The Secret Agent: In Search of America’s Greatest World War II Spy

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The Secret Agent: In Search of America’s Greatest World War II Spy

Eric Erickson was the most important American spy of World War II. He also had a secret to keep.

In 1941, the Brooklyn-born Erickson was a millionaire oil mogul who volunteered for a dangerous mission inside the Third Reich: locating the top-secret synthetic oil plants that kept the German war machine running. To fool the Nazis, Erickson played the role of a collaborator. He hung a portrait of Hitler in his apartment and “disowned” his Jewish best friend, then flew to Berlin, where he charmed Himmler and signed lucrative oil deals with the architects of the Final Solution. All the while, he was visiting the oil refineries and passing their coordinates to Allied Bomber Command, who destroyed the plants in a series of B-17 raids, helping to end the war early.

After the war, Erickson’s was revealed as a secret agent and received the Medal of Freedom for his bravery. William Holden even played him in a hit Hollywood movie. For a brief moment in the early ’60s, Erickson was the most famous spy in the world. His secret? He hadn’t played a Nazi collaborator. He’d actually been one – a war profiteer who’d made millions of trading with Hitler before having a change of heart. Black-listed by the Allies and disowned by his family, Erickson had volunteered for the spy mission in order to redeem himself, and ended up saving thousands of Allied lives.

Based on newly-discovered archives in Sweden, The Secret Agent is a riveting piece of narrative nonfiction that tells the true story of Erickson’s remarkable life for the first time.

Praise for The Secret Agent

“Stephan Talty’s true tale of Allied espionage stars an American oil playboy, Swedish royalty, a passionate love story, and “synfuel,” a synthetic substitute for oil that propelled Hitler’s dream of energy independence and marked one of the key strategic opportunities for the Axis powers throughout the war. The story opens in the bomb shelter of a Mercedes-Benz factory in the spring of 1944, where Eric Erickson huddles for safety as hundreds of B-17s drop tons of explosives on a target that Erickson himself had identified for them. Talty then rewinds to tell the story of this unlikely war hero’s strange path to espionage, long frustration with his mission, and ultimate success as a turning point in the defeat of the Third Reich. Though Erickson’s tale has appeared before–notably in both a book and film entitled The Counterfeit Traitor–Talty’s telling gets the story just right, depicting the modest, dapper Erickson and his long-classified exploits with tense pacing, surprisingly intimate details, and a reverence for this private citizen’s suspenseful, tide-turning contribution to the American war effort.”
Jason Kirk