The page-turning tale of a World War II hero who would fit comfortably into any good spy thriller.
Robert de La Rochefoucauld (1923-2012), the subject of this thrilling debut biography by ESPN The Magazine deputy editor Kix, was a descendent of one of the most legendary families in European history. The family traced their beginnings to 900 C.E. and included a duke in Louis XVI’s court as well as two brothers martyred in the Reign of Terror. Another, a friend of Benjamin Franklin’s, fought to end slavery. Serving the nation was in La Rochefoucauld’s blood; his father was awarded the Legion of Honor, and the war sent Robert out to battle as well. He was 17 when German bombers descended on his home northeast of Paris. It wasn’t the first time; the estate was captured and recaptured more than a dozen times during World War I, requiring complete rebuilding. As France fell to Germany, La Rochefoucauld was glued to the wireless broadcasts of Charles de Gaulle. Determined to join him, he left home. His adventures began almost immediately, as he was trying to get to Spain and then to England, which required trusting strangers and connecting with résistants. In London, he was convinced to join a new British organization, the Special Operations Executive, a highly secretive group that was formed to train and equip foreign nationals in sabotage and guerrilla warfare. La Rochefoucaul went through the rigorous training in Southampton and Scotland and was sent to France, where he met Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, the head of the “Alliance” intelligence network, and got to work, which involved destroying the most important parts of factories, minimizing deaths. Throughout, Kix proves to be an adept biographer, avoiding hagiography. It’s all true: the bombings, betrayals, and significant successes, right down to his escape as he was being driven to his execution—and all before he was 21.
A winner: the stories are fascinating, the pages nearly turn themselves, and La Rochefoucauld is a true hero.