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Tank: The Progress of a Monstrous War Machine [Hardcover]

Patrick Wright
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 2002
When British tanks first crawled onto the battlefields in September 1916, they inspired laughter as well as dread. But these 'big jokes' went on to transform the nature of ground warfare forever. For this captivating narrative of the tank's history, Patrick Wright went to arms factories and military bases around the world. He was the first western writer to be received by the First Warsaw Tank Brigade after the disintegration of the Soviet bloc, and he discussed Operation Desert Storm with the US Army's Armour Centre in Fort Knox. The tank, Wright discovers, is as much a terrifying cultural phantom as a practical war machine. He gives us the tank's fascinating story through the eyes of the people who have tried to face up to it - from the renegade artists in Prague who painted a Soviet memorial tank pink, to the solitary protester in Tiananmen Square whose bravery touched the world.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Books; 1st Edition edition (April 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670030708
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670030705
  • Product Dimensions: 21.9 x 14.7 x 4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,372,452 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Neal Ascherson once described me as a "wandering disestablished scholar whose method is to walk and talk". I may be better established nowadays, but I still feel some kinship with the metal detectorists whose world I briefly entered in A Journey Through Ruins. Like them, I work by picking up a signal in the present and then digging. I use libraries and personal testimony, and I've also benefited from journalistic commissions, which have enabled me to get to people and places that would otherwise be out of reach. More at www.patrickwright.net


Product Description

Amazon Review

Patrick Wright specialises in taking a specific, seemingly narrow subject for scrutiny, and opening it out into a survey of much wider horizons and concerns. A previous work of his, The Village That Died For England, took as its theme the remote, deserted village of Tyneham, Dorset, on the south coast of England, and turned it into a symbol of the entire history of 20th-century Britain: a quite brilliant achievement. And Wright is every bit as unexpectedly illuminating, challenging and broad ranging in his latest study, of the tank. From its lumbering debut appearance in the first full-scale tank attack, at Cambrai on the Western Front in November 1917, to the unforgettable image of the lone protester with his plastic shopping bag, holding up an entire armoured column in Tiananmen Square in 1989, the tank has always inspired awe, pride, terror and even a kind of desperate, hysterical laughter. In its future incarnations, the tank will become the cybertank, if the dreams of the boys at the US Army Armor Center at Fort Knox, Kentucky are ever realised: fully digitised, unmanned machines that will operate in a kind of virtual reality--except, of course, for the maimings and killings inflicted on human flesh, which will have a more old-fashioned kind of reality. Wright is acerbic, combative, powerfully perceptive about the tank as both machine and metaphor for the mechanisation of human life, and his long, hard look at this modern Behemoth, both fascinated and appalled, is utterly compelling. --Christopher Hart --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

Review

(Patrick Wright) remarkably, has succeeded in making his history of this monstrous war machine immensely readable -- Sunday Telegraph, 2 September 2001

Wright's book is unexpectedly fascinating... He is one of our best contemporary writers. -- Sunday Times, 2 September 2001 --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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'Behold now Behemoth, which I made with thee.' Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A curious but fascinating oddity 26 Oct 2002
Format:Paperback
Readers expecting the typical "and then the PzKpfw Ausf. G replaced the Ausf. F in divisional service..." nuts and bolts military history will be deeply disappointed by this book.
Everyone else should enjoy it immensely.
Wright mixes the military, cultural and technical histories of the tank almost arbitrarily, pausing to concentrate on detail occasionally or sweeping over whole decades in half a chapter.
His central obsession is that of the tank as cultural icon - but to understand that he's gone back and explored the origins, uses and abuses of the armoured fighting vehicle, analysed its impact on popular culture, recounted the history of some of its triumphs and tragedies and introduced many of the significant personalities in its history.
Some chapters are plain bizarre - the section on JFC Fuller's relationship with the Great Beast Aleister Crowley is hilarious and deeply worrying - others tend towards straightforward military history or cultural criticism.
A heady mixture of genres, a deeply eccentric and readable book and one that I highly recommend.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A very long, very distracted work 7 May 2008
Format:Paperback
At its core Tank covers the history of the tank from the grindingly slow British vehicles of WW1 to the latest armoured units in Israeli mobile warfare.

There is in-depth discussion of improvements and epic moments such as Kursk. It even shows how the tank has seeped into popular culture and the first hand experiences describing their impact on the battle field is chilling.

The only problem (and it is a major one) is how often Patrick Wright gets hopelessly distracted. There is an entire section on JFC Fuller with Alistair Crowley- interesting but not very relevant and later on there's a very random section on the concept vehicle (a bit like a tank) for homeless people in America. This has nothing to do with the topic and is obviously a pipe dream. The final points aren't about the future of armoured vehicles in combat but about Mums in their large 4x4 vehicles!

The information you bought this book for is there, but at times it's like sifting for gold. This book needs MAJOR editing.

There's a great 300 page tale about the creation and evolution of the tank wrapped in this unnecessarily chunky book. A missed opportunity.

If you liked this there's more historical debate and fun at @HistoryGems on Facebook and Twitter
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Rambling and Unfocused, but Entertaining 24 Oct 2003
By Orome
Format:Paperback
A rambling cultural history of the tank, this book covers a lot of ground, both figuratively and literally, from the social symbolism of the tank in the labor politics of post WWI Britain to the power politics of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Almost always entertaining and well written, this book never really finds its focus. For those seeking a comprehensive an insightful history of the tank, there are glimpses, but not a complete story. For those seeking to understand the tank's role in any particular sphere (from its significance in post-Soviet East Block military culture to the engineering challenges faced in modifying tanks for survival in an era of potent and inexpensive anti-tank weapons) there are hints, but never enough to really sink one's teeth into. In the end on is left a bit dizzy, much is introduced, but no theme is treated in a structured or thorough enough way to contribute much to the reader's understanding. The feeling is that of having met a one of those fascinating and conversation-monopolizing guests at a party: entertaining, and possibly quite knowledgeable, but in the end just entertaining -- and a bit exhausting.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Wright's juggernaut. 26 Aug 2014
Format:Paperback
A serpentine, wayward work in cultural history this is undeniably a self-indulgent book which you will love or tolerate; it is not hateful, Wright is too devoted, too clever for that. The idea of the tank is followed from its development as a ponderous juggernaut and the sense of awe it engendered is well caught, as well as its importance as recruiting aid during War. Crowley and Fuller make a truly odd couple, soldier and semi lunatic in a bizarre union; the stuff of nightmares - or indeed comedy, as it IS rather Monty Python. Prodigiously researched, often funny, quite odd; the sort of thing Wright is liable to pull off. I am only surprised that no-one else has noted that it is rather square and bluntly solid, it is a crushing weight in heft and narrative.... in fact, is itself a tank. I enjoyed its huge self hugely.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Clangers 5 Jan 2003
Format:Paperback
As mentioned, this is a cultural history of the tank - not so much what it *was*, but what it *meant* over the twentieth century. The symbolism of a great crushing metal state beast is obvious and Wright deals with it in the first chapter; the rest of the book is a fascinating meander, a mess of details which doesn't hang together as a single argument, and is sometimes quite monotonous (an early chapter on the use of 'live appearances' by tanks in British cities as fundraisers during the Great War is essentially eighty pages of dates and places).
On the other hand it has a mass of detail and research behind it, and the aforementioned chapter on tank pioneer JFC Fuller's adventures with first Aleister Crowley - Magus and 'great beast' - and later the British Union of Fascists could have been extended into an entire book of its own. The thought that what became 'blitzkrieg' and modern armoured warfare grew from an occul catastrophism, drug-fuelled masses and 'sex magic' involving a hunchback gives one pause.
All in all one gets the impression that Wright is loath to waste research, and crams everything he has learned into the book whether it's interesting or not - it's a hefty 400 pages of dense type with copious footnotes -but in its haphazard way it's a unique and fascinating thing to pour over. The photograph of early German 'bicycle tanks' - wooden tank models built on bicycles for a Treaty of Versailles-strapped army to practise with - is priceless, too.
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