Sonia Purnell’s A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II has won the 2020 Plutarch Award for the Best Biography of 2019.
The Plutarch is the world’s only literary award given to biographers by biographers. Named after the famous Greek writer, BIO awards the honor to the best biography of the year, chosen by a committee of five distinguished biographers.
In 1942, the Gestapo sent out an urgent transmission: “She is the most dangerous of all Allied spies. We must find and destroy her.”
The target in their sights was Virginia Hall, a Baltimore socialite who talked her way into Special Operations Executive, the spy organization dubbed Winston Churchill’s “Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.” She became the first Allied woman deployed behind enemy lines and—despite her prosthetic leg—helped to light the flame of the French Resistance, revolutionizing secret warfare as we know it.
Virginia established vast spy networks throughout France, called weapons and explosives down from the skies, and became a linchpin for the Resistance. Even as her face covered wanted posters and a bounty was placed on her head, Virginia refused order after order to evacuate. She finally escaped through a death-defying hike over the Pyrenees into Spain, her cover blown. But she plunged back in, adamant that she had more lives to save, and led a victorious guerilla campaign, liberating swathes of France from the Nazis after D-Day.
Based on new and extensive research, Sonia Purnell has for the first time uncovered the full secret life of Virginia Hall—an astounding and inspiring story of heroism, spycraft, resistance, and personal triumph over shocking adversity. A Woman of No Importance is the breathtaking story of how one woman’s fierce persistence helped win the war.