Few writers are better at finding new paths through the well-worn territory of World War II than historian Jennet Conant. Her previous five books on the subject have won awards and critical acclaim because she seeks out and follows compelling personal narratives—the makers, founders, funders, and technicians that build and steer wartime machinations.
She has profiled Alfred Lee Loomis, the Wall Street tycoon who funded the development of radar-detection systems used to defeat German air and naval forces (Tuxedo Park). She has described J. Robert Oppenheimer through the eyes of the scientists he recruited and led into the desert in the name of the Manhattan Project (109 East Palace). She has flipped the script on household names, first by detailing Roald Dahl’s life as a charismatic British spy charged with schmoozing his way into the secret lives of Washington’s political elite, then through Julia Child’s years as a citizen spy, hapless ingénue, and forsaken friend (The Irregulars and A Covert Affair). She’s even climbed up into her own family tree to confront the complicated legacy of her grandfather James B. Conant, chemist, president of Harvard University, adviser to F.D.R., and architect of the atomic bomb (Man of the Hour).