19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: Backroom Boys: The Secret Return of the British Boffin (Paperback)
Its de rigeur these days to pour scorn on British engineering and science and to nostalgically yearn for victorian days when Brunel and his ilk were steam-hammering their way to eternity. Its also a well established cliche to deride scientists and engineers for their lack of ambition and passion and humanity- this book should put paid to all of these myths.
The book is best read a series of long stories rather than a narrative history, and each story has different qualities. The first, about the miserable extinction of Britain's space race is the most Dan Dare-ish; men in cardigans with mustaches and pipes building rockets in sheds, their quiet ambition thwarted by political intransigence.
The author then goes onto the concorde story, an exercise in financial planning and marketing more than engineering. Racal/Vodaphone an paean to thatcherism, Acorn/Elite to nerdism (though i dispute that Britain "invented" the modern PCgame). The gene sequencing essay is more about the strong anarchist streak in british science (as well as how Britain saved the world, no really),and finally, the piece on Beagle2 is about marketing over engineering.
This all adds up to much more than a simple gung-ho tale. Spufford is an intelligent and literate writer with a keen sense of humanity and irony. Its ends up being almost an elegy to the British engineering tradition, its astounding ambition and its tendency to be thwarted by politics, accountants and small-mindedness. Read it, weep and laugh; this is about our past, and if only we only we shared their nerdy ambition, should be about our future.