Scholars of Mayhem Cover

Scholars of Mayhem

My Father’s Secret War in Nazi-Occupied France

Daniel C. Guiet and Timothy K. Smith

Penguin Press, New York, 2019, 272 pages

Book Review published on: September 11, 2020

How did special operations forces and national-level intelligence agencies set the conditions for the successful invasion of Europe during World War II? Just a few years ago, the answer to this question would have been, “Well that’s classified,” and the conversation would have ended right there. However, thanks to recently declassified documents and personal accounts, Daniel Guiet and Timothy Smith bring a story of the behind the enemy lines battle to you. If you liked Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, you will love Scholars of Mayhem: My Father’s Secret War in Nazi-Occupied France.

Scholars of Mayhem is a biographical and historical account of Jean Claude Guiet. Guiet was an Office of Strategic Services (forerunner to the CIA) operative. Prior to D-Day, he deployed behind enemy lines in Nazi-occupied France, providing strategic and operational intelligence to London while organizing, arming, training, assisting, and, in some cases, leading French irregular forces against German and Vichy French forces. This work was exceptionally dangerous and the life expectancy of a member of the team was approximately three weeks.

Daniel C. Guiet is the son of Guiet, the subject of the book. He derived a great deal of information from his father’s memoirs and personal effects and artifacts. Daniel is a graduate of the University of Colorado and a former associate director for Planned Parenthood. Timothy K. Smith is a graduate of Brown University and the Sorbonne and is a writer and editor whose work has been published in Fortune magazine and the Wall Street Journal.

Scholars of Mayhem is well written and organized. The authors provide detailed and technical descriptions of Guiet’s experiences as a teenager and how his team trained, supplied, and operated in plain sight in occupied France. Additionally, there were several examples of personal artifacts of some of the tools of the trade. The authors provide historical context and highlight some of the atrocities of the Nazi forces, and there are some additional outside sources.

The book is organized into several short chapters, some only four pages long. This makes the book very quick and easy to read but also suggests a lack of evidence or gaps of information to provide to the reader. This is underscored by the limited notes cited for the chapters. However, the authors do provide historical context and outside events to frame the actions described by Guiet. This is understandable due to the described clandestine operations and the classified nature of the material.

Scholars of Mayhem is highly recommended and an enjoyable book to read. It is a must for special operations forces and intelligence professionals, and it would also be useful to soldiers in airborne and aviation units. The casual reader or historian interested in clandestine operations may find this book enjoyable as well. It is instructive of the total effort that it takes to win a large-scale ground combat operation, the value of language and focused training, and the need for human intelligence and interaction with indigenous forces and populations.

Book Review written by: Jacob A. Mong, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas