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American Arsenal: A Century of Waging War Hardcover – 23 Jan 2014

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: OUP USA (23 Jan. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199959749
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199959747
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 3 x 16.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,828,050 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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About the Author

Patrick Coffey is a Visiting Scholar in the Office for History of Science and Technology at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of Cathedrals of Science.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I found this a surprisingly entertaining read. Mr Coffey manages to explain the sometimes convoluted evolution of various weapons systems without getting bogged down in technical or dry detail. He highlights the often difficult relationships between the branches of the US armed forces and also between the scientists and pretty much everyone else. In addition to the technical developments he presents a good concise history of US military thinking which led to the requirements for these systems. A good buy if you have an interest in the subject.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 8 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Engrossing, disturbing, and very readable 7 Mar. 2014
By Richard J. Leskosky - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Patrick Coffey’s well-researched and well-written book provides an enlightening and unnerving look at the technology and the politics of American weaponry over the last century (from submarines and poison gas in World War I to today’s drones). Inventors, bureaucrats, scientists, politicians, and military brass are seen maneuvering here in pursuit of often conflicting goals and ideals as they seek to develop and deploy (or prevent the deployment of) various fearsome weapons systems. Coffey gives an unflinching account of the horrific efficacy of those weapons (or their potential, in the case of those that were developed but, like poison gas, not used) and a behind-the-scenes look at the refinements and the occasional literal and figurative misfires in their development. Those missteps occasionally introduce a wry undertone, such as when Coffey describes the Army’s disastrous tests in 1943 of a plan to attach incendiary bombs to bats and release them over Japanese cities. Readers who know about America’s armaments and their use only from government press releases or other sanitized accounts will find particularly sobering, among other revelations, just how much more destructive American fire bombings were on Japanese cities than the atomic bombs dropped there and the ever-expanding definition of strategic targets that translates into lost civilian lives. Despite these grim details, though, American Arsenal is eminently readable and engrossing.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Interesting and well-written. 13 Feb. 2014
By James Colbert - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This book has a wealth of fascinating information for anyone (like me) who is interested in the subject matter, and it presents that information in a well-written narrative spiced with wry observations on the often perverse actions of the soldiers, scientists and politicians who have guided (and sometimes misguided) our nation's military decisions. Anyone with an interest in the military history of the 20th century will enjoy this book.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
An Excellent Review of 20th Century Weapons Systems 18 Mar. 2014
By Bernard Percarpio - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For WWI and WWII history fans, this book adds an essential element to these complicated conflicts. The chapters on the development of the Norden bombsight and Napalm are especially detailed and complete. The author excels, however, in his description of the people behind these weapons systems. Curtis LeMay is shown to be less the crazy general, as depicted in the popular press of the 1960's and 1970's and more of a warrior dedicated to winning any conflict. Glenn Seaborg and Edward Teller are revealed to be intelligent men but far too interested in celebrity and recognition. Patrick Coffey has written a fine addition to any military history collection.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Lessons for the future 21 April 2014
By Norman J. Thomas, Jr. - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Wow! Pat Coffey provides the back-stories to our current realities, and they are neither reassuring nor comforting. The surprising thing we learn is that somehow we have survived our own insecurities and failings. Hopefully we use these examples in the future to think longer term and as a single entity bound to this one, small, fragile world.
Fascinating: A Perceptive and Well-Crafted Account of Some Famous and Obscure Aspects of U.S. Weapons Development since WWI 26 April 2014
By Peter Ramming - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I was initially drawn to this book because it contained chapters on some lesser-known (or at least less frequently discussed) weapons systems such as America's homegrown poison gas, Lewisite, the Norden bombsight, napalm, the Thor and Jupiter intermediate range ballistic missiles, the Redeye shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missile, the defoliant Agent Orange, and the M16 rifle. "American Arsenal" indeed covers these items with skill and insight, as well as providing cogent accounts of the development of the atomic and hydrogen bombs, the establishment of the Air Force, Strategic Air Command, the RAND corporation, and the Strategic Defense Initiative ("Star Wars"). But Patrick Coffey's book is much more than just a deftly written technical and historical description of these weapons and the military organizations that were tasked with deploying them in peace and war. Through careful consideration of selected weapons and the scientists and soldiers behind them, Coffey offers a highly informative and often entertaining history of the triumphs and follies of American war-fighting since WWI.
So, among others, we find the Harvard chemist James Conant tasked with the industrial production of mustard gas for the Army in WWI; becoming President of Harvard University in 1933; then overseeing the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb in WWII; and then obstructing the development of the hydrogen bomb, which was scientifically feasible as early as 1948, but not built until 1952. Conant later became the first U.S. ambassador to West Germany.
There is Curtis LeMay, the 38-year-old Army Air Corps general who oversaw the destruction by fire-bombing of Japan's largest cities in 1945; who allocated the money for the establishment of the Research and Development (RAND) Corporation in 1948 (and later resented RAND's researchers telling him how to fight a nuclear war); who turned the Strategic Air Command (SAC) into a professional, bomber-based force capable of delivering a pre-emptive "Sunday Punch" of all 3000+ U.S. nuclear weapons against the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and Communist China; who eventually headed the Air Force from 1961-65; and who, then, as a retired civilian, entered into a far less illustrious role as George Wallace's vice presidential running mate in 1968.
There is Robert McNamara, a Harvard business professor turned Army Air Corp statistician during WWII (he later called LeMay "the finest combat commander of any service I came across in the war"), who left his postwar role as president of Ford Motor Company to become secretary of defense under Kennedy and Johnson and was appalled to learn in 1961 of SAC's "Sunday Punch" nuclear war plan; who struggled to eliminate redundant weapons systems such as the Army's Jupiter and the Air Force's Thor intermediate range ballistic missiles; and who forced the (bungled) transition to the smaller caliber M16 rifle on the U.S. military forces fighting in Vietnam.
And then there is Edward Teller, the staunchly anti-communist Hungarian refugee nuclear scientist, who, while theoretically brilliant, was something of a prima donna who felt easily slighted and often quarreled with his fellow scientists on the Manhattan Project; who later conceived the basic principles for building a hydrogen bomb but could not figure out how to make it work until Stanislaw Ulam showed him a viable scheme (something Teller always refused to acknowledge); and who, under President Reagan, became the hoary eminence behind a space-based anti-missile X-ray laser that, powered by an H-bomb explosion, would somehow be able to simultaneously target hundreds on incoming Soviet land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles. This and other proposed Strategic Defense Initiative devices such as "Brilliant Pebbles" would have to be perfect in countering the thousands of Soviet missile-based nuclear warheads and decoys, though bomber-based warheads would still be a threat under SDI.
Although "American Arsenal" covers a lot of ground, it is not lengthy (less than 300 pages). Patrick Coffey is an excellent writer who has a solid grasp of the finer details of the science behind these weapons, but describes things clearly and efficiently. Similarly with the historical matter: Coffey provides a brisk yet complete historical narrative. All in all, this is a superb book, and I will probably eventually read Coffey's "Cathedrals of Science" on the personalities behind the rise of modern chemistry.
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