Dark Invasion 1915: Germany’s Secret War & the Hunt for the First Terrorist Cell in America

Written by Howard Blum

Dark Invasion


Did you know that Germany placed secret agents in the United States during World War I?  And that they carried out terrorist actions on U.S. soil?  I certainly did not. I know very little about World War I, except that it was the precursor to World War II and that a lot of men died in trenches.  Be prepared…I plan to rectify that lack of knowledge this year.

Dark Invasion details the activities of German agents in the United States during the early years of World War I.  It also explores the efforts to stop these spies by a special branch of the New York City police department.  There were many times during this book that I had to remind myself that this was not a tale of fiction or an episode of Blue Bloods.  It was so very fantastic.

These are the stories we wanted to learn about in grade school History classes.

The Good

The best thing about non-fiction is that they are real stories.  Clearly, I enjoy history and spy stories.  And this combined both.  Dark Invasion is the kind of story that you would not believe as fiction.  So, yes, the subject matter of this book is primarily responsible for its four star rating.

Blum presents impeccable research throughout the course of this book.  He combined first person narratives from journals, newspaper articles, and court testimonies with de-classified documents to provide a comprehensive look at this period of history.  You get a sense of New York City in 1915.  You feel the fear and anticipation brewing in the United States of America on the eve of her entry into the war.  And you understand the frustration and urgency felt by Tom Tunney while in pursuit of spies and terrorists.

I love this sort of book – the book that teaches you something you did not know, but in a format that feels more like fiction than a textbook.

The Not-So-Good

The narrative of this book was convoluted.  I’ll try to explain without giving too much away, but be aware that I may do so inadvertently.

This book could have been improved by a strong editor.  It seemed like an amalgamation of several different thesis papers.  It was readable, but disjointed.

From the beginning, it seemed that the key character was a murderous Harvard professor.  The book featured him prominently from the beginning and switched from his story back and forth with the meat of the narrative.  But, if Blum was going to use the device of framing the story within a personal narrative, Tom Tunney was the way to do it.  The professor, while important, was not central to the plot in the way that Tunney was.

Beyond that, the timelines and focus seemed to jump around considerably.  Blum seemed to try to force the story into some convention of a thriller or action movie, and it did not need that.  I wish he had simply presented the story.

I also did not like the way certain people were introduced and provided with backgrounds, while others magically appeared as they were caught by someone in the police department.  It was inconsistent, and got really annoying by the end.

Final Thoughts

I am a huge supporter of the new style of non-fiction that I am seeing.  My favorite non-fiction reads like a novel and proves my argument that real people and events are far more interesting than anything we could make up.  Blum wrote about a topic and people that were so fascinating to me that I forgave a multitude of issues with the writing.  I had as many problems with Blums writing as I did with Devil in the White City, and I still have not gotten over that book.

While it is certainly not one of the best books I’ve read, Dark Invasion made me think.  It made me want to know more.  I know I alluded to this once already, but why are we making kids memorize dates and lines of succession for European kingdoms (to be fair, the latter gets fascinating as you learn more…)?  Stories of spies and early anti-terrorism units are the sorts of things that will get kids and adults to actually want to learn.  And, frankly, they teach them a lot about modern political science at the same time.