And yet the idea still persists that those who opposed him were pathetically few in number, and that most were rabid nationalists with whom we could never have done business. That is inaccurate and unjust. Ashdown’s book is suffused with a moral sense, a fellow-feeling for the courageous men and women who made gut-wrenching moral choices in the most appalling circumstances. The story has been written before, but Ashdown contributes riveting new detail, especially about the Europe-wide network of agents through which Admiral Canaris, the wily head of the German foreign intelligence organisation, contrived to pass information to Hitler’s enemies. The book is pacey, fluent, and fascinating. But Ashdown aims above all to give these people the honour that is their due.
Ashdown has done a good job in bringing the manifold strands of this tangled story together in a thoughtful and readable way, without too much speculation (though it is a virtual certainty that Canaris and the head of MI6 never met, and Ashdown posits that they might have). He is good, too, on the wider political and military context of which his story is a small part. None of it is wholly new, as he points out, but the focus is, and that makes it a worthy addition to the history of that great 20th-century convulsion.