The Secret History of World War

Title:                      The Secret History of World War

Author:                 Neil Kagan

Kagan, Neil (2016) and Stephen G. Hyslop ; foreword by Kenneth W. Rendell. The Secret History of World War II: Spies, Code Breakers and Covert Operations. Washington, DC: National Geographic

LCCN:    2016023892

D810.S7 K23 2016

Scope and content

  • “From spy missions to code breaking, this richly illustrated account of the covert operations of World War II takes readers behind the battle lines and deep into the undercover war effort that changed the course of history. From the authors who created Eyewitness to World War II and numerous other best-selling illustrated reference books, this is the shocking story behind the covert activity that shaped the outcome of one of the world’s greatest conflicts–and the destiny of millions of people. National Geographic’s landmark book illuminates World War II as never before by taking you inside the secret lives of spies and spy masters; secret agents and secret armies; Enigma machines and code breakers; psychological warfare and black propaganda; secret weapons and secret battle strategies. Seven heavily illustrated narrative chapters reveal the truth behind the lies and deception that shaped the ‘secret war’; eight essays showcase hundreds of rare photos and artifacts (many never before seen); more than 50 specially created sidebars tell the stories of spies and secret operations. Renowned historian and top-selling author Stephen Hyslop reveals this little-known side of the war in captivating detail, weaving in extraordinary eyewitness accounts and information only recently declassified. Rare photographs, artifacts, and illuminating graphics enrich this absorbing reference book”– Provided by publisher.


  • Setting Europe Ablaze/A War of Nerves — Artifacts of War: The Global Need for Secrecy — Deciphering Japan’s Secrets/Surprise Attacks in the Pacific — Artifacts of War: Enter the OSS — Resisting the Reich/Secret Warriors — Artifacts of War: Tools for a Dangerous Trade — Artifacts of War: Escape and Evasion — Unlocking the Enigma Code/Man Versus Machine — Artifacts of War: The Reich’s Long Reach to America — Endgame Europe/A Web of Lies and Deception — Artifacts of War: Black Propaganda, a Secret War of Words — Zero Hour in the Pacific/Guarding the War’s Biggest Secret.

LC Subjects

Other Subjects

  • HISTORY / Military / World War II.
  • HISTORY / Military / General.
  • HISTORY / World.

Date Posted:      October 10, 2017

Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake[1]

The phrase “secret history” appears frequently as part of book titles, despite the semantic inconsistency—unless, of course, the book itself is secret. What is no doubt intended in books about intelligence operations is that the subject matter itself was once secret. That is certainly the case with The Secret History of World War II, an elegant, oversized volume with many color photographs and informative commentary discussing artifacts of WWII intelligence.

The wide variety of artifacts represent most countries that were involved in the war. Examples include a false-bottom baby carriage used to transport resistance radios; special cameras; agent documentation; war plans; Enigma machines; weapons; war posters; and photos of officers, agents, and the aircraft they used.

The acquisition adventures and present location of the artifacts is a story in itself. It is told in the book’s foreword by Kenneth Rendell, founder and executive director of Boston’s Museum of World War II that exhibits 7,500 of the half-million items in the collection; a selection from this collection appears in The Secret History of World War II. Although not mentioned in the book, Rendell is an expert in the forensic analysis that he applies to artifact provenance certification. He is most well-known for his investigation of the so-called Hitler Diaries, which he revealed to be forgeries in 1983.[2]

The commentary accompanying the artifacts is provided by the National Geographic editors, Neil Kagan and Stephen Hyslop, with help from experts like historian Ann Todd of the University of Texas, andmilitary historians Lee Richards and Harris Andrews. They reveal Dr. Seuss’s contribution to the war (pp. 52-53); add details about the Midway codebreaking (pp. 97-100); explore Josephine Baker’s role in the resistance (p. 140); describe the grizzly guillotine employed by the Gestapo; explain artifacts associated with OSS (there are pages devoted to Virginia Hall and Betty McIntosh) and SOE in resistance operations; and discuss artifacts linked to many espionage cases, to cite just a few informative aspects of the compendium.

The Secret History of World War II is a major contribution to intelligence history.

[1] Peake, Hayden in The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (23, 1 Summer 2017, p. 130). Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Directorate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence, Other reviews and articles may be found online at

[2] Kenneth Rendell, ‘‘Forgery-Uncovering the Hitler Hoax,” Newsweek (16 May 1983).

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