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The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington

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3.3  ·  Rating Details ·  1,584 Ratings  ·  350 Reviews
The rollicking true story of British spies who shaped American policy during WWII, told by the bestselling author of 109 East Palace.

When dashing young RAF pilot Roald Dahl (that Roald Dahl) took up his post at the British Embassy in 1942, his assignment was to use his good looks, wit, and charm to gain access to the most powerful figures in American political life. He an
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Audio CD, 10 pages
Published September 9th 2008 by HighBridge Company (first published 2008)
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Jason Koivu
May 31, 2013 Jason Koivu rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's rather shocking to discover one of your favorite children's authors was a spy...against your own country.

Roald Dahl, most famously known as the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, was a spy during World War II for England, which planted agents in the U.S. for the purpose of finding out information and influencing the nation. England badly needed help fighting Hitler and America was dragging its feet about joining the war effort.

Jennet Conant's book follows Dahl from his time as a
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Stephanie
Apr 24, 2009 Stephanie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Historians
How can a book be so very, very interesting and yet, at the same time, so eye-wateringly dull? Such is the sad state of The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington by Jennet Conant. There’s a lot of remarkable information in this book, but it often gets lost in details that may be of interest to a hardcore historian, but less so for the rest of us. So many times, I wanted to put this book down, never to return, only to come across a passage so fascinatingly brillian ...more
C
This book wasn't what I thought it would be. It was basically a list noting a slew of people (mostly famous or well known people) the main character, Roald Dahl, met and dealt with and detailed his known activities. I only made it to page 74 so maybe it picked up after that, but I found it quite boring. This was a very detailed piece of non-fiction that wasn't much fun to read - and maybe it wasn't meant to be, but you'd think a book chronicling the life of a spy would be.

From the 74 pages I rea
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Mahlon
Jul 30, 2009 Mahlon rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Roald Dahl fans only
Recommended to Mahlon by: Amazon
Shelves: read-2009
Jennet Conant's book The Irregulars promises much but delivers little. You'd think that a book that chronicled the activities of a British spy ring in WWII Washington would involve exciting tales of clandestine missions and other cloak and dagger activities. Unfortunately, Dahl's activities were limited to spying on various Washington socialites who had political leanings that the British considered dangerous, and through his friend and benefactor Charles Marsh, reported on the Vice-President He ...more
Robin
Oct 14, 2016 Robin rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-in-16
I'm not really sure I've ever been so disappointed by a book. And let me be clear: nobody in the world loves this group of spies more than I do. And if you were to stand here and ask me, I would tell you to go write your own fanfiction about Ian Fleming and Christopher Lee and Ian Fleming and Roald Dahl sitting around the Beverly Hills Hotel laughing about what they've made American audiences believe this time. That's likely to be both more coherent and more entertaing. (If you do that, btw, ple ...more
Tony
Feb 20, 2009 Tony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Conant, Jennet. THE IRREGULARS: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington. (2008). ****. The British were fearful that the U.S. would not enter into the fray of WW II in time to relieve their hard-hit country. There was a strong spirit of isolationism and a significant amount of pro-German feeling in this country, including Charles Lindbergh’s “America First” organization, which claimed over one-million members. Britain needed help on an immediate basis. To this end, they devised ...more
Libby
Unlike several other readers who have reviewed this, I didn't find this book boring in the least. The pacing toward the beginning is a bit awkward, as the author makes the mistake of introducing the entire cast of characters in a big info-dump at the beginning which makes them all run together, but once you get past that, the book is a lively, wry, well-written, scrupulously honest account of Dahl's small part in Britain's top-secret spy agency and propaganda machine within the US during WWII. I ...more
Relstuart
I was unfamiliar with the life of the author of Charlie and Chocolate Factory etc before picking up this volume. It moves fairly swiftly through his war time service and focuses the vast majority of the book on his time in Washington with a couple chapters to after the war and the later endeavors he bent his life too. The focus is on the few war years in Washington D.C.

Apparently the British had a very active spy force in the United States and their goal at first was to get the U.S. to aid and
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Brian DiMattia
The Irregulars is the latest book telling the story of the BSC or "British Security Coordination," a branch of MI6 that operated in the United States during World War 2. It's mandate was to develop strong relations with the American press and encourage their support of England and the Allies during the war, but it also specialized in identifying "isolationists" and those with pro-German sympathies, that they might be publicly humiliated or discredited.

Conant goes to great length describing the m
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Caroline
This was a fascinating book, in that it managed somehow to be incredibly interesting and remarkably dull at the same time. I think it succeeds far more as a biography of Roald Dahl's wartime years in Washington than it does as an exploration of the activities of the British Security Commission.

For all the title of this book, this is hardly a James Bond story, although Ian Fleming himself does make a guest appearance as another of the BSC's recruits. There is very little skulduggery, breaking-and
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Adela
Jul 21, 2010 Adela rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It took a long time to get through this one. Thankfully it was a "no fine, return when done" book from the library.

The beginning of this book was really interesting. I didn't know anything about Roald Dahl really, so it was all new. And espionage--especially nonfiction--can be a really interesting subject. The parts of the book the centered on Dahl (let's face it, that's what we're reading for and that's why his name is first and big on the cover) were the most interesting. The workings of the
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Adam
Nov 20, 2010 Adam rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I thought this might be interesting. It wasn’t. I thought it’d reveal some incite into how Dahl created his books, some strange link between espionage and the themes in his books. Rather, the book was much more a straight biography of this time in Dahl’s life and this period in history and Dahl’s involvement with it.

As a biography, the book was pretty boring. Dahl’s life during this period actually sounded interesting but there weren't enough of the juicy bits revealed. Instead, the focus was o
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Amy
Sep 06, 2015 Amy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars maybe? The Irregulars is both fascinating and completely boring at the same time. I suspect that is partially because Dahl never divulged much of what his actual spy work involved and so the author couldn't really tell the story of what he did. Perhaps what anyone did. This book is immensely sparse on actual spy work. It is filled with the colorful and larger than life characters that made up Dahl's life in Washington DC and New York during WW2 but not much about what his job or relati ...more
Joyce
You have to love a book in which the dashing young RAF lieutenant complains in writing that he is "all fucked out" from cozying up to beautiful heiresses and the discreetly errant wives of powerful men. That the officer in question is also the author of _James and the Giant Peach_ and _Charlie and the Chocolate Factory_ adds an extra layer of frisson.

For those who have already read up on Intrepid, Donovan, the BSC, the OSS, and the complex relationship between Churchill and FDR, there will be li
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Laurie
Mar 27, 2009 Laurie rated it it was ok
This was a really hard book to get through. Some chapters were interesting and others were not. While the book, based on its title, appears to be about the children's author Roald Dahl and his involvement with a secret British organization, it is actually not. The first 100 pages or so focus a little bit on Dahl but for the most part, the author just spends unnecessary time introducing you (in great detail) to person after person after person after person. I was starting to lose interest and cou ...more
Susan
Aug 11, 2015 Susan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Who knew the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was a decorated RAF pilot and went on to become a British spy when injuries sustained under fire ended his flying career? Jennet Conant provides a well documented history of Britain's undercover effort to influence US leaders and the American public to come to Britain's aid in its fight against Nazi Germany. While Conant makes Roald Dahl the focus for The Irregulars, there are plenty of fascinating characters to go around - Ian Fleming, Wa ...more
Dave Hoff
An unlikely spy whose spying for England was done at parties of the high and mighty in Govt. at Washington. A wounded RAF pilot, sent to the British embassy his job was to listen to what Americans were saying and doing, both to keep the US out of WW2 and also those enlisting aid to England. When U.S. entered the war, part of his job fulfilled, he was to change hearts and minds to be in favor of the British empire. After V-E day Pres. Truman stopped the Lend-Lease, kicked out the British spies an ...more
Bucket
This is fairly in-depth coverage with tons of characters and even more details. Couple that with the fact that it jumps around a bit in time, and it isn't the easiest read, especially for someone like me who isn't typically interested in the whole spy thriller thing. So, I read this pretty quickly and didn't worry too much about the details - I had more fun that way. I enjoyed learning a bit about Roald Dahl, especially his how he became a writer, and I was also both fascinated and disgusted wit ...more
Marta Boksenbaum
I'm giving up! I just cannot finish this book. Although I find the topic interesting, I am not interested in a series of anecdotes about scores of people who worked for the American and British governments during World War II. I was interested in the story of Roald Dahl and other British Spies, however the book covers way more ground than that. Although this is non-fiction, I still look for characters to follow and relate to. This book made it impossible for me to keep track of anyone at all, be ...more
Charles
Feb 27, 2014 Charles rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Sounds like an intriguing subject (in every sense) but the book is so poorly written than I found myself floundering and rereading sentences. There are actual typographical errors! And elementary grammatical mistakes. Plus the story is a dull one. The tone is all over the place: most of the time she writes in a literary history style, then suddenly she says that x was 'a real nutjob' (NOT a quote).

I gave up when she had Dahl 'FLAUNTING authority.'

I mean REALLY, Simon and Schuster!
Jenny
Sep 13, 2013 Jenny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought this book was very interesting. Long before he wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or the screenplay for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Roald Dahl was a spy and a man about town in WWII Washington DC.
dejah_thoris
Much better than her book about the Childs because this one was actually about Dahl! There's less front-line espionage than you would hope. (It's nothing like Fleming's novels, which were inspired by the same situations.) But if you like soap operas, it's quite good because it focuses more on Washington's elite and the gossip networks than anything else. Dahl is the dashing but wounded RAF pilot whose stories of daring bond him with his fellow men and make ladies swoon. Between sheets, parties, ...more
Robert J. Sullivan
Apr 08, 2011 Robert J. Sullivan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: not many people.
Jennet Conant's biography of Roald Dahl, author of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", "James and the Giant Peach", and other writings, focuses almost exclusively on Dahl's wartime service in the British Security Coordination, the BSC, headed by William Stephenson. Some of those in the BSC took to calling themselves The Baker Street Irregulars, from the gang of children Sherlock Holmes used as an intelligence force. Hence the name "The Irregulars".

Dahl was working for Shell Oil in East Africa w
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Becky Hirtzel
Roald Dahl did not start out to write children's books. In fact, that was the last thing he did. He was a British pilot in WWII, then when he was injured and relieved of duty, he worked undercover for a British intelligence here in the US. After the war, he wrote some short stories, was a farmer, and married actress Patricia Neal - I never knew that!
Nancy L.
Enjoyed this new view of one of my family's favorite authors. Lots of interesting facts about other figures behind the scenes during WWII as well.
Cheri
Dec 27, 2016 Cheri rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-group-2016
Definitely pulled me into the life of Roald Dahl -- a man of contrasts. Very interesting to learn about the British spies. I had no idea. Also illuminates the James Bond stories as Ian Fleming was involved. Excellent read to celebrate the 100th birthday of Roald in September 2016!
Margaret Boling
12/11/2016 ** For some reason, I ran a search on books with Roald Dahl as a key word. This book popped up. Since I enjoy books about history (on a limited basis - about 2 a year), I decided to request it. Then it sat on my TBR pile through 2 renewals. I started it yesterday and was immediately drawn in. Can I have a snow day tomorrow? So I can sit in my chair with cats, coffee, and a compelling book?

12/25/2016 ** Though the first chapter was compelling, the second chapter was a list of names. I'
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Victoria Waddle
Aug 12, 2015 Victoria Waddle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Most of us know Roald Dahl through his weirdly fun children’s stories. Even if you haven’t read those stories, you’ve probably seen some of the movies made from Dahl’s work—James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, The Witches, Willy Wonka (from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). But Dahl’s entire life was wildly interesting, and his stint as a British spy in the United States during World War II is as engaging a story as anything he wrote for children.

The British Security Coordination had a secret m
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Todd Stockslager
Episodic narrative of author Roald Dahl's role in the World War II British spying efforts in America. This ground, as Conant acknowledges, has been many times plowed already, so she doesn't attempt an exhaustive history, but relies on synopses, brief biographies, and moderately interesting anecdotes to drive this inconsequential account. Dahl was a sometimes appealing but often abrasive character in his own right, who has been the subject of many biographies and memoirs, for example Roald Dahl: ...more
Neil Murray
The history that you missed - excellent book that actually explains where we are today
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The Irregulars by Jennet Conant 8 37 Feb 13, 2012 06:44AM  
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Jennet Conant is an American non-fiction author and journalist. She has written four best selling books about World War II, three of which have appeared on the New York Times Best Seller list.

Born in Seoul, South Korea and raised in Asia and America, she received a BA degree in Political Theory from Bryn Mawr College in 1982, and double-majored in Philosophy at Haverford College. She completed a
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More about Jennet Conant...

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