ( )
  mari_reads | Sep 9, 2017 |
This book was very well researched. It included beautiful descriptions of Romania and an interesting story about Ukraine. Unfortunately it also described the terrible fate of SOE agents who were captured in France. There was a bit too much detail for me although I am glad that the story is being told. I also like that the author presented multiple view points so that the author can make up their own mind. ( )
  RKoletteL | Aug 22, 2013 |
This was a look into the life of Vera Atkins, who became one of the top women in the spy game during World War II. It also looked into the women that she recruited to help, by becoming radio operators and couriers. ( )
  Ellens_ESO | Jan 24, 2013 |
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I met Vera Atkins just once.
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Originally published: London : Little, Brown, 2005.
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Book description
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 twelve 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 postwar 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.

[Back cover, 2006 trade paperback edition]
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 038550845X, Hardcover)

Once rumored to have been the inspiration for Ian Fleming’s Miss Moneypenny, Vera Atkins climbed her way to the top in the Special Operations Executive, or SOE: Britain’s secret service created to help build up, organize, and arm the resistance in the Nazi-occupied countries. Throughout the war, Atkins recruited, trained, and mentored the agents for the SOE’s French Section, which sent more than four hundred young men and women into occupied France—at least one hundred of whom never returned and were reported “Missing Presumed Dead” after the war. Twelve of these were women and among Atkins’s most cherished spies. When the war ended in 1945, she made it her personal mission to find out what happened to them and the other agents lost behind enemy lines, tracing rigorously their horrific final journeys. But as the woman who carried out this astonishing search appeared quintessentially English, Atkins was nothing of the sort. As we follow her through the devastation of postwar Germany, we learn Atkins herself covered her life in mystery so that even her closest family knew almost nothing of her past.

In A Life in Secrets Sarah Helm has stripped away Vera Atkins’s many veils. Drawing on recently released sixty-year-old government files and her unprecedented access to the private papers of the Atkins family, Helm vividly reconstructs a complex and extraordinary life.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:37 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Describes the life and espionage career of Vera Atkins, a talented agent who rose to the top of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), a British secret service dedicated to aiding resistance efforts throughout Nazi-occupied Europe.

» see all 2 descriptions

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