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A Genius for Deception: How Cunning Helped the British Win Two World Wars Hardcover – 10 Nov 2009


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 466 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (10 Nov 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019538704X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195387049
  • Product Dimensions: 23.9 x 2.8 x 15.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 240,356 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

`Rankin goes poking and probing the lesser-known facts of the two World Wars. What an entertaining journey he provides.' --Len Deighton

`A story clamouring to be told...I could not stop reading this book once I had begun.' --Doris Lessing --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

`A story clamouring to be told...I could not stop reading this book once I had begun.' --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By K. P. Wilson on 24 Sep 2010
Format: Paperback
And I thought I knew a lot about both world wars! There was so much going on that just isnt realised. The `stories` in this book would not make a great film but they did make `winning` the wars possible. The shoreline defences of England,the Home Guard,the wood and cardboard false tanks and aircraft that really did confuse the Germans and thus saved many real ones,its incredible that this isnt widely appreciated.
To sum up, a very interesting book. An eye-opener.
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Tony Howard on 14 May 2010
Format: Paperback
`Churchill's Wizards: The British Genius for Deception 1914 - 1945' describes British military deception in two World Wars: the roles of the intelligence services in grand and smaller deception plans. Guerilla warfare, double agents, black propaganda, camouflage and even sniping are all covered. I found the principles and practice of camouflage and the contributions of painters very interesting. The author describes the roles in the development of deception of well known military figures such T E Lawrence and General Wavell, but also presents the activities of people more famous in other walks of life. These include the authors John Buchan, Ian Fleming, Dennis Wheatley, George Bernard Shaw, HG Wells and Arthur Conan Doyle!

Together these interwoven threads of history made a thoroughly enjoyable read for me. The one minor frustration I found came from the title of the book. This implies the involvement or `ownership' of Winston Churchill in the majority the work. I spent the first half of the book anticipating some revelation of his critical involvement in the development of deception in WWI, but it never came! In fact it was apparent from the book that WSC had little or no involvement in the deception activities relating to WWI.

His involvement in the heart of the story - deception - only became clear about two-thirds of the way through the book, once WWII was well underway, after which our heroes - the Wizards - could truly be described as `Churchill's' because of his direct contributions and patronage. Despite the slightly misleading title I found the book informative, well written and hard to put down.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Ex navy 1950 on 3 Mar 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
being pre-WW1 born I had read previous accounts of some of the ideas and their applications. But found this book pulled things together in one place, explaining the background in a useful way.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By king Nik on 25 Aug 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I am a ww2 buff and looked forward to reading this book for a long time. It taught me nothing new and breezed over bits in not amazing detail. Expensive book to buy on the kindle, and probably not worth it. Better off reading 'Double Cross' or 'Operation Mincemeat'
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By mike penguin on 3 Oct 2009
Format: Paperback
While the book is an interesting read, there is frankly little about deception in the first 350 pages, so I agree with the other reviewers who say, in effect, it is padded out, demonstrates that the British were not great, never mind wizards, at deception with a few notable exceptions.

The title of the book implies it is about the people which is much more accurate than to suggest, as the subtitle does, that it is about British genius.

I bought the book having been deceived by back cover reviews - "You couldn't make this stuff up ....... we could not have imagined the scope of the inventiveness, the daring of these people's imaginations". Either these reviewers are paid by the publishers or they can't have read the book.

The first book I have read where I have been really disappointed by the lack of real content.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Chris Widgery VINE VOICE on 1 Sep 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Mr Rankin promises us a ride into the secret world of deception, camouflage, secret agents and misdirection that helped Britain in two world wars. And indeed we do get that. That bit takes up about half of the book. The other half is excerpts from people's diaries, essays about the war, Churchill's political career, bits snipped out of his family history, bit more about the war that doesn't actually have anything to do with deception, camouflage, secret agents and misdirection. Padding, really. When I picked the book up, I thought, "Wow, this will be fascinating". But there's an awful lot of pages to get through. So some judicious editing could have turned this into a very lean 250/300 pages.

That said, when you do get to the deception, camouflage etc etc, you fly through them. It's cracking stuff. Some is very Boys Own, some almost unbelieveably dotty British eccentricity and, above all, huge amounts of resourcefulness, imagination and bravery. The stories are incredible. And you realise how much the success of D Day depended on some wooden tanks and landing craft of a fictional US Army Group in Kent.

So it's worth a read, all the more so if you're willing to skip bits.
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By Andy_atGC TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 16 Sep 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book by Nicholas Rankin has something in common with another purchased at the same time, namely Ben MacIntyre's 'Double Cross' and there is some minor overlap. The difference is that where MacIntyre's book exclusively covers events during the latter years of WW2, this one covers both WW1 and WW2 as well as the years in-between.

During WW1 Churchill held several Government posts and had been involved in the earlier Boer War where he presumably gained some insight into military thinking and planning. Some of those ideas were than put into play during WW1 to try to deceive Germany and to hopefully benefit the Allies (then including Japan) to help ensure the defeat of Germany. However, ideas and technologies were then far more basic than they became 25 or more years later.

After the first few months of WW2 when Churchill was asked to lead a wartime coalition government, he assumed much of the responsibility for British war efforts. Although he may not have provided the original ideas, he acted as the head of a committee that considered and sometimes approved ideas that originated from many other minds. Accordingly Churchill was given much of the credit when these ideas were successfully employed, hence the title and accreditation of this book's title.

Many technologies had been vastly improved during the later inter-war years and new ones were developed including television and radar which were to prove militarily beneficial. The War itself would prompt further developments either to achieve specific aims previously thought impossible or to counter German developments.
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