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Wise Gals

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

By Nathalie Holt

A Well-Researched and Informative Group Biography



WISE GALS is a story of five female agents who worked for the Office of Strategic during WWII and the CIA when it was created in 1947. These five women were instrumental in blazing a path for women in intelligence work in the post World War II era.

Adelaide Hawkins, Mary Hutchinson, Eloise Page, Elizabeth Sudmeier, and Jane Burrell were each courageous and groundbreaking agents at the top of their game. They rose through the ranks on different paths, and each successfully contributed to the CIA mission of gathering and sharing intelligence to protect the U. S. from threats. One developed new cryptosystems for communications, one worked overseas in Europe and Asia building partnerships and allegiances, one turned enemy spies into assets, one worked in the Middle East to gain intelligence on Soviet weaponry, and one was influential on scientific and technical operations exposing global terrorism threats.


WISE GALS is an informative group biography/memoir heavy on research based on numerous reports, letters, memos, interviews, and diaries. The book is structured into five parts, each covering the women's activities for several years, starting with 1942. The book reveals the treatment of these women whose education, skills, and knowledge were impressive. And yet they were each forced to accept positions and pay far below their capabilities and worth.

Author Nathalie Holt details and describes the successes these women achieved in service to the country, as well as the integrity, courage, and intelligence it took to get the job done. Holt also identifies the obstacles, hardships, and frustrations these women faced internally. Male coworkers were paid more, promoted higher, and allowed greater privileges. In 1953, a panel was set up by Allen Dulles, the new CIA director, to address the women’s concerns. The panel condescendingly became known as the “Petticoat Panel,” and management ignored the resulting report.

The book is full of amazing stories and facts, but the cohesiveness leaves a little to be desired. It’s a slightly bumpy read, jumping back and forth between the women and years. I would have made an easier connection with the women in the book had the five parts been dedicated to each woman’s story. Despite that, the book is a wealth of information.

Thanks to Netgalley and G. P. Putnam’s Sons for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Publisher G. P. Putnam’s Sons

Published September 13, 2022

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