Few would list the name Juan Pujol among Eisenhower, Churchill and Roosevelt - the Allied giants of World War II.
Yet, this underachieving chicken farmer from Barcelona very well could be the pivotal figure of one of the 20th century's most important events: the Allied landings in Normandy during the summer of 1944. In his recent book, "Agent Garbo: The Brilliant, Eccentric Secret Agent Who Tricked Hitler and Saved D-Day," author Stephan Talty details Pujol's unlikely appearance and cloak-and-dagger deeds as an extraordinary spy in the titanic struggle against Nazism.
Employing charm, a fantastic imagination and an amazing talent for deception - but no formal training in espionage - Pujol practically willed himself into becoming Germany's most valuable secret agent in order to become a double agent working with Britain and the Allies.
Ultimately, Pujol became the leading edge of Operation Fortitude - a gigantic deception by the Allies that convinced the Germans that the troop landings at Normandy were simply a diversion for the true invasion at Calais, 100 miles northeast of Normandy.
His value to the Allied war effort was most apparent just days after the D-Day landings when he pleaded with German High Command to recall a potentially devastating counterattack against the fragile Allied beachhead in Normandy. Hitler, with complete faith in Pujol, countermanded the attack, saving potentially tens of thousands of Allied troops struggling to establish a foothold on the continent.
Amazingly, Talty reports, the Germans never discovered Pujol's duplicity until after the war, even awarding him an Iron Cross for his service to Nazi Germany just weeks after the Normandy landings.
A best-selling author and journalist who has contributed to The New York Times Magazine, GQ and Men's Journal, Talty pieced together Pujol's story through interviews, declassified documents and files from state archives. It is recounted with a verve worthy of its astonishing derring-do and its place at the center of one of modern history's most important turning points.
Bob Kustra is president of Boise State University and host of Reader's Corner, a weekly radio show on Boise State Public Radio. Reader's Corner airs Fridays at 6 p.m. and repeats Sundays at 11 a.m. on KBSX 91.5 FM. Previous shows, including an interview with Talty, are online and available for podcast at boisestatepublicradio.org/programs/readers-corner.