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A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II
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A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II

4.43  ·  Rating details ·  408 ratings  ·  97 reviews
In 1942, the Gestapo sent out an urgent transmission: "She is the most dangerous of all Allied spies. We must find and destroy her."

The target in their sights was Virginia Hall, a Baltimore socialite who talked her way into Special Operations Executive, the spy organization dubbed Winston Churchill's "Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare." She became the first Allied woman de
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published April 9th 2019 by Viking (first published March 28th 2019)
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4.43  · 
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 ·  408 ratings  ·  97 reviews

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Stephanie Crowe
Jan 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Purnell has penned another spectacular history of another outstanding woman. I was enamored with the first history of Clementine Churchill. I loved that one!! And this tale of the exploits of Virginia Hall just blew me out of the water!!! This woman was unstoppable, unflappable and fearless in her desire to serve in WWII. She was the primary developer of the French Resistance and worked for the British Secret Service as well the American OSS. She struggled for 6 years in France working to defeat ...more
Apr 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book tells the important story of an unrecognized hero of World War II--Virginia Hall, one of the few female spies who helped build the French Resistance and assure the success of the Allied invasion of France. Purnell's stunningly detailed research and writing puts us in the action with Virginia, building up tension, emotion and joy as events unfold. Purnell also includes the perfect amount of historical context, to ensure that the reader isn't left drowning.

While the many code names and
May 07, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
3.5 STARS.

This is nonfiction about an American woman who made the French resistance her passion. She fought her way to the center and did so much to assist and direct. She was daring and constantly pushed for results. I enjoyed her story. But I'm not sure I was all that crazy about the audio narration. So 3 stars.
May 14, 2019 marked it as wishlist-b
I guess I should pick up this one by the author too!


First Lady 4 stars
Katie/Doing Dewey
May 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: aprilff
Summary: An incredible, exciting story about an inspiring, dedicated spy.

This is the story of one of the most impressive people I've ever heard of. Despite being an American woman with a disability, Virgnia Hall was one of the first spies of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE aka "the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare"). By surviving a devastating early round-up of SOE agents, she was largely responsible for establishing an SOE presence in occupied France. She recruited agents from al
Elizabeth A.G.
A well written and researched book-Sonia Purnell brings to light the life of a mostly neglected American heroine of WWII who was dissatisfied with and eschewed the upper class life that her mother envisioned for her. Defying the convention of a "woman's place," Virginia Hall sought a life that made her feel "alive" and after overcoming discrimination, prejudice, and her disability (a prosthetic leg) found that life working for the British SOE as an agent to thwart the Nazi insurgency in France, ...more
Apr 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
This fascinating account takes the reader deep into the underground of the French Resistance, and behind the scenes of how the Allies worked to arm and coordinate with fighters inside the occupied country to end the war. Hall’s remarkable adventures make for a gripping, if bittersweet read. After struggling to find her place as a young woman, Hall achieved great success in the war, only to struggle to advance in her later career. What was forgiven under the exigencies of war held her back at Lan ...more
Firstly, I won this amazing book in a Goodreads Giveaway for the chance to leave an honest review of this book and what a stunner it is. This book reveals the way women were regarded in the 1930's and 1940's. We have come a long way since then but still have a good way to go yet. Virginia Hall had the skills and leadership abilities that were unrecognized by her so-called superiors. I never knew that these operations had been going on years before D-Day and how much they contributed to the event ...more
May 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Virginia Hall should by rights be a household name. Her espionage and singular determination to aid the French Resistance is one of the most remarkable war stories I have ever read about, but most people have never heard of her.

This extraordinary woman had more grit and determination than many tougher men, and more incredibly, walked with a wooden leg, having lost the leg following an injury as a teenager. Her exploits during Vichy France were nothing short of miraculous, and I thoroughly enjoy
May 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
WOW. everyone needs to read this book, and i say this a lot, but i truly, truly, TRULY mean it this time. this is a story of an amazing superwoman who existed in ww2. she was truly amazing. considering the world STILL knows nothing of virginia hall, this book is so important! we must all pay tribute to the woman trailblazer who single-handedly set up the groundwork for the french resistance in ww2, commanded guerilla forces, and routinely pulled off miracles that saved hundreds of lives. not to ...more
May 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book epitomizes how truth, while not always stranger than fiction, can be more intense than the make believe. There were moments reading this when I was on the edge of my seat, holding my breath. How one American woman, Virginia Hall, managed to establish spy networks throughout France, while near constantly trying to outmaneuver Nazis and double agents, is mind boggling. It is no wonder there are discussions about making this into a movie (although with all the rich material, it might be b ...more
Apr 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, history
"A Woman of No Importance" is about the life of Virginia Hall, who despite being a woman, an American, and disabled (a prosthetic leg), managed to outwit and outlast the Nazis and organize, arm, and train pockets of the Resistance throughout France during the German occupation. (Oh, and fled over the Pyrenees when the Nazis finally figured out who she was.) She then returned to France to aid the Resistance to prepare for the Allied invasion in Normandy. Upon her return back to the United States, ...more
Bruce Katz
Feb 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
An astonishing history of a woman of incredible courage and fortitude. In brief: a woman in a time and place where women were expected to be demure and subordinate, Virginia Hall refused all such expectations. Despite having lost a leg in a gun accident, she set up and ran the most successful spy and resistance operations in Nazi-occupied France, outwitting the Gestapo, their French collaborators, and numerous double agents. I gather there’s a movie about her in the works. She deserves it. It al ...more
She was dismissed and ignored and treated poorly and yet managed to become the premier linchpin of the French resistance during WWII. She wasn't French. She wasn't British. She was an American woman with a wooden leg. In spite of the multiple rejections and dismissals, her contribution to the Allied victory during the war earned her a Distinguished Service Cross. Despite all the rejection - simply because she was a woman - she persisted. Her contributions to the war effort read like fiction. But ...more
Elizabeth Dodd
May 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What an amazing story. And to think almost no one knows about this woman's essential work.
Reading almost like a novel, this is a detailed account of how she overcame numerous problems to be taken seriously (after all, what can a mere woman do?).
In spite of all she accomplished and all the accolades from those who worked with her, even those who at the time resented her, she was pushed aside and replaced by much less qualified and experienced men.
If you like to read histories, whether fictional o
May 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
I know of Virginia Hall from historical tidbits, but this is the first comprehensive book I’ve read on her. She is an empowering woman ahead of her time. Not interested in being married and wanting to work and travel internationally, she becomes a spy during WW2. Obviously, it’s not that easy for a woman to find that career path, especially a woman with only one leg. Yet, thru perseverance she becomes quite successful in her field and helps defeat the Nazis.
Apr 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
After somewhat of a rocky start (with the author being a bit over dramatic in her word choices at times), this turned out to be an incredible and gripping read. Virginia Hall was an amazing woman that did so much for France during WWII despite all of the blatant sexism that she had to endure. I wish I had heard of her before now, because she truly is incredible.
Apr 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book and this woman is riveting. A woman with a prosthetic leg who ran one of the war’s most important spy networks and was instrumental in D-day operations—and yet she’s largely unknown.
Apr 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Fascinating. Reveals a woman of persistence, intelligence and determination in the face of many challenges. The narrative reveals once again the higher bar women had to meet and continue to face in order to do the work or live the life that they want.
Kiwi Carlisle
May 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Reading like a novel, this biography of an incredibly brave woman takes us through the growth of intelligence in World War II. Virginia Hall was a remarkable figure who deserves to be remembered for her amazing accomplishments. This book does a good job of bringing her to life.
Lucy Meeker
What an amazing and fearless story of a trailblazing war hero and a resistance fighter during the Second World War, Virginia Hall was relayed in this wonderful book. She would takes risks where others would not. This was truly a well-written and captivating biography of a heroic woman. I highly recommend this book.
Apr 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
5 stars or more for Virginia Hall, an exceptional person who overcame physical limitations and societal obstacles not to mention the Vichy French and the Nazis often with little else other than sheer force of will. Amazing.

The storytelling is the drawback here the author writes a straight forward non-fiction narrative and avoids taking liberties with the available facts for the sake of a smoother story. I suspect the author did as well as one could given the highly secretive nature of the work
Haley Nixt

The content is 5 stars. This was an absolutely fascinating story, and I would love to go back in time and have dinner with Virginia Hall and just pump her for stories because damn. She would have some good stories.

However, the reason I took off stars was the writing. While I finished the book in just a few days (this is a great subway read!) and it's very engaging while you're reading, it feels very surface level. I would have appreciated more time developing side characters besides two or
Peter A
Apr 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The author tells the remarkable and inspiring story of Virginia Hall, who overcame physical as well as social norms to be a leading force in France during the Second World War. Born into a family of above average means (in 1906, in Baltimore Maryland), she has a strong independent streak, and a sense of greater purpose in life. She joined the foreign service, and during a posting in Turkey suffered a self-inflicted hunting accident that resulted in the loss of one of her legs (right below the kn ...more
Zeb Kantrowitz
May 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: edleweiss-read
During the last three years of WW2, Virginia Hall did more than any other agent, MI6 or OSS, to battle the Germans, Vichy French (Milice) and cause sabotage across France. After the Allies landed at Normandy and the South of France, her guerrilla bands harassed the Germans and their French allies by blowing up bridges, roads, and supply columns, preventing many from making it to the Normandy front before the Allies broke out at St Lo.

A tom-boy heiress and adventurer from the Tidewater area of Vi
May 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I won this book through a Goodreads giveaway, and I’m extremely glad that I did. This isn’t an era of history that I’m typically drawn to, so I came very close to overlooking what turned out to be a fantastic read.

‘A Woman of No Importance’ is the story of Virginia Hall, an unsung hero of World War II who is now, thanks in no small part to this brilliant biography, one of my personal heroes. I was often left seething with rage at Virginia’s treatment, and actually had to put the book down and wa
May 12, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
Virginia Hall was undoubtedly a formidable woman. A woman who spied (extremely effectively) on behalf of both Britain and the U.S. during WWII, then became part of the fledgling CIA at its inception. Hall's story screams "Adventure! Intrigue! and Action!" And, akin to the saying of "Grace Kelly did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels", Hall accomplished all her feats - many of them physically taxing - with a prosthetic leg. All in all, a fascinating subject for a book. P ...more
May 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Virginia Hall's life is a study in overcoming obstacles. She wanted to be in the U.S. foreign service, but it was a time when women were viewed as being unworthy of such an endeavor. So she signed up to work at embassies around the world as a secretary. Injured in a hunting accident, she learned to walk with a prosthetic leg. Then WWII broke out. She convinced the British to let her go into France (a country she thought of as a second home) and organize a resistance network against the Nazis. Sh ...more
May 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A gripping story of a woman of great importance.
Virginia Hall's life during World War II reads like several spy movies back-to-back. What she did was incredible, and her story needs to be heard. The irony of the title is that simply because she was a woman she was not properly valued for what she could do and did. Of course the Germans, at least initially, did not consider a lame woman as a threat either. (She had a prosthetic left leg.)
The book is most interesting for its portrait of a person i
Cheryl Campbell
Apr 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If there was ever a book that exemplifies how one person can make a difference in the world, this is it. It is a tribute to harnassing your powers of observation, having innate people skills, an overarching sense of mission, and an astounding desire to learn new things. Virginia Hall is a classic for this history books, not just for this past century, but for all time. Her story is riveting, and well told. The book is richer for sharing the friends and alliances that she built (and how their sto ...more
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Sonia Purnell is a biographer and journalist who has worked at The Economist, The Telegraph, and The Sunday Times. Her book Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill (published as First Lady in the UK) was chosen as a book of the year by The Telegraph and The Independent, and was a finalist for the Plutarch Award. Her first book, Just Boris, was longlisted for the Orwell prize.