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Flirting with Danger

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Member Reviews

This book just wasn’t for me. I felt like the pacing was a little too slow and I never found myself eager to pick the book back up. It wasn’t the writing that I didn’t care for but the development of the story.

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I enjoyed this book, but at times thought it was hard to keep up with and sometimes didn't understand. Story of a journalist/double agent spy, Marquerite Harrison. Interesting to read about how a woman could accomplish all that she did, of course it didn't hurt that she came from a well to do family.

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In a fascinating biography of two lady spies in the twentieth century, Janet Wallach brings the complexities of early Soviet Russia and the global geopolitical situation post-World War I to life in her biography of Marguerite Harrison, an American socialite turned spy and world traveler. Crossing the globe, sometimes with a mission and sometimes without, Wallach brings Harrison’s fascinating, unconventional, and dangerous life to light. Drawing on primary sources and personal papers, Wallach uncovers the mysteries and dangers surrounding the life of an American spy in Berlin and the Soviet Union shortly after the end of World War I. Wallach brings Harrison’s prescient, foreshadowing reports on Germany and the Soviet Union to the front of her missions while also emphasizing some of the dramatic changes in fate and loyalty Harrison experiences while spying for the American government. Wallach’s prose and detail is fascinating and incredibly powerful, as she helpfully contextualizes the world and the shadows that Harrison operates in. Wallach’s biography of this forgotten and overlooked woman who saw the twentieth century unfold before it actually happened is fascinating, informative, and incredibly enthralling -- why haven’t we heard about Marguerite Harrison before?

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"Flirting with Danger" recounts the life of a woman who played many roles in her life. I liked the final chapters that related her involvement in organizations that recognized and supported the scholarly work of women. The book included end notes and a bibliography, so the information is supported well.

This book contains a lot of dense reading and historical detail. I felt as if the information about Marguerite got lost in the many details. Readers who enjoy learning more about the roles played by women in historical settings might appreciate this book.

I received this book from the publisher and from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed here are entirely my own.

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Flirting with Danger by Janet Wallach is a non-fiction book. I will say straight out that I thought it was a terrible read. I was interested in the book initially because the Marguerite Harrison was a socialite turned spy after WWI. There were so many instances where Marguerite would travel from one place to another without any explanation of how she got there. There were numerous times where she befriended a person to get information from them. Every time she succeeds with no idea how she achieved this end. From what I can tell Marguerite Harrison had zero training in espionage. I am not sure of her God given talents but she surely was not invisible. I don’t know the volume of information available on Marguerite Harrison so I can’t even say that it was well researched. I surmise that there wasn’t enough information to build a good biography. I felt there was not enough information to connect the reader to the subject. All it left me with was disappointment and lots of questions.

I would like to thank Doubleday Books and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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The Adventurous Life of a Socialite Spy

In the Gilded Age society was more structured than it is today. Young ladies in upper-class families were expected to marry well, have children, and pursue social obligations. Marguerite Harrison was not interested in conforming. She rejected the suitor her mother had chosen and married a man she loved. When he died, she was left with large debts and a young child. The solution was to go to work.

She started as a society reporter, but craving more action she applied to Military Intelligence to go to Europe as a spy. Her social skills and background opened doors to people in high places and her perceptive reports were very valuable. Eventually, her work as a spy took her Russia, a stint in prison, and travels to the Mideast and beyond.

I found her story fascinating. She didn’t conform to the strictures places on women between the two world wars and had adventures and escapes that would have daunted many men. The book is well researched, but it reads like an action adventure. Because it’s non-fiction we don’t get into her head trying to understand motivation, but the story is riveting none the less. It’s interesting to see how she was able to use the skills learned in an upper-class family to become successful as a secret agent.

Thanks to the published and Net Galley for this review copy.

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An amazing life. Marguerite Harrison lived large- at first thanks to her parents and later due to her own, let's face it, impulses. Her family had money, lots of money, most of which it later lost but for the relevant time frame, it cushioned her, A single semester at college went awry so off to Europe where she met her husband, who dies tragically, leaving her with a son and lots of debt. This sets off her adventures as a reporter who doubled as a spy in Europe. This is a little explored element of WWI and Wallach has detailed Harrison's exploits,. Thanks to netgalley for the ARC. This is a well done accounting of her life but know that as it's a biography, there's less emotion than there no doubt would have been had this been fiction. That said, it's a good look at an intriguing woman,

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espionage, double-agent, biography, historical-places-events, historical-research, historical-setting, history-and-culture, historical-figures, 20th-century, widow, wealthy, Europe, Mid-East, journalist, linguist, explorers, riveting, misogynistic-era, feminist*****

Born an American socialite, widowed at 37, became the first female foreign intelligence agent for the United States government in 1918. As a wealthy socialite/journalist/linguist fluent in several European languages she had access to many political arenas and became a spy and later a double agent. She even became a writer/director/producer of a silent film and wrote her autobiography. Fantastic recounting of an amazing woman who defied the norms of her time.
I requested and received an EARC from Doubleday Books via NetGalley. Thank you

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I often find when I dislike a non-fiction book about an interesting person, the reason is because there is not enough facts to build out a compelling narrative. In essence, these books should become novels to allow the author the latitude to avoid the problem of "telling instead of showing." I believe Janet Wallach's "Flirting with Danger" is an example of this conundrum.

The book follows the espionage activities of Marguerite Harrison after World War I. Harrison certainly found herself in many interesting situations but so many of these situations (to quote Seinfeld) are "yadda yaddaed" away. Numerous times, we are told Harrison befriended someone and got information out of them. Her methods are never explained and the reader is left asking who is Harrison and what drives her. Additionally, Wallach shows no negative side of Harrison and barely criticizes her decisions. To avoid a mild spoiler, I will say that her natural talents of spycraft were probably fine, but she clearly had inadequate training in avoiding attention and not being discovered. Ultimately, there is not enough in the narrative to connect with Harrison and the reader is left with a dizzying amount of names and a lot of questions about perspective.

(This book was provided as an advance copy by Netgalley and Doubleday Books.)

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I was drawn right in to this amazing story could not put down.A dazzling story of intrigue of an amazing woman spy a. fascinating read.#netgalley #doubledaybooks

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Flirting with Danger is a fascinating read about the life of Marguerite Harrison who came from a privileged American family and was basically groomed to get married and become a socialite.
Marguerite’s mother wanted her daughter to marry well and each time she got close, Marguerite thwarted the romances and eventually defied her parents and picked her own husband. She goes on to have a son and is unfortunately widowed at a young age, and that is when the book takes off and the reader is whisked into her life as a spy and a great adventurer.

Janet Wallach does a fine job of giving us intimate insight into Marguerite’s life, as she starts her career in Germany as WWI comes to an end. Her ease with languages becomes a great asset to her as she is able to easily move in many powerful circles around the globe and among common people as she is a keen observer and interested in the lives of ordinary people. She is no snob, and in many ways her roll-with-it attitude saves her from many hardships.

This book is fascinating as it gives the reader so much personal information and makes you feel you are a witness alongside Marguerite. Her lust for living was great and her adventures were so unique; I am sure they never happened again. Wallach celebrates her keen observations and really gives us the good, the bad, and the ugly of her life and choices.

I really enjoyed this book and could have read more. What a great character. Women did pave the way for some many amazing things, although their accomplishments were diminished. I thank Janet Wallach for bringing Marguerite’s life to light, as I would never have found her unless I read this book.

Please read this book if you want to learn about the world after WWI, the aftermath and life as it was then. Fun read, truly enjoyable and insightful.

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3.5 stars, rounded up

If Marguerite Harrison's adventures were not so well documented, they would be impossible to believe. Janet Wallach's "Flirting with Danger"is highly entertaining and swift-moving: tons of fun to read and imagine.

Marguerite was a Baltimore widow, from a wealthy family but in need of work to keep her busy and support her child. She started writing for the Baltimore Sun around the start of the first world war but grew bored with the stuff women got to write about at the time. With a well-devised plan and perfect German, she secretly applied to Military Intelligence to go to Germany toward the end of the war, but the Armistice put an end to that idea. She neatly pivoted to offer her services to find out what Germans were thinking and to report on the influence of Communism as people looked to Russia for a possible next step. She was blisteringly successful, able to dine with the wealthy and go bumming in poor districts, her natural warmth and charm encouraging people of all classes to open up to her. She returned to Baltimore something of a national heroine, but was again relegated to the society column. Marguerite offered her service to MI in 1920, offering to go to Russia in the chaotic period following the Russian Revolution. They accept, but she has to get into Russia herself.

Her insight and ability to connect with people make Mrs. Harrison the perfect correspondent/spy, and her truly awesome language skills enable her to use that gift to the max.

"Flirting with Danger" is a misnomer. Marguerite Harrison jumped into danger with both feet and was aware of what she was doing every second. A widow in her forties who had never known discomfort, who put her son in a Swiss boarding school for six months and didn't pick him up for several years, her writing about post-WWI Germany is on point in warning of what was to come. Her Russian reporting was especially important because so few foreigners made it into, or out of, the country. It would have been useful to have some idea about what spurred her to launch herself into these adventures. Her reporting was impeccable and insightful but often not given the weight it deserved because it was written by a woman.

This is an engrossing adventure story about a remarkable woman. The story would have more depth if Janet Wallach had explored what made Marguerite tick, what gave her the guts and the smarts to do these things and survive. Even without that, this is a cracking good read.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for access to this remarkable biography.

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I absolutely loved reading this book. I was completely drawn into the topic and could not stop reading it.

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