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

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  24,031 ratings  ·  3,434 reviews
The never-before-told story of one woman's heroism that changed the course of the Second World War

In 1942, the Gestapo sent out an urgent transmission: "She is the most dangerous of all Allied spies. We must find and destroy her."

This spy was Virginia Hall, a young American woman--rejected from the foreign service because of her gender and her prosthetic leg--who talke
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published April 9th 2019 by Viking (first published March 28th 2019)
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Bobbie I don't agree with your review of the book. It's a biography and a history, not a novel, and I found the life of Virginia Hall and the narrative of li…moreI don't agree with your review of the book. It's a biography and a history, not a novel, and I found the life of Virginia Hall and the narrative of life inside occupied France eye-opening and fascinating. I hope that you read more of the book and find it more to your liking.(less)
John Gray I agree that the writing style was by design journalistic. I would also use the words emotionless and detached. I became enthralled with the story sim…moreI agree that the writing style was by design journalistic. I would also use the words emotionless and detached. I became enthralled with the story simply because of the accomplishments, courage and heroism of this heroine of WWII previously unknown to me. I also hope that it is made into a movie and her story infused with the color, emotion, painful brutality and spirit that Victoria’s epic saga deserves.(less)

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Average rating 4.09  · 
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Diane S ☔
Jan 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nfr-2020
I love the fact that in recent years, more and more formidable women are being brought out of shadows of obscurity, by wonderful authors. That their rightful place in history is being applauded and restored, at last recognized for their talents and bravery.

Virginia Hall is one such woman, an American who was the first woman sent by the allies to set up cells and send back information, as part of the French Resistance. She worked with a major handicap, one prosthetic leg, which gave her a very re

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
Jun 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: overdrive, audio
I recently read a novel about a couple who had worked with the French Resistance and it made me want to read a nonfiction account. “A Woman of No Importance” gave me more than I had hoped for. I am almost completely ignorant about the French Resistance but still it’s kind of shocking that I had never heard of the accomplishments of Virginia Hall. Virginia was an American woman who wanted to be a diplomat, rather than marrying well as her mother preferred, at a time when that wasn’t really done. ...more
May 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Virginia Hall (April 6, 1906 – July 8, 1982) was an American spy, working first with the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and then later with the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II, primarily in France. After the war she was honored with awards in the US, France and Britain receiving the American Distinguished Service Cross (DSC), the French Croix de Guerre and made an honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). The DSC was the only one awarde ...more
Mar 24, 2021 rated it really liked it
A vivid history of an extremely courageous wartime hero and a woman who helped to win WW II.

I really enjoyed this audio book by Sonia Purnell, impeccably researched and a gripping and informative read.

By 1942 Virginia Hall was the Gestapo's most urgent target, having infiltrated Vichy command, trained civilians in guerrilla warfare and spung soldiers from Nazi prison camps. The first woman to go undercover for British SOE, her intelligence changed the course of the war.

You cant but be in awe o
Laura Noggle
Excellent story, disappointing delivery.

How do you take a spy story of a strong female heroine with a prosthetic leg and wild adventures and make it mundane? You suck all the fun out and make it a dry, repetitive slog — aka, this book.

It wasn't *that* horrible, it is truly an amazing part of history; it was just the way Purnell wrote it that sapped it. Should have either had a better editor or been 100-150 pages shorter.
Woman Reading
4.5 ☆ rounded up
Valor rarely reaps the dividends it should.
A Woman of No Importance is about Virginia Hall (1906 - 1982) who eschewed publicity like any model covert spy would and whose rightful place in history was only officially acknowledged posthumously. Author Purnell conducted interviews and extensive research in American, British, and French archives. While I felt that Purnell had slipped frequently into conjecture to heighten the narrative tension or to fill the void created by absen
Feb 10, 2021 rated it really liked it
This is an amazing story about a little known female hero of WWII. Virginia Hall, although an American, worked for the British spy organization S.O.E. in Vichy France. Her ability to organize cells and her analytical skills, although unequaled by her male counterparts, were often discounted and overlooked due to jealousies and the prevailing gender bias of the time. Frequently she escaped capture which would have resulted in horrific torture and death. Betrayals by some she trusted, extreme stre ...more
Marialyce (absltmom, yaya)
Courage, Bravery, Resilience, thy name is Virginia Hall.

I am willing to bet you never heard of this woman as I know with all my time spent in school, that I never did. Yet this woman was responsible for establishing an enormous amount of spy networks through out France, making her a person the Nazis were dying to find, capture, and eliminate.

She came from wealth, lost her leg in a hunting accident, and yet nothing held Virginia back. Even after escaping, because the Nazis were hot on her trail
This is the biography of one of the first women to become a front line secret agent, who left America during the Great Depression, suffered her leg being partially amputated and ended up helping to found what became known as the French resistance.

What a bloody woman.
Virginia Hall was an absolutely incredible figure, establishing and coordinating a resistance network across France almost single handedly, with little backup or communication – and she did all this working around a disability. Sadly, I don’t feel that this biography does her justice.

Virginia was a brilliant secret agent – and she has inevitably made it difficult for the modern biographer to piece together her personal story in full. However, even by the end of the book, I had very, very little
How are we not all aware of this incredible woman?! This needs to be required reading for everyone.
Deacon Tom F
Oct 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Outstanding book about a very strong woman!

This is the fantastic story of a great woman, Virginia Hall, who risked her life to organize, energize and run the French Resistance behind enemy lines in WWII. I would like to see it as a movie one day or even a documentary.

Sonia Purnell wove minute and well referenced details into the book, so those who were true historians would be satisfied as well. Also, she has a way of making the book flow nicely in the midst of detail.

Hall fell in love with Fr
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
David Eppenstein
Feb 15, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Have you ever heard of Virginia Hall? How about a one legged civilian woman in the OSS that won the Distinguished Service Cross for fighting the Nazis in France with the Resistance? No? Me neither, until I read this book and it's now getting my rare 5 star rating. In 2019 I read Code Name: Lise about a French woman, Odette Sansom, married to an Englishman who was now in the army. She wanted to do her part to aid her adopted country and her homeland and ended up becoming a member of the British S ...more
Kerrin P
Dec 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had never heard of Virginia Hall before the release of Sonia Purnell’s biography A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II. Virginia Hall would be okay with her anonymity since she never sought fame or recompense. In spite of her heroics and brilliant tactics as a spy for the British SOE, and later for the American OSS, Virginia Hall “was pigeonholed as a disabled woman of no importance.” She was often under-utilized and always under-estimated s ...more
Oct 24, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, wwii
Virginia Hall was an amazing person and is a fascinating subject for a biography. She was an incredible agent who worked for the SOE and the OSS during WWII, a key figure in espionage and resistance in occupied France. She deserved better than this book.

A big part of my problem with this book was the writing style; the prose is dull and plodding, and I suspect it would be confusing in places for readers not already familiar with the SOE and its wartime operations. Purnell fails to define key te
Jerrie (redwritinghood)
I love these books about important people in history who you’ve never heard of. This was my introduction to Virginia Hall, an American intelligence official who helped fight Nazis on the ground in France during the WWII occupation. Despite gender discrimination and the loss of a leg during an earlier hunting accident, she was able to organize vast networks of spies and resistance fighters, all while constantly eluding capture by Nazi forces. She was brave, strategic, intelligent, determined, and ...more
Julie Christine
This outstanding biography of the most amazing Virginia Hall is more riveting than any well-crafted fictional thriller. Hidden in part because of her clandestine work, but mostly because history is written by men for their own glorification, Virginia's story was largely buried in the annals of military legend and lore. Her extraordinary life and what she accomplished in France during World War II is pieced together in meticulous detail by Sonia Purnell, who balances cold fact with brilliant stor ...more
Dec 31, 2019 rated it did not like it
Virginia Hall is a grade A bad ass and deserves better.

This book read like a bad book report.
Jun 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved this story! To read/listen to the book is to have an immersive experience in the emergence of the French Resistance and the life of the eccentric American woman who worked for the UK and was at the center of the Resistance in Europe. The spycraft stories are gripping and the human lives lost are heartbreaking. Also heartbreaking and simply maddening is the disdain and apathy and sexist treatment given to Virginia Hall in the OSS and postwar CIA. The audiobook is read by the award-winning ...more
Linda ~ they got the mustard out! ~
This is an account of Virginia Hall, an American woman who was working abroad when Hitler came into power. She was the first - and for a long time, the only - female spy working for the British and the SOE before America entered the war, and was the first spy they were successfully able to get into Vichy France behind enemy lines. She had next to no assets when she landed but she set up a network among the locals and the resistance forces and pretty much created the manual on how to establish an ...more
May 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I have never been a big history buff. Perhaps it is something that happens as one collects decades in one’s life, but if I had read more books like Sonia Purnell’s A Woman of No Importance , I would have known that history is a fascinating subject. This non-fiction saga covers the incredibly successful, albeit unlikely, career of Virginia Hall, a woman who defied the odds by becoming a very reliable British Special Operation Executive agent in France in World War II.

Virginia, called “Dindy” b
Apr 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019-favorites
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
Jan 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating book about a little known WWII war hero, Virginia Hall. An American woman with a prosthetic leg, she managed to become British undercover operative in France during the Nazi occupation. She was able to recruit hundred of patriotic French men and women into the resistance, sabotaging and undermining the German war efforts in France. She became the most wanted and hated spy in France, and the Nazis hunted her unmercifully. Somehow she always managed to stay one limping step a ...more
Lynn Horton
Jul 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A Woman of No Importance is one of the best, most interesting books I've read in a very long time. I highly recommend it.

It would be hard to research a manuscript about a war heroine when records from that war are still largely classified, and even harder to write a manuscript about a person who preferred to keep her accomplishments private. That research is further complicated when the subject conducted her daring escapades during a time when women weren't welcome in the boys' club of OSS, the
May 31, 2019 rated it liked it
Slightly embarrassed, but didn’t finish. I really wanted to know this story but the writing is so dry and moves so slow. Don’t judge me; I put forth a good effort. And I love to read and love books! (But make a movie in this case...?)
I had never heard of Virginia Hall before, but wow...she was an incredible woman and such a force for freedom while behind the lines in France during WW2. I highly recommend this detailed history of all the incredible things she endured and accomplished and how many great things she did to defeat the Nazis in their own territories, and without backup.

Content: while the story is very matter of fact, there’s no denying that the Nazis are guilty of incredible atrocities, and even just a sentence ab
Mal Warwick
Aug 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Popular fiction abounds with superheroes. But it's not often at all that you'll come across a true-to-life story of a person who comes even close to the sort of over-the-top heroism that so many popular writers favor. However, the story of WWII American woman spy Virginia Hall (1906-82) fits that bill. In A Woman of No Importance, Sonia Purnell relates the woman's experience in World War II in compelling and often jaw-dropping detail. It's the best study I've ever read about the British Special ...more
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.
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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.

Articles featuring this book

There is nothing like reading a history or biography book and being so completely transported to another time and place that you find...
75 likes · 25 comments
“Valor rarely reaps the dividends it should.” 6 likes
“It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls. —Robert F. Kennedy” 4 likes
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