Book Review: Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring


I come to this book with a confession. After seeing the first several episodes of the AMC series TURN, I wanted to know everything I could about the characters. So I came to this book to find out more. What I found was a bit surprising, but in the end I guess the show did its job by getting to find this book.

Now, to the book. Rose tells a gripping tale of intrigue as Washington attempts to build an intelligence service that will give him an edge against the British.  Reading the tale it is surprising that what he built was not only effective but vital in winning the revolution.

While it would be easy to try to read this as a spy novel, it is not. It is the story of real and flawed men that have to make decisions that literally could mean life or death. Abraham Woodhull, who is the main character in the show and one of the focuses in this book, is not an irreproachable patriot that will do anything for the cause.  He is man who argues with Washington over wages, and expenses and actual quits his post several times.

Even so, the way that Rose presents this man you feel for him. The pressure he is under is real and palpable, and because of that you tend to want to forgive him and by the end tend to admire him somewhat. It is to the author’s credit that he can capture the insecurity and uncertainty of the time, while at the same time humanize those that may tend to have history do otherwise to them.

Read the book for the truth, watch the show for the drama.