Rogue Heroes: The History of the SAS, Britain's Secret Special Forces Unit That Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of War - Ben Macintyre

Staff Pick

The basic premise will be familiar to readers and movie-goers the world over: a band of disparate characters comes together, overcomes long odds to find common cause, and sets off on epic adventures to achieve greatness as a unified force. From The Lord of the Rings to The Magnificent Seven and The Guardians of the Galaxy, this trope has been used with great effect. The story Ben MacIntyre tells in Rogue Heroes (Crown, $28) is just such a tale but with an added enticement: it is all completely true. MacIntyre expertly charts a pulse-raising narrative about the formation of Britain’s Special Air Service (SAS), a now legendary special operations unit, during World War II. Filled with striking characters like SAS-founder David Stirling, a man once described as being “quite, quite irresponsible,” to Jock Lewes, Stirling’s second recruit and someone who struck his peers as resembling a warrior from a bygone era, the heroism and shortcomings of this group are as amazing and astonishing as those in any fictional thriller. On their very first mission, for example, SAS recruits had to parachute behind enemy lines, during a gale-force storm—with essentially zero parachuting experience. As SAS Sergeant Jim Almonds wrote, “reality beats fiction for sheer, cold, calculating courage. Films and books of adventure fall far short of the real thing.”