MacArthur's Spies by Peter Eisner

MacArthur's Spies

Peter Eisner

Readers of Alan Furst and Ben Macintyre—and anyone who loves Casablanca—will relish this true tale of heroism when it counted the most.

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"MacArthur's Spies reads like Casablanca set in the Pacific, filled with brave and daring characters caught up in the intrigue of war—and the best part is that it's all true!" —Tom Maier, author of Masters of Sex

A thrilling story of espionage, daring and deception set in the exotic landscape of occupied Manila during World War II. 

On January 2, 1942, Japanese troops marched into Manila unopposed by U.S. forces. Manila was a strategic port, a romantic American outpost and a jewel of a city. Tokyo saw its conquest of the Philippines as the key in its plan to control all of Asia, including Australia. Thousands of soldiers surrendered and were sent on the notorious eighty-mile Bataan Death March. But thousands of other Filipinos and Americans refused to surrender and hid in the Luzon hills above Bataan and Manila. MacArthur's Spies is the story of three of them, and how they successfully foiled the Japanese for more than two years, sabotaging Japanese efforts and preparing the way for MacArthur’s return.

From a jungle hideout, Colonel John Boone, an enlisted American soldier, led an insurgent force of Filipino fighters who infiltrated Manila as workers and servants to stage demolitions and attacks.

“Chick” Parsons, an American businessman, polo player, and expatriate in Manila, was also a U.S. Navy intelligence officer. He escaped in the guise of a Panamanian diplomat, and returned as MacArthur’s spymaster, coordinating the guerrilla efforts with the planned Allied invasion.

And, finally, there was Claire Phillips, an itinerant American torch singer with many names and almost as many husbands. Her nightclub in Manila served as a cover for supplying food to Americans in the hills and to thousands of prisoners of war. She and the men and women who worked with her gathered information from the collaborating Filipino businessmen; the homesick, English-speaking  Japanese officers; and the spies who mingled in the crowd.

Readers of Alan Furst and Ben Macintyre—and anyone who loves Casablanca—will relish this true tale of heroism when it counted the most.

Advance Galley Reviews

I have always been a huge history nerd. MacArthur's Spies didn't disappoint and was chock full of historical data. I look forward to reading more from this author in the future.

Rating: 3 of 5 stars. During WW2, this is the story of the resistance of the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. Yes, this is non-fiction but it reads like a novel. Like Claire, is every word in the book true? You need to read it and judge for yourself. Very interesting book, it covers a part of world history that if you weren't directly involved with you probably don't know much or anything about.

This was an enjoyable read and full of historical revelations. I particularly enjoyed all the aspects that matched stories my great-uncles had shared with me about surviving the Bataan Death March, prison camp, and finally returning home to the US after being rescued when MacArthur returned to the Philippines. This is also a great read for any fan of Casablanca.

I was pleasantly surprised at this in depth and detailed portrayal of the history of WWII in Manila. Eisner did an outstanding job portraying the lead up, events and follow up to what happened there. It has been awhile since I have read a nonfiction that has drawn me in and that I enjoyed this much. The cultured multinational business city of Manila did not believe the reach of Japan and the war would come to them but when it did their infrastructure crumbled. As the cruel lying Japanese invaded, people were left without medicine, food, clean water and safe living areas. When our forces surrendered some escaped into the high country to try to survive and fight back until MacArthur could return. As these rebel forces set up smuggling lines, raids, and to gather information on the enemy while combating the harsh environment, enemy and sickness those who surrendered were lied to rounded up tortured and sent on the famous Bataan Death March to prison camps. Things were dangerous and bleak for all, but this set up a few brave souls to make a difference like John Boone, and Claire Philips. Claire was the main character of focus. She is an unlikely hero and most of the book is based off of her personal journal. She has a habit of marrying many men with or without divorce or death papers and she is not the most honest woman with as many aliases as husbands but this really makes her the perfect spy. Motivated by her love of her daughter she does what she must to help them survive and help those in need especially the prisoners while always trying to supply information to the rebels and MacArthur for his return. It amazed me no only how much people could and would do and withstand but the conviction they showed in doing it. Claire set up a night club for the Japanese commanders it was not a brothel but was a way to pump them for information by helping them relax and drink. Her club also became a hub for hiding and smuggling people, medicine, food and other supplies needed by both the prisoners and rebels. Claire became sick and close to death many times and was eventually caught and tortured but MacArthur returned before she was killed. I believe the true injustices were done to her when she returned to the states, by bad publishers and vindictive people. Eisner showed an amazing arch in the story from pre war Manilla to the main action both in the hills and in the city with Claire. He showed the struggle of all the people prisoners, civilians, rebels and how they survived and worked together. Eisner showed the struggles of the government and false accusations after the war and all the court cases that developed due to it. What impressed me most is how Eisner showed the people's unwavering faith that MacArthur would return no matter what, and the drive they had to help him succeed. I would recommend this book for anyone who enjoys books of history, especially on WWII, the South Pacific, and Spies/espionage.

MacArthur's Spies: The Soldier, the Singer, and the Spymaster Who Defied the Japanese in World War II by Peter Eisner introduces me to a piece of World War II history I did not know. For a few reasons, this book remains short of being a completely engaging book for me. I am glad for the history I learned; I just would have preferred a more concise, more story-like telling of the history. Read my complete review at Reviewed for Penguin First to Read program.

"MacArthur's Spies" by Peter Eisner is the true story of a soldier, a singer, and spymaster working the underground resistance during WWII in the Philippines. The story follows Boone, Chick, and Claire as they work to both help American POWs that are dying by the thousands from starvation and neglect and acquiring intelligence from the Japanese officers partying at the clubs. This is a very good book. Though it is not light reading, it is still intriguing and full of information. It also keeps the reader's attention. However, it is intense and takes awhile to read. I highly recommend it to the history buff. This book doesn't stray from other books I have read about the Philippines during WWII. I received this book in exchange for an honest review from I posted this book to my blog and amazon.

MacArthur’s Spies by Peter Eisner chronicles the resistance that remained in the Philippines after the fall of Manila in 1942. The stories behind the civilians who were active in the resistance movement and their support of the POW’s as well as those soldiers who carried out guerilla activities is chronicled primarily through the story of Claire Phillips, an American who worked under multiple aliases. It is a story of incredible bravery, horrible atrocities, and perseverance under extreme conditions and danger. The book is well-referenced and will open the reader’s eyes to an aspect of the Pacific campaign that has received little recognition. An exciting read for those interested in the history of World War 2.

This is a meticulously detailed story of real people involved in the Philippines during the Japanese occupation. They crossed paths at times, but had their own methods and agenda, sometimes successful and other times not. From a historical perspective, this is an interesting read. I've read more books from the European perspective, not as many from the Asian part of the world. It must have been difficult for the author to delve into the heads of the main characters while keeping true to the sometimes confusing time line. Great book for history buffs.

MacArthur's Spies by Peter Eisner is an informative book exploring the Americans in the Philippines who gathered intelligence and supplies to the POWs after the Japanese takeover during World War II. Full of facts and things I didnt know, but extremely dry and sometimes confusing when the dates didn't go in order. I also thought there was a lot of repetition of things I had already read about. Overall, I liked reading this because I don't know much about the Pacific side of World War II but it unfortunately could not keep my attention and had to struggle through it. Would recommend to history readers.

Full of heroes, enemies, derring-do, and exotic locations, this book reads like a World War II spy novel. It harks back to a time when one was allowed to be proud of one's great country. I was given the opportunity to read this book as an advanced reader's copy, but have purchased my own copy to be reread.

While the facts and historical aspects of this book was interesting, the writing was not compelling.

I learned a lot about fighting in the Philippines during WWII. I am not an avid history buff so wasn't paying close attention to dates. The story line repeats dates for different characters and incidents and I got confused at first. At points I felt the book dragged a little but it was mostly because of repetitive dates for the different characters. If you really like history I think you will enjoy this book.

MacArthur's Spies relates the little known story of the resistance movement in the Philippines during World War II. Its primary focus is on American nightclub owner Claire Phillips. She is part of a larger network that supplied guerillas and POWS with much needed food and medicine. In addition, to further assist the resistance movement, she and her hostesses attempted to gather intelligence from the Japanese troops who frequented her club. Furthermore, Eisner sheds light on the daily suffering that Filipino civilians faced; for instance the mass arrests, the scarcity of food, and the humiliations forced on them by the Japanese occupiers. Although Claire’s story is praiseworthy , it’s too bad that more attention wasn’t dedicated to guerrilla units, like the one led by John Boone, and the commandos, who came ashore with Chick Parsons. Overall, it's an interesting book; however it's too long because of repetition. Final even though it’s well researched and informative, at times the line between fact and fiction is blurred.

4 stars Nonfiction books are usually hit and miss for me, with the likelihood of me going down the DNF route a lot greater than with fiction, which is why I generally choose my non-fiction reads very carefully. Fortunately, MacArthur’s Spies proved to be a worthy read and is a book I would definitely recommend to anyone interested in World War II history. As this was essentially a “history” book, I didn’t expect it to be as well-written as it was. The editing was top notch and despite reading an advance galley copy of the book, I found very little to complain about in this area. While I agree with some reviewers who felt that certain parts of the book came across sounding like newspaper reports, this really didn’t bother me too much given that enough of the book was written like “fiction” that everything balanced out in the end, at least for me. Of course, having read up on the author Peter Eisner’s extensive background in journalism after finishing this book, I am not surprised that the writing and editing were as good as they were. It was also obvious that Eisner had done extensive and meticulous research, as the amount of detail he gave was indicative of the exhaustive efforts he put into reviewing National Archive records and extracting factual evidence that others may have ignored or considered not important. I definitely appreciated getting a different perspective of the war, from a country that is not often mentioned in most mainstream WWII historical and literary works. Before reading this book, I had no clue about the importance of the Philippines as a strategic, coveted base for both the Axis and Allied countries during the war. The book also brought to light many of the atrocities suffered by Filipinos (both civilian and military) as well as American and other foreign prisoners of war during the 3 year Japanese occupation. The horrific atrocities described in the book were hard to read and more than a few times I was floored by the staggering number of people who had died in those 3 years, whether from torture, starvation, or for merely being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Despite how difficult some of these details were to read through, I feel it is necessary for us to read and understand and remember the devastating effects that war has, regardless of which country. One of the things that made this book stand out from other “history” books about the war was the story revolving around espionage and the three figures described in the title who were the main focus of the book: John Boone, the American soldier who set up guerilla operations in the jungle and prepared them to fight against the Japanese; Chick Parsons, the American businessman and U.S. Navy intelligence officer who eventually became MacArthur’s spymaster, bringing together the guerilla and underground network to support Allied war effort in the Philippines; and Claire Philips, a little-known American singer living in the Philippines who becomes a key figure in the underground guerilla network, gathering intelligence for the Americans while trying to help the countless prisoners of war suffering various atrocities at the hands of the Japanese occupation troops. Despite the title, this book at its core is actually more focused on Claire and the author’s attempt to bring her true story to light (I highly recommend reading the Preface to the book where Eisner explains the basis of his research in great detail and also the reason why he chose to make Claire the focus of the book). There are not a whole lot of books out there that focus on the contributions of women to the war effort, so I especially appreciated this aspect of the book. Claire Philips was indeed an interesting woman and despite her questionable background and ethics as well as extremely messy relationships, there is no doubt in my mind that she should be remembered as a heroine who willingly put her life on the line for the Allied war effort (as should all the other people mentioned in the book who were also part of the underground network providing food and medicine to POWs and defying the Japanese at any opportunity they could). This is a highly recommended read that gives not only a detailed account of the war effort in the Philippines, but also a fascinating story about the intricacies of espionage involving ordinary people. It is also a tale of courage and heroism in the face of untold suffering and horrific war atrocities. I learned a lot from reading this book, but more importantly, I have a newfound appreciation and gratitude for all of those men and women who put their lives on the line to serve our country, whether on the front lines via military service or behind-the-scenes contributions such as ordinary citizens providing needed support to prisoners of war or other efforts. Definitely a good book that deserves to be read! Received ARC from Viking Press via Penguin First-to-Read program.

Great read. A little known part of WWII. I did not know the Phillipines were taken over by the Japanese. Filled with facts. Very creative way to spy on the enemy.

This was interesting and I liked how it was a historical novel that didn't read too much like a textbook. In the same breath, I also feel that this could have been more powerful if it were shorter. There were some parts (mainly involving the portion after the war) which dragged for me. Otherwise, I rather enjoyed reading of Claire (High Pockets), Peggy (Miss U) and other guerrilla members who gave aid during WWII.

I was really interested in reading this book because Casablanca is one of my favorite movies and I love period piece books. However, I found this book to be a little too drawn out for me and I found myself losing interest in various parts. The author clearly did his research for this book, and it was enlightening to learn more about the about the fight in the Philippines and the High Pockets. I also liked the character Claire and her complexity. I'd love to read more about women in similar circumstances who were making some type of contribution to the war. I think anyone who has an interest in World War II would find this to be a page-turner, but for me it wasn't my favorite book to read.

There were a few parts that were slow to get through, but for the most part I enjoyed reading this book. and learning all about "High Pockets" and the spy ring that help the POWs. Very interesting and packed full of details. The author thoroughly researched.

I received this ARC from Penguin Books and First to Read. I found this book slow moving, but intriguing. I wanted to know more about the characters and the history involved in this book. I did have a hard time keeping interested due to the slow tempo.

In this thoroughly researched nonfiction book, Peter Eisner explores a corner of WWII that's relatively obscure for most of us. I didn't even realize that just hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor there was another Japanese attack on Allied (U.S.) positions in the Philippines. I'm not very well-versed in history, including WWII history, but Eisner presented this story in such an engaging and clear way that I was pulled in from the beginning. Eisner spends plenty of time exploring the characters and backstories of the key historical figures, and this made me more interested in the more dry aspects (military movements, etc.). Overall, I would recommend this to anyone interested in learning about part of WWII most of us haven't studied before.

The smoky club, the sultry singer, the pretty hostesses flirting with the enemy---it's the makings of a noir thriller, but in MACARTHUR'S SPIES, it's not a film. Peter Eisner brings to life a small group of determined patriots whose exploits in the Philippines during the Second World War are remarkable. The group includes ex-pats and Filipinos, all of them risking their lives for the sake of undermining the Japanese occupation. To read of ordinary people placing themselves into great danger is a thrill, and the author does an excellent job of bringing forward the sort of tension that these ordinary people lived with every day, with the threat of death a daily experience. The cast of characters if certainly interesting, none more so than Claire Phillips. As a woman and an American trying to survive in enemy territory, she stepped up and acted with bold determination, using her ability to shade her past to create a new person who found ways to support the rebels and the American POWs. The complexity of the operation makes for a complex read, and it is sometimes difficult to keep all the names straight, but the underlying current of fear is enough to propel a reader forward. This is a tale of resilience to be sure, with a touch of laughing in the face of death, and it all makes for a very compelling read. Anyone who enjoys a good spy novel will thoroughly enjoy this journey into the inner workings of a large-scale plot to pave the way for liberation.

I received an ARC of 'MacArthur's Spies' by Peter Eisner from First to Read and having studied LTC Henry Mucci's successful hostage rescue raid on Cabanatuan, I was excited to learn more of the back story on the prisoners survival. While there are several important characters, guerrillas (Boone and company) and spies (Chick Parsons, etc), the story revolves around Claire, whose diary is one of the primary sources. As with most real world spies, the author warns the reader that Claire is an 'interesting' character well before the war but the very traits of duplicity and the ability to get men to cater to her are essential as she builds a complex network of agents and collection points under the watch of the occupying Japanese. The story telling is rather academic in several parts but I found it compelling to push through those parts because Claire's setting up and running the Tsubacki Club with the help of Japanese officers then pulling intelligence data from them over the next eighteen months could be taught at the US Army's Special Forces qualification course. My main disappointment was the lack of coverage of Claire's agents once the Philippines were liberated. For instance, Fely continued the club after Claire had been arrested and smuggled assistance to Claire while she was incarcerated but nothing on her after the war. I would give four of five stars for the book and five stars on his research.

I enjoy reading about WWII and have read other books about the Philippines including Stephen L. Moore's "As Good As Dead." There are interesting parts to this story but the storytelling is meticulous and circuitous making it difficult at times to finish. I'd give it 4/5 for the story itself, but 2.5/5 for storytelling.

My Dad served in the Navy in WWll. As many who served during that time, he didn't talk about it . My uncle also served in the Pacific. Like my Dad, he wasn't a talker either but there was always one topic that would get him started...Douglas MacArthur. He liked to tell the story of his famous "I shall return" speech and ending with "and he never came back". I'm not sure if he believed that was true or he didn't like the truth getting in the way of a good story. My memories of that got me interested in this book. The main character of the book is a female, Claire. This in itself is unusual considering the war back drop but she .comes off as a grifter. Her complexity made her very interesting to read. While she is slugging through the war, it is hard not to cheer her on. The author does clue the reader into her battles with truthfulness from the start of the book. It was the conclusion that makes you think ugh...Is her story the real story or is her ability to manipulate that good. Regardless, she was brave and did suffer. The majority of her actions ( I think) made a positive difference for the American war effort As I was reading the book an obituary of 101 year old Florence Finch apppeared in the NYTimes. She served in the US Coast Guard in the Philippines during WWll. She also asssisted in the Japanese resistance but unlike Claire, she had the demeanor of a heroine. Young girls should have heroines to emulate. Florence might not be as good copy as Claire but she sounds as if she is the Real Deal. It also made me think of the shear numbers of every day people involved to make this resistance effective. There are many heroes and heroines about whom we will never know. Amazingly good read.

An Interesting angle on the fight in Manila, considering a woman is one of the main spies featured in the network. The main character has many aliases and identities, but mainly Claire or her cover name High Pockets and has had a questionable background even before her involvement in the network. She has been married several times and used different aliases when she ends up in Manila during the Japanese invasion and occupation. Claire suffered physical abuse as well as emotional, loss of loved ones, starvation, disease and humiliation. Through it all she prevailed, first starting a club called Tsubaki, where she and her girls plied Japanese soldiers with drinks to get information to pass to American solders and Filipino guerillas in the mountains, hopefully being routed to MacArthur. She and her group also collected supplies and food to send to prisoners in the camps by several couriers risking capture and death. Cast of several brave and unusual characters working together to take down the Japanese force. Only detraction was the writing was dry as a textbook. Great choice and informative about unsung heroes. Also highlights Claire's subsequent fame and long time effort to get recompensation for her aid during the war.


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