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The Liberation of Marguerite Harrison: America’s First Female Foreign Intelligence Agent, by Elizabeth Atwood, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Md., 2020, $32.95

During the Gilded Age many upper-class women had yet to enter the working world. They were largely expected to be useful helpmates, pleasant hostesses and social activists but not to make particularly meaningful contributions to history. Baltimore socialite and gifted linguist Marguerite Harrison—restless, pragmatic and discontented with societal expectations—proved a notable exception.

Elizabeth Atwood’s biography shines a revealing light on Harrison’s fascinating life and career. The author explains how the Baltimorean parleyed her social connections, knowledge of foreign societies, fluency in multiple languages and job as a reporter on society news into a full-fledged career as America’s first female spy. Atwood reveals how Harrison’s discretion, quick wits and occasional recklessness made her an effective foreign intelligence agent, albeit one sadly vulnerable to the maneuverings of the Soviet spy network, particularly Russian intelligence chief Solomon Mogilevsky, her archnemesis. Harrison’s exploits in espionage took on her personal life and relationships with friends and family, especially her son, even as she battled to overcome the distrust of male supervisors.

The Liberation of Marguerite Harrison is a detailed and thorough portrait of a remarkable woman who possessed a zest for foreign intrigue and strong desire to shape historical events. Atwood’s book is a captivating testament to a trailblazer whose accomplishments and name have largely been lost to history but deserve recognition.

— S.L. Hoffman

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