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The Women Who Lived for Danger: Behind Enemy Lines During WWII

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"They flirted with men, and with death." In The Women Who Lived for Danger, acclaimed historian Marcus Binney recounts the story of ten remarkable women -- some famous, some virtually unknown -- recruited to work behind enemy lines as secret agents during WWII. Part of Winston Churchill's Special Operations Executive, formed in 1940 to "set Europe ablaze," the women of the "They flirted with men, and with death." In The Women Who Lived for Danger, acclaimed historian Marcus Binney recounts the story of ten remarkable women -- some famous, some virtually unknown -- recruited to work behind enemy lines as secret agents during WWII. Part of Winston Churchill's Special Operations Executive, formed in 1940 to "set Europe ablaze," the women of the SOE were trained to handle guns and explosives, work undercover, endure interrogation by the Gestapo, and use complex codes. Once in enemy territory, theirs was the most dangerous war of all, leading an apparently normal civilian life but in constant danger of arrest and execution. Passing themselves off as country wenches by afternoon and chic Parisiennes by night, these women put service to Britain and the Allied forces above all concerns for personal safety -- they organized dropping grounds for arms and explosives destined for the Resistance, helped operate escape lines for airmen who had been shot down over Europe, and provided Allied Command with vital intelligence. The exploits of those chronicled in The Women Who Lived for Danger form a new chapter of heroism in the history of warfare matched only by their legacy of daring, determination, resourcefulness, and ability to stay cool in the face of extreme danger.


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"They flirted with men, and with death." In The Women Who Lived for Danger, acclaimed historian Marcus Binney recounts the story of ten remarkable women -- some famous, some virtually unknown -- recruited to work behind enemy lines as secret agents during WWII. Part of Winston Churchill's Special Operations Executive, formed in 1940 to "set Europe ablaze," the women of the "They flirted with men, and with death." In The Women Who Lived for Danger, acclaimed historian Marcus Binney recounts the story of ten remarkable women -- some famous, some virtually unknown -- recruited to work behind enemy lines as secret agents during WWII. Part of Winston Churchill's Special Operations Executive, formed in 1940 to "set Europe ablaze," the women of the SOE were trained to handle guns and explosives, work undercover, endure interrogation by the Gestapo, and use complex codes. Once in enemy territory, theirs was the most dangerous war of all, leading an apparently normal civilian life but in constant danger of arrest and execution. Passing themselves off as country wenches by afternoon and chic Parisiennes by night, these women put service to Britain and the Allied forces above all concerns for personal safety -- they organized dropping grounds for arms and explosives destined for the Resistance, helped operate escape lines for airmen who had been shot down over Europe, and provided Allied Command with vital intelligence. The exploits of those chronicled in The Women Who Lived for Danger form a new chapter of heroism in the history of warfare matched only by their legacy of daring, determination, resourcefulness, and ability to stay cool in the face of extreme danger.

30 review for The Women Who Lived for Danger: Behind Enemy Lines During WWII

  1. 5 out of 5

    Gary

    A fascinating volume of ten short accounts of the women agents ,who infiltrated France and other parts of Europe, of the Special Operations Executive, which was formed by Winston Churchill in 1940 to 'set Europe ablaze' Trained to use weapons, fluent in French, trained to pose as chic Parisiennes by night and country woman by the day, these valiant, beautiful, dedicated and intelligent women endured, danger, deprivation, torture and sometimes death at the hands of the Gestapo, SS and SD as well a A fascinating volume of ten short accounts of the women agents ,who infiltrated France and other parts of Europe, of the Special Operations Executive, which was formed by Winston Churchill in 1940 to 'set Europe ablaze' Trained to use weapons, fluent in French, trained to pose as chic Parisiennes by night and country woman by the day, these valiant, beautiful, dedicated and intelligent women endured, danger, deprivation, torture and sometimes death at the hands of the Gestapo, SS and SD as well as the French collaborationist police, and contributed greatly to the war effort of Britain to defeat Nazism Gripping and informative. Some really interesting facts about espionage during World War II.The author conducted interviews and used the official documents which adds authenticity to this volume. He recounts that it was the 'highly intelligent sensitive'women who endured torture best, not the 'tough guys'. People who had been tortured revealed that it was the 'smaller things' such as puling out of death or nails, not the beatings, hangings by the wrists, electric shocks or near drownings, which made them semi-conscious after a time. Most agreed if you could endure the first quarter of an hour without talking you probably wouldn't talk at all. The biographies of such women as Christina Granville, Violette Szabo, Noor Inayat Khan and Paola Del Din, what motivated them, what made them effective as agents and what they endured is a valuable\ insight into understanding both the espionage during the Second World War and the role of espionage in that war. In today's fight against terror and Islamo-Nazism, the heroism of new men and women will be required and revealed Carve their name in gold

  2. 4 out of 5

    Regina Lindsey

    I became interested in this subject many years ago after reading Ken Follett's Jackdaws. I was sorely disappointed During WWII, Churchill developed a program entitled the Special Operational Executive which recuited young, attractive women with exellent language skills to undertake special assignment behind enemy lines. The program eventually served as the model for the establishment of America's CIA program. The book opens briefly by discussing the recruitment and training process then highlight I became interested in this subject many years ago after reading Ken Follett's Jackdaws. I was sorely disappointed During WWII, Churchill developed a program entitled the Special Operational Executive which recuited young, attractive women with exellent language skills to undertake special assignment behind enemy lines. The program eventually served as the model for the establishment of America's CIA program. The book opens briefly by discussing the recruitment and training process then highlights the careers of ten women. During WWII 50 women were sent into Nazi occupied France and fifteen were captured and sent to concentration camps. Of those fiftenn only three survived My gripe with the book: it didn't focus on the women's careers. It focused on their sex lives. How can you describe Christine Granville as "one of SOE's brvest and longest serving agents, " (pg 5) and then not enummerate her heroics? Instead Binney obsesses about how men fell in love with her at first sight, the complicated marriage of a fellow spy, and the long term affair with another spy. I realize this is part of her story but I wanted to read about her career. I will keep my eye out on another book on the subject. This just didn't satisfy my curiosity.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Valerie

    I was fascinated by the subject. However, I have the following quibbles. a) for a book about women the ratio of stories about their male counterparts: the actual women, was a little disheartening. Now, I am sure there are good reasons for this. For instance, it seems rather obvious that there is often little written information about spies, but, the men were spies too. b) the book was often dry--in a, "how can you make a story about women blowing up trains in the dead of night prior to D-Day, soun I was fascinated by the subject. However, I have the following quibbles. a) for a book about women the ratio of stories about their male counterparts: the actual women, was a little disheartening. Now, I am sure there are good reasons for this. For instance, it seems rather obvious that there is often little written information about spies, but, the men were spies too. b) the book was often dry--in a, "how can you make a story about women blowing up trains in the dead of night prior to D-Day, sound so very boring." kind of way. I'm sure that we could have used more than a paragraph to describe that. c) I was distressed by the description of Violette Szabo's last shopping spree--I realize that spies have to pay attention to their clothes, and, I was fascinated by some of the details of care taken to keep their cover stories, but her choice to buy a pretty dress does not actually have much to do with her effectiveness as a spy. Although I was amused when I realized that she held off the German's for her male companion to escape while wearing cute blue peep toe wedges. Damn, now I'm doing it. On the plus side, the author instilled in me a great sense of what these women had to work with, and what they accomplished. I am eager to read more stories about them, and to give them the credit due to them for their bravery. I also learned a lot about radio operations, and the Resistance, and was amused to find the connection between the SOE and one of Hitchcock's screenwriters. As he points out 50 women undertook these missions, 14 of them never returned.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    This is the most riveting book I've read in a while. I'd pick it up to glance through it for names or photos, read a paragraph, sit down and read to the end of the chapter, then go back and read the whole chapter through from the beginning--without being able to focus on anything else around me. I did eventually make my way through the whole book from front to back. It's a series of portraits of adventurers and freedom fighters, all working for the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) durin This is the most riveting book I've read in a while. I'd pick it up to glance through it for names or photos, read a paragraph, sit down and read to the end of the chapter, then go back and read the whole chapter through from the beginning--without being able to focus on anything else around me. I did eventually make my way through the whole book from front to back. It's a series of portraits of adventurers and freedom fighters, all working for the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) during WWII but of many different nationalities--French, Russian, Polish, Italian, English, American, Indian. Some of the portraits were put together from newspaper accounts, some from the individual's own notes, some from interviews, some from contemporary accounts, making each tale varied and fascinating in a different way to the others. Some of the stories have happy endings; some don't. Though it's not central to any one tale, I was struck by how bogus it must have been to be a woman parachutist. The men get to make four practice jumps before they're dropped into occupied territory in the dark; the women only get to do three. When they're jumping with men, in practice or in operations, the women have to go first to boost morale. AND they don't get paid as much. AND they don't necessarily get the parachutist's wing badge, because they haven't done the "required" five jumps! Good thing they weren't in it for the glory… sheesh! "Have been doing arthritis." --SOE for "radio work."

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jeanette

    This was informative. Having read just before this, several full length non-fiction biographies for 4 of these women SOE operatives, it was somewhat redundant for me. I also knew the endings for about 6 of these lives- and more detail not covered here in their associations for at least 3. This book can't hold a candle to the Ben MacIntyre editions of WWII espionage detailing. And that makes comparisons tough on Binney. So for others, this book might be a 4 star in the depth of overview to their This was informative. Having read just before this, several full length non-fiction biographies for 4 of these women SOE operatives, it was somewhat redundant for me. I also knew the endings for about 6 of these lives- and more detail not covered here in their associations for at least 3. This book can't hold a candle to the Ben MacIntyre editions of WWII espionage detailing. And that makes comparisons tough on Binney. So for others, this book might be a 4 star in the depth of overview to their incredible accomplishments. But I doubt it. Because the movements of these women were so often and so context driven, that the telling of it in this form is quite choppy and hard to follow. New people coming in, new and old going out- 4 languages and 3 phony passports in the "meantime" choppy. Special women indeed!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Amicus (David Barnett)

    I was not unfamiliar with the story of SOE before reading this account of the lives of ten women agents and their courage, daring and resourcefulness. I'd read about Noor Inayat Khan and Violette Szabo in several accounts of this exciting period, but had not previously read about Christina Granville - an agent who served throughout the entire war with amazing distinction, was then dumped by SOE, reduced to doing various servile jobs before being brutally killed by a rejected lover just when it l I was not unfamiliar with the story of SOE before reading this account of the lives of ten women agents and their courage, daring and resourcefulness. I'd read about Noor Inayat Khan and Violette Szabo in several accounts of this exciting period, but had not previously read about Christina Granville - an agent who served throughout the entire war with amazing distinction, was then dumped by SOE, reduced to doing various servile jobs before being brutally killed by a rejected lover just when it looked as if her life was about to improve. I think her story was probabaly the saddest of them all and the ingratitude of the British authorities is appalling. I'd say this book is a very good introduction to anyone wishing to make a study of the Special Operations Executive generally and its distinguished minority of female agents in particular.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Tara Chevrestt

    I spent two days picking this up on and off and as a result, took more naps than ever before in my life. I nodded off every time. In all fairness, biographies are not my usual choice of book, but I was pretty excited about this because of the subject matter. Unfortunately, the stories of the women were so bogged down with details I couldn't remember from one page to the next that I couldn't enjoy it as much as I wanted to. Also, I don't care who they took as lovers. I would have preferred the bo I spent two days picking this up on and off and as a result, took more naps than ever before in my life. I nodded off every time. In all fairness, biographies are not my usual choice of book, but I was pretty excited about this because of the subject matter. Unfortunately, the stories of the women were so bogged down with details I couldn't remember from one page to the next that I couldn't enjoy it as much as I wanted to. Also, I don't care who they took as lovers. I would have preferred the book stayed on the main subject: their lives as secret agents or parachuters.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kellen

    Does a good job of describing the wide variety of SOE tactics, activities, and heroics, and the degree of leadership and participation by women operatives. The details, painstakingly culled from scraps and fragments of records and files, give a striking sense of immediacy to the stories of the ten women that Binney focused on. A great resource.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    I'm not saying anything because of my boycott. I'm not saying anything because of my boycott.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Brianon Sheffield

    well researched, but very dry. a large dump of information.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Gail Amendt

    This is a five star history book with two star writing, so I have chosen to rate this book primarily as a work of history rather than a work of literature. There is an incredible amount of history in this book. It tells the story of ten remarkable women who worked as secret agents with the SOE (Special Operations Executive) during WWII. They came from all walks of life and several different countries. Several were parachuted into occupied France with only a short period of training. Some were ca This is a five star history book with two star writing, so I have chosen to rate this book primarily as a work of history rather than a work of literature. There is an incredible amount of history in this book. It tells the story of ten remarkable women who worked as secret agents with the SOE (Special Operations Executive) during WWII. They came from all walks of life and several different countries. Several were parachuted into occupied France with only a short period of training. Some were captured and endured the horrors of the concentration camps. Not all survived. Their stories are all fascinating, and I can only marvel at their resourcefulness and bravery. The author has done a good job of sifting through the records that survive from the SOE to tell these stories, and was also able to interview several of the women who were still alive when he was researching this book. Unfortunately, however, he is a historian and not a writer, and it shows in the lack of organization and flow in this book. Some editorial assistance would have gone a long way in making it much more clear and easy to read.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Allison

    Very interesting subject and biographies. Unfortunately, the book itself is poorly organized and awkwardly written. There are a handful of easy fixes to make this book much more readable, such as intertwining the women's stories as the years go on rather than the stand-alone chapters that so isolated the individual biographies. Another would be to structure the writing with fewer direct quotes or a better integration of quotes to the author's writing. The author is obviously passionate about thi Very interesting subject and biographies. Unfortunately, the book itself is poorly organized and awkwardly written. There are a handful of easy fixes to make this book much more readable, such as intertwining the women's stories as the years go on rather than the stand-alone chapters that so isolated the individual biographies. Another would be to structure the writing with fewer direct quotes or a better integration of quotes to the author's writing. The author is obviously passionate about this subject and these women, but his writing is often scattered and hard to follow. It made me fall asleep a lot, too, like so many other readers have commented.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Catie

    This was, I think, a good place to start on this topic since I've mostly read fiction about the subject and wanted a little more historical context to go along with it. I was pleasantly surprised though that this book read so smoothly. It's set up in sections for each of the ten women discussed rather than trying to lay things out chronologically which often I find too choppy and confusing. As for the stories, parts were hard to read, as is expected with the material, but if they can live it the This was, I think, a good place to start on this topic since I've mostly read fiction about the subject and wanted a little more historical context to go along with it. I was pleasantly surprised though that this book read so smoothly. It's set up in sections for each of the ten women discussed rather than trying to lay things out chronologically which often I find too choppy and confusing. As for the stories, parts were hard to read, as is expected with the material, but if they can live it then I can read it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Renee

    As an American I was not as familier with the explots of some of the agents, who have been asborbed into pop culture. I had hoever, read a book on Vera Atkins (A Life in Secrets) who appears briefly, so I knew some of the stories, and the two books work in tandem, espcially for an American audience. The stories of the women agents were thrilling and inspiring, and tragic. Even those who survived were not always given their due, which is a tragedy in and of itself. Interesting reading.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Clare

    DNF. You wouldn't think you could make women who worked for the SOE during World War II—women whose job it was to parachute behind enemy lines and disrupt the Nazis in occupied territories, mainly France—boring, but he manages it. I slogged through about 3/4s of this book before remembering I didn't have to finish it if I didn't want to. (Yes, that is something I have to remind myself. Idk, I know it's weird.) DNF. You wouldn't think you could make women who worked for the SOE during World War II—women whose job it was to parachute behind enemy lines and disrupt the Nazis in occupied territories, mainly France—boring, but he manages it. I slogged through about 3/4s of this book before remembering I didn't have to finish it if I didn't want to. (Yes, that is something I have to remind myself. Idk, I know it's weird.)

  16. 5 out of 5

    Madeline

    AWESOME TOPIC, abysmal writing. I honestly don't understand how you can make this topic seem dry, but Binney achieved that. I was also sad that Nancy Wake wasn't featured in this one, but I suppose we can't have everything in life. (I suppose Wake, even though she was trained by the SOE, became more of a French Resistance fighter as opposed to an SOE fighter, but still, I thought she at least deserved a mention). AWESOME TOPIC, abysmal writing. I honestly don't understand how you can make this topic seem dry, but Binney achieved that. I was also sad that Nancy Wake wasn't featured in this one, but I suppose we can't have everything in life. (I suppose Wake, even though she was trained by the SOE, became more of a French Resistance fighter as opposed to an SOE fighter, but still, I thought she at least deserved a mention).

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    I enjoyed reading about these women's contributions but was not always happy with the way the author discussed them. I was especially angry and frustrated with the way he blamed Christina Granville for her own murder, saying that she had "allowed" the situation to develop. There was also a great deal of focus on a woman's attractiveness. I do think the author went in with good intentions but seriously needs to learn how to speak about women. I enjoyed reading about these women's contributions but was not always happy with the way the author discussed them. I was especially angry and frustrated with the way he blamed Christina Granville for her own murder, saying that she had "allowed" the situation to develop. There was also a great deal of focus on a woman's attractiveness. I do think the author went in with good intentions but seriously needs to learn how to speak about women.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Georgina

    I tried, but failed. It was just too hard going; the author kept leaping from one subject to the next and then back again, instead of concentrating on one person at a time. I need to try again when I'm in the mood for something factual as I'm ashamed to have given up on a book which was about such an interesting subject. I tried, but failed. It was just too hard going; the author kept leaping from one subject to the next and then back again, instead of concentrating on one person at a time. I need to try again when I'm in the mood for something factual as I'm ashamed to have given up on a book which was about such an interesting subject.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jessie

    This was a book that looked interesting at the International Spy Museum gift shop. I really wanted to hear these women's stories but I felt like this book mainly told the events in their lives but I didn't feel like I knew them on an emotional level, except the excellent chapter about Alix D'Unienville. . This was a book that looked interesting at the International Spy Museum gift shop. I really wanted to hear these women's stories but I felt like this book mainly told the events in their lives but I didn't feel like I knew them on an emotional level, except the excellent chapter about Alix D'Unienville. .

  20. 4 out of 5

    Marie

    If you are interested in the woman who went behind enemy lines during the war, risking their all, then this is the book for you. The unashamed bravery of these woman, put us all to shame, I was often left crying over their sacrifice. Wonderfully written, a must read!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    I love WWII history and have always had a fascination with espionage so this book is the perfect mix. It's an account of many of the female spies during WWII. The stories of these amazing women read like a movie! I love WWII history and have always had a fascination with espionage so this book is the perfect mix. It's an account of many of the female spies during WWII. The stories of these amazing women read like a movie!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rosie Beck

    A fascinating book about many of the "special agents" who assisted the SOE in WWII.All pretty much unknown women, some who lived and some who died, with their own special reasons for joining the Resistance. Their bravery was remarkable. A fascinating book about many of the "special agents" who assisted the SOE in WWII.All pretty much unknown women, some who lived and some who died, with their own special reasons for joining the Resistance. Their bravery was remarkable.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    I loved true stories of everyday people turned into heroes. The women who served behind enemy lines in World War II were amazing. The stories could be uneven and I skipped around a bit reading out of order but it was a good read.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    I loved true stories of everyday people turned into heroes. The women who served behind enemy lines in World War II were amazing. The stories could be uneven and I skipped around a bit reading out of order but it was a good read.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Maxine

    I think the writing could have been stronger, and the coverage of the women seemed uneven. However, I enjoyed the book very much, and am considering purchasing my own copy, as this one belongs to the public library. Appropriate for Middle and High School students, and the index is pretty useful.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Michelle

    I finished reading a book about the French Resistance and I believe that helped me understand things that were going on this book. 10 stories of 10 remarkable women and the amazing things they were able to do during WWII is so inspirational. I would recommend this to anyone!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Seeing

    An unexpected history of WWII.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Candice

    The subject of the book is incredible, however, I didn't find the book to be well written. The subject of the book is incredible, however, I didn't find the book to be well written.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Amy L.

    Amazing story of espionage, double agents and death during WW2..............

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ruth

    Well researched and well written and SO interesting.

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