Eric Lichtblau...has now given Mayer’s story the feature-length treatment it deserves, drawing on a rich trove of oral histories, letters, government archives, captured German records, and personal accounts from surviving witnesses and their families. The book doesn’t distinguish itself from others in the genre—it’s an epic poem rendered in workmanlike prose—but the details are astonishing nonetheless ... Mayer presents as a pugnacious Brooklyn street kid, a role he adopted upon arriving in America in 1938. He was more of a doer than a thinker, something of a troublemaker, confident in his ability to talk his way out of any mess, even a Gestapo interrogation cell ... Lichtblau ends by suggesting one final motive: gratitude...to make good on the debt he felt he owed his adoptive country.
Mayer had the kind of devil-may-care spirit that bursts off the page ... Mr. Lichtblau’s narrative lacks immediacy or much driving momentum. The storyline is further hampered by what feel like pocket-guide histories—of the OSS, for example, or American attitudes toward Jews. Once the book hits the halfway mark, however, and Mayer parachutes with his small team onto a glacier high in the Austrian Alps, readers are launched on an exhilarating ride. One senses that Mr. Lichtblau was eager to reach this point himself: His writing becomes tauter, details pop and characters vividly spring alive ... Despite his intention to reveal an untold story of bravery, Mr. Lichtblau does not furrow much new ground here ... Freddy Mayer, who died two months after his meeting with Mr. Lichtblau, is an irresistible subject, and he deserves a dozen more recountings of his adventures.
...[a] brisk, Netflix-ready new book ... Lichtblau imbues Freddy’s action sequences with satisfying, propulsive energy, while occasionally widening his focus to a cast of supporting characters ... What’s missing from Lichtblau’s otherwise deeply reported account is a stronger sense of the motivations and inner lives of these young men, who dropped behind enemy lines, adopted new identities, and risked everything on behalf of a country, America, they still barely knew ... With the current U.S. administration intent on narrowing the definition of who can count themselves as American, it’s worth recalling, and celebrating, how immigrants like Freddy Mayer once helped the United States save civilization. Who knows when we might have to do it again?