on 12 June 2013
The author is a historian and the history parts are very good indeed (except one wonders at the need to go back to ancient Greece when discussing seaborne invasions - padding?)
But then when you get to the bits about "the problem solvers who turned the tide" it all gets a little vague. A couple of engineers are named (book title!) but I formed the impression that the technical aspects of their work were a little beyond the comprehension of the author. For instance, I know what a cavity magnetron is and what it does but reading this book it never gets beyong the realm of clever gizmo.
Read the historical backgrounds - they are excellent- but don't expect to get any understanding of the more technical stuff or knowledge of the problem solvers.
on 1 August 2015
One thing to bear in mind with this book is that Kennedy is explicitly using a very broad definition of 'engineer' (see the Introduction, p.XVI). He is not only talking about military engineers - those guys in khaki who go out and blow things up to hinder the enemy or build things to help their own forces. He is also not only talking about civilians with tertiary qualifications in civil, mechanical, chemical or aeronautical engineering, although he does talk about them too. Instead Kennedy is talking about problem solvers in general, from all walks of life and with whatever qualification, to all of whom he applies the sobriquet 'engineer.' Which is fine by me, even if it has caused some confusion amongst those who prefer a purer use of the appellation.
But otherwise, yeesh. This book is a mess. Even given his any_problem_solver = engineer definition, there is not very much material about problems being solved - in a lot of cases the problems are identified then, hey-presto, it's solved! with little discussion of the individuals, groups, and processes that led to the solution.
The book is also chock full of - to borrow a phrase - Ancient Aliens type history. We learn, for example, that the British at El Alamein were liberally equipped with Bazookas (p.162), while on p.194 we learn that the Panzerfaust came into service before the Panzerschreck.
Unfortunately, the faulty history is overshadowed by the idiosyncratic analysis. The discussion of warfare, and in particular Blitzkrieg, on pages 150-158 would be good if it were written by a high-schooler, but is less than superficial in this context.
Finally, the book's research rests primarily (exclusively?) on secondary sources, and usually very old ones. There are few references which were written in this century, while references to the Official Histories from the 1960s, and populist and generalist accounts from the 1980s, 1970s and earlier abound. The mean and median age of books used by Kennedy is 1983/1984.
Kennedy's former mentor, Liddell-Hart, gets lovingly and uncritically referred to again and again and again leaving the impression of a conflict of interest, and even Irving gets a look in in this list of eccentric research.
Overall this is an unfortunate book, and a poor choice to have purchased.
on 7 May 2015
This was a deeply frustrating read and not at all what I was expecting. Paul Kennedy has a reputation as a top class historian. I got the impression this book was more to boost his best seller credentials than to be a serious work of history. His writing style is irritating, making quick asides (in the discussion about "how to win command of the air" he dismisses the bombing offensive against Japan with "the story of the strategic bombing offensive against Japan is beyond our narrative") and lapsing into journalistic phrasing that just annoys - and I'm no lover of dry academic tomes (and I very much like "popular" historians such as Max Hastings, Anthony Beevor and Tom Holland). As several reviewers have pointed out the book is riddled with lots of factual and technical errors (one example: in talking about Rommel versus the 8th Army he refers to the Bazooka as vital weapon, when it was only introduced late in 1942 by the Americans during Operation Torch). Kenedy was supposed to have been a research assistant to Basil Liddell Hart - from this book you get the impression that he was totally new to military matters. He has a tendency to simplify - the victory in the strategic bombing offensive is just down to the P-51 Mustang according to him. The topics in this book are very interesting. War is much than just the fighting history and the problems of logistics, engineering, production and melding various military and civilian skills together could be a fascinating story. It just needs a more committed and expert historian in this field than Kennedy.
on 31 July 2013
I was somewhat disappointed with this book. I have the impression that the author does not really know his subject in the detail that is required as there are numerous factual errors such as those mentioned in other reviews (Spitfire night fighters, and four-engined Vickers Vimys being just a couple) but also the author refers to Tom Blakeslee; his name was Don Blakeslee and, as one of the most famous fighter pilots in the 8th Air Force, this does matter. In a short listing of Allied fighter pilots he includes Guy Gibson; Gibson was a bomber pilot - he led 617 Squadron in the Dambusters raid.
I do realise that it is utterly impossible to cover a conflict such as the Second World War in a book of this length but better accuracy with the facts could have made it so much better.
on 12 January 2014
The author provides good overviews of a number of the theatres of war and the techniques developed for them - but the emphasis is more on the historical narrative and emphasising the huge operational complexity and breadth of developments needed rather than much detail on the actual contribution of engineers. As a number of essays on aspects of WW2 I found it interesting and readable, but it said little about the actual engineering contributions or the engineers themselves.
on 7 March 2013
I have to say this volume was hit and miss for me.
I did enjoy Dr. Kennedy's premise of "looking under the hood" at various conflicts during the war, rather than just taking the more normal broad brush approach of walking through high level strategies and their outcomes... as a result, for me, there were real insights as to how a particular front was turned around to the allies' favour. I also liked the considerable effort made to be balanced - there simply were no wonder weapons developed by one person from one country as some sometimes wish to attest. It just rings true that a lot of hard graft, insight and collaboration across many discplines, people and nations went into creating the war winning weapons systems Dr. Kennedy describes.
Finally on the positive side, I do enjoy books which challenge me to think again - I find that general histories of the war understandably tend to look at bits of the conflict in relative isolation. Here Dr. Kennedy has, through the approach he has taken, been able to stich together the impact from various theatres of conflict which in turn allows one to reconsider the whole - so for me, one of the major insights from this book would be the evidence that maybe Britian's role in much of the conflict, at all sorts of levels, was more crucial than the recent rash of WW2 histories currently suggest.
I did, however, struggle with Dr. Kennedy's writing style which felt a little repetitive in forcing home various points - fine for hung over graduates in a lecture hall, but I can generally pick up the import of a message by the second time of reading. At times I almost had the sense that I was reading a series of separate scholastic papers subsequently moulded together to make the whole - perhaps poor editorial? I also became concerned that the book may have been a litte wobbly on facts, especially those around D-day and the Mulberry harbours. The final thing which frustrated me a little was that after some quite masterful scene setting, especially the chapters dealing with the Battle of the Atlantic, the Air War in Europe and the conflict in the Pacific, the nitty gritty details around the actual inventions and innovations required to provide the war winning weaons systems felt a little glossed over.
I really wanted to like this book more but perhaps that is just an issue of style - I have to say that there is no doubt that this books makes for stimulating reading and so I can easily recommend it to others.
on 1 March 2013
Engineers of Victory is a most absorbing book. The material is presented in a clear, coherent and structured manner which makes exceptionally engaging reading. Paul Kennedy has most certainly selected a most interesting subject and although his subject areas have been covered in specialised publications he has certainly brought many of the issues to life from an interesting perspective supported by his personal analysis. For the military analyst, his take on the operational level of war is far from doctrinally pure but he does focus upon the Movers & Shakers, both individuals and teams, that delivered the operational level capability.
I have though, three observations. First, the consistent, irritating and inappropriate use of the words horrible, terrible, dreadful, awful, actually, himself and itself, detract from the otherwise lively flow of the manuscript, whilst also injecting a sloppy journalese that is not worthy of his efforts. Secondly, there are several significant errors of fact, which whilst not interrupting the thrust of his arguments make one wonder whether there might be others that do. This point lucidly illustrates that with a work of this size and scope, a competent multi-disciplinary team is essential in ensuring accuracy. Thirdly, whilst there are supporting Notes, the author has relied solely on secondary sources, which of course, devalues the rigour of the study.
These observations aside, Paul Kennedy is to be commended for bringing to life a series of crucial campaigns of the Second World War in a engaging manner. That it scores 3* rather than 5* is a product of its limitations but this should not detract from its style and format.
on 4 December 2014
Not quite what it says it is. I decided to read this book expecting to read about the engineering side of things, but although there were honest attempts to cover some aspects of the war from that side, I felt it fell a bit short. As someone who knows very little about the different campaigns, there was much of considerable interest - as a fairly good overview was provided. I did feel that some of the engineering could have been covered in more depth. There were a few obvious misunderstandings, or perhaps more correctly misuse of terms, most surprisingly some to do with ships - given the birthplace of the author. I had expected more details dealing with some aspects such as the mulberry harbours. Also, more about the work of the Engineering corps.
on 5 March 2013
This book is about one of the "forgotten aspects" of the second world war, that is where the weapons used came from, how they were developed and why. It is let down, badly, by some stupid mistakes that I would have thought a proof reader would have picked up, such as Spitfire nightfighters, and the US construction battalions biulding Mulberry harbours in Milford Haven.
This is a great pity as the subject matter deserves better coverage.
If you can pick your way through these errors an interesting set of stories develop, although I also thought the book was directed at the US market as it tends to downplay or ignore British involvment. One example is it praises the US CB's biulding the Mulberry Harbours (Note the plural!) ignoring the fact that one of the two biult on the Normandy beaches was biullt by the British Royal Engineers.
The book struggled to live up to its billing, and I thought that a great dissapointment.
on 17 July 2014
I was looking forward to this book, reading the reviews and its status as a NYT best seller; I was disappointed. Like many of the prospective readers I have a reasonable knowledge of the second world war and was expecting some deep insight into how technical solutions were found to turn the tide towards victory (I'm also an engineer so the title doubly tempted me) My impression is of an historian who is not a technical expert or even a great expert of ww2 running off something to keep up the mortgage payments. The only sections I felt delivered any fresh 'problem solving' insight was the narrative on the fight to have the merlin powered P51 Mustang accepted and the story of the cavity magnetron (which gets it 2 stars rather than one) Other areas like: the mulberry harbours, long range fuel tanks, the Leigh light, Hobart's funnies are dispatched in a few sentences. Some, say the British development of the 17Ib anti-tank gun combined in a Sherman tank, increased accuracy of aerial bombing, proximity fuses; even the competing developments of the jet engine receive not a mention.
Without this it becomes a mediocre overview of the turning point of ww2, with - as other reviewers have pointed out - too many basic inaccuracies and lazy conclusions: "a B29 probably had as much wiring as a squadron of bf109s" - well did it or didn't it? On top of which the writing hardly stirs the blood the death of a German air ace is described as "he was blown into the sky" - forgive my levity - but what was it a big gust of wind?
In summary if you are looking for fresh analysis or even if you've been on the moon for the last 70 years and never seen or read anything of ww2 - spend your money on something else. Richard Overy's "Why the Allies won" would be my recommendation.