Wise Gals

The Spies Who Built the CIA and Changed the Future of Espionage

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Pub Date 13 Sep 2022 | Archive Date 04 Oct 2022
PENGUIN GROUP Putnam, G.P. Putnam's Sons

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From the New York Times bestselling author of Rise of the Rocket Girls comes the never-before-told story of a small cadre of influential female spies in the precarious early days of the CIA—women who helped create the template for cutting-edge espionage (and blazed new paths for equality in the workplace) in the treacherous post-WWII era.

In the wake of World War II, four agents were critical in helping build a new organization that we now know as the CIA. Adelaide Hawkins, Mary Hutchison, Eloise Page, and Elizabeth Sudmeier, called the “wise gals” by their male colleagues because of their sharp sense of humor and even quicker intelligence, were not the stereotypical femme fatale of spy novels. They were smart, courageous, and groundbreaking agents at the top of their class, instrumental in both developing innovative tools for intelligence gathering—and insisting (in their own unique ways) that they receive the credit and pay their expertise deserved.
     Throughout the Cold War era, each woman had a vital role to play on the international stage. Adelaide rose through the ranks, developing new cryptosystems that advanced how spies communicate with each other.  Mary worked overseas in Europe and Asia, building partnerships and allegiances that would last decades. Elizabeth would risk her life in the Middle East in order to gain intelligence on deadly Soviet weaponry. Eloise would wield influence on scientific and technical operations worldwide, ultimately exposing global terrorism threats. Through their friendship and shared sense of purpose, they rose to positions of power and were able to make real change in a traditionally “male, pale, and Yale” organization—but not without some tragic losses and real heartache along the way.   
     Meticulously researched and beautifully told, Holt uses firsthand interviews with past and present officials and declassified government documents to uncover the stories of these four inspirational women. Wise Gals sheds a light on the untold history of the women whose daring foreign intrigues, domestic persistence, and fighting spirit have been and continue to be instrumental to our country’s security.
From the New York Times bestselling author of Rise of the Rocket Girls comes the never-before-told story of a small cadre of influential female spies in the precarious early days of the CIA—women who...

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Featured Reviews

WISE GALS offers a fascinating glimpse into WWII-era spy craft through the often unsung female heroes who shaped modern espionage. This book features incredible, human storytelling that dovetails perfectly into broader, sweeping surveys of espionage history. Highly recommend!

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Wise Gals by Nathalia Holt I thoroughly enjoyed this book for the topic as well as the writing. This is the story of four of the earliest women who were part of the OSS and then the CIA. Perhaps it still is but in the early days of the late 1940’s and 50’s, spies were white males. Certainly not a profession for a woman. Yet, these four women often starting as overly qualified secretaries move up through the ranks while still being under-paid and under promoted. I found this an excellent compliment to Scott Anderson’s The Quiet Americans which reports on four of the early men in the CIA. I checked the index of Anderson’s book and none of the women appear in his book. Wise Gals not only presents the difficulties the women encountered in being accepted by the men but puts it into the times so that we can see what role they played and did so in Gary Powers being shot down over the Soviet Union in his U2, the Bay of Pigs, the fall of the Shah of Iran as just a few examples. And like the CIA men, the sacrifices they made to defend America were enormous. As a result, two of the women became alcoholics as their time in the CIA ended with mandatory retirement at 60 yrs. old. Gender does not matter, when you can-not speak to family and friends about your work and often are isolated in dangerous countries with no safety net. If one is interested in the history of intelligence in the US this is a book that certainly should be read.

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An utterly spectacular non fiction book showing how women contributed to the creation and operation of CIA, and just how many of their efforts were purposely hidden by the men there.

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An important book for all to read. I’ve always been intrigued by books about the Cold War, the CIA, KGB, tv series like The Americans..

What an amazing reminder of women working against all odds and fighting battles still fought today. Some acknowledged for their loyalty to their country, some not at all. So many sacrifices made and personal triumphs. Some ending in tragedy.

I greatly enjoyed the honor of getting to know some of these women and to now know their names.

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I absolutely loved this book. I found it incredibly engaging and informative. The pace moved at a good clip, the women I learned about were fascinating, and I found myself aching for more when the book ended. I truly enjoyed learning about these women and more about our history after 1945. I've never held much interest in the Cold War Era, but I couldn't put this book down. I will definitely be buying a physical copy when it is released in September. I loved it!

Full review has been posted on my blog.

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