Steven Stickler's Reviews > George Washington, Spymaster: How the Americans Outspied the British and Won the Revolutionary War

George Washington, Spymaster by Thomas B. Allen
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's review
Jun 22, 2012

really liked it
Read from June 30 to December 15, 2012

George Washington was a SPY?!

One simple thought struck me about halfway through this book: this is not the Revolutionary War I learned about when I was a kid. Not even close. I vaguely remember learning about the many problems folks in America had with King George (so many, in fact, that they made a list). There were lessons about the desire for independence, about military strategy, muskets, and a guy riding around on a horse waking people up. Don’t even get me started on the military commanders in white wigs and white pants (!). Interesting stuff, sure. But if you had told me way back then that there were spies in this war, that George Washington was not just a General but a spymaster...well, you know, that is something that would have made me sit up and pay attention.

This is precisely the angle that Thomas Allen explores. Narrowly focused on the role that spies and spycraft played in the Revolutionary War, Allen presents an entertaining and thorough narrative coupled with a substantial amount of archival evidence showing how espionage affected the War’s outcome. He shows examples of actual codes that were used, explains how some of the tools of spycraft (such as invisible ink, masks, etc.) played a role, and, perhaps most interesting of all, reveals the actual codebook that was used by Washington’s ring of spies. In doing so he opens up a fascinating window on the war itself, showing a dimension of the war that is often ignored in American History texts.

This book would be a terrific supplement to classroom lessons on the Revolutionary War and is sure to delight kids (and adults) with an interest the world of spies and spycraft. It just goes to show: not every guy in a white wig and white pants, with a legend about chopping down a cherry tree following him around, is entirely what he seems. Definitely true in the case of George Washington. That guy was cool.
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