Thomas B. Allen’s George Washington, Spymaster:

I’ve just had the most delightful and informative reading experience that I’ve had in a long time:  Thomas B. Allen’s George Washington, Spymaster: How the Americans Outspied the British and Won the Revolutionary War.

My daughter has just returned from a week in D.C. with her grandparents and a few of her cousins.  This book comes to me as a gift  from my mother, purchased on that trip (at Mt. Vernon, of course).  I suppose this would be called a children’s book, but not necessarily so.

Published by National Geographic, this wonderful piece of writing is an attractive hardbound book with 148-pages of text, some wonderful drawings of Washington and others, some very informative appendices including espionage terminology, some 18th century American code keys, and things like that.  Sprinkled throughout the text and on the front cover, back cover, and lower edges of the book are some codes that you can de-code using the provided key (did you know Washington’s spy name was Agent 711?).

As for the content, it is very accessible, informative, and easy to read.  (I just read the whole thing in a 6-hour bus ride on the way home from camp.)

Allen tells the story of the espionage antics surrounding the Revolutionary War and particularly of Washington’s keen interest in the spying enterprise.  He reveals a number of fascinating stories of spies, counter-spies, moles, sleepers, and a whole host of other espionage personages.  Some of the stories get humorously confusing and you have to read carefully to know who exactly this or that person was spying for at the time…because, of course, who they started out spying for wasn’t who they always ended up spying for!

The story of Benedict Arnold and Washington’s near obsession with kidnapping him back from the British so that he could hang him was fascinating.  The various ways that information was passed at the time and particularly the discussion of invisible inks was enthralling.  And Washington’s own deft skill at the espionage game is impressed on the reader in convincing ways.

A fantastic and fun read that was a sheer pleasure.  You will love this book, I have no doubt.  Older kids will love it as well.


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