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54 of 57 people found the following review helpful
TOP 100 REVIEWERon 12 July 2010
Many people will have read this volume in its previous incarnation but as Mr Hennessy has added a significant amount of more up to date information since first publication, this is well worth getting even if you fall in that camp. If you haven't read this before it is obviously even more worth getting as it gives a detailed acount of British security since the second world war, with the new information adding to that of the cold war years. It chronicles many of the successes and failures, some of the humerous anecdotes and horror stories and generally much of the minutiae that goes into securing the security of the realm. For example were you aware that the prime minister of the day has to hand write instructions of when to "push the button" for our nuclear submarines which are held on board each craft. Apparently there is still at least one ship still at sea with instructions from Gordon Brown, that David Cameron will have to update on its arrival back in the UK!
What could have been a dull trawl through the archives is brought to life by the authors pithy style which makes this an enthralling and very interesting read
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 3 March 2012
For someone interested in the history of how the British government planned for the unthinkable scenario of the country getting embroiled in a nuclear exchange this book is fascinating and well-written. Although Hennessy (and his colleagues) have done a thorough research job on the topic the result is never over-scholarly and dry. Hennessy lubricates the writing (which could become something of a theoretical exercise) with his own experiences - e.g. visiting not-so-secret government nuclear bunkers hidden in the countryside and expressing his reactions to the claustrophobic surroundings or passing on the sometimes astounding revelations of ex-government personalities involved in nuclear planning. For me the major interest in the book was the sometimes bizarre 'quirky Britishness' of some of the military and political thinking - e.g. linking the PM Harold Macmillan to the AA telephone network in order that he could order a counter-strike in the event of an 'out-of-the-blue' attack on the UK, or the fascinating and ominous concept of 'letters of last resort' carried in the safes on-board the UK's submarines carrying the nuclear deterrent (the 'voice from the grave' if the UK government was wiped out in a surprise attack). An underlying theme of the book was the psychology of the 'unthinkable scenario' - if the situation arose, would people in power have actually ordered a counter-strike? After all, if the UK had been the target of a nuclear attack then it could be argued that the whole point of the 'nuclear deterrent' had failed - why add further to the destruction of civilization? Fascinating insight into military planning, political thinking, nuclear history and the psychology of having to imagine the consequences of something too horrible to contemplate.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 16 December 2010
Having read the earlier version of 'The Secret State', I was eager to discover what the Prof had uncovered and included in this version. I am THOROUGHLY pleased with this work, very detailed, and humbling in parts. Again, a large proportion of the book is dedicated to the Cold War, when in fact I was interested in present situations, but, as the Prof works with the information released under law, which are sensitive, the main body is understandably, but slightly, dated, but still applicable. I was happy to see sections dedicated to the very purpose I purchased this book. Five star.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 8 November 2010
This book was a very pleasant surprise, although full of informative cold war history covering a vast timeline it is very readable - primarily due to style it has been written in. The book which was previously published around 2001 has been re-published with more up to date information as it has become readily available through the declassification of Government documents. The book deals with the security of Britain and the challenges faced by those in power of how to best practice 'the Defence of the Realm' (whether by Cold War Bomber or contemporary terrorist). The book primarily concentrates on the Cold War and the development, planning and potential deployment phases of atomic weapons during World War Two up to current day, from their development phase and work with the Americans and then the going it alone of Britain in developing her own arsenal of atomic weapons as a deterrent during the coldest and warmest days of the Cold War. The book is uncompromising in its research and detail and takes you from the unimaginable decisions that 'may' needed to have been taken and encompasses a few anecdotes to lighten the mood. A very interesting and readable book on what was and is still is for many a contentious and vastly debated topic.

The Secret State: Preparing For The Worst 1945 - 2010
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 21 September 2010
This book is so much more than a revision of a standard work. The latest released official files have given this, the finest commentator on our State and its governance in defence and intellingence matters, further opportunity for insights, deductions and important conclusions. This is a work of brilliant as well as assiduous scholarship; the work is meticulously footnoted; it is readably and enjoyably written; it is well and convincingly argued, by one who knows his period and subjects comprehensively, and knows the people involved at least as well as they know themselves: this is contemporary history at its best.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 1 April 2013
You probably won't find a better researched paperback on this subject. It is heavy going at times and won't really engage the layman, but give it time and you will feel chilled to the bone; the stark reality of the decisions and plans made behind closed doors during the second half of the 20th century surrounding Nuclear War is dread incarnate.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 30 August 2010
This is a fascinating, authoritative insight into what motivated our leaders and their advisers especially with regard to nuclear weapons. Very, very scary in places. Sometimes driven by a desire o punch above our weight, to sit at the top table on equal terms with USA & USSR. This slowly gives way to reality, and if we didn't have 'The Bomb' we certainly would not develop it.
I have not yet finished this wonderful book, but even what I have read will influence my political thinking for years to come.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 11 December 2010
It's hard to describe this. The subtitle, "Preparing for the worst" comes close. It's about the apparatus that exists/has existed to deal with nuclear war; a quote from Sir Rodric Braithwaite at the start of Chapter 5 on Cold War preparations - "it was inescapable, it was necessary, and it was lunatic" - sums it up.

But it's all still there. Chapter 8, "The Human Button", on Trident and the "last resort letters" is more chilling than any novel or horror film.

And it's real.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 11 November 2012
For forty years, the British government was obliged to plan for the possibility of a a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. This included both arrangements for moving the nation to a war footing (Transition to War as it was called), surviving a nuclear "strike", deciding how to retaliate and trying to pick up the pieces afterwards. For those of us who dealt with such issues at the time, there's a slight sense of shock in seeing them discussed at length in an academic book. In effect, though, and in spite of the title, these are really the results of Hennessey's research (and that of his students) in the papers which have been released to the Public Record Office covering the period from the 1940s to the 1970s. Like any such study, it is dependent on its sources, and for more recent events the author is obliged to rely on public statements and documents, and interviews. Although some documents have never been released (and probably never will be) the author generally does a good job in recapturing the atmosphere of the time. Some things that struck me as bizarre even then are highlighted by the book, notably the obsession of the government with the tiny British Communist Party, and its supposed ability to organise large-scale strikes and demonstrations during a period of crisis. The new chapter in this edition, covering the last ten years, is essentially a rehash of conventional wisdom on the subject of Al Qaeda etc and not really that interesting. Whilst it is enlivened by the author's description of visiting a nuclear missile submarine on patrol and watching the test firing of a Trident missile it lacks the impact of the earlier chapters, which deal, on the whole fairly, with a period when we used to say of the effects of a nuclear war, that "the living will envy the dead."
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on 8 October 2013
I usually love books like this. I found this a slow read that didn't grab my attention. Some bits interesting...some bits boring. Took too long going through the 50's - 70's before rushing through the 80's Perhaps I've just read all of that before and if you haven't then maybe it'll be a rivetting read!?
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