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Backroom Boys: The Secret Return of the British Boffin by [Spufford, Francis]
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Backroom Boys: The Secret Return of the British Boffin Kindle Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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Product Description


'A must for every British Christmas stocking.' John Carey; 'Unputdownable... the man writes like a dream - informed, fresh, racy prose.' Guardian

Book Description

Backroom Boys by Francis Spufford is a rapturous history of British engineering, of which the Daily Telegraph said, 'I don't want to pretend that Backroom Boys is perfect; it's just as near to it as makes no difference.'

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 880 KB
  • Print Length: 276 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0571214975
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition (25 Nov. 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004FN1K48
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #65,591 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
At last someone has written down the stories of all the pipe-chuffing uncle-figures who were once my heroes. And what a great job Francis Spufford has done.
It would be easy to caricature the quiet, understated passion of men whose ambition stretches from the suburbs to the stars. While Spufford's writing is full of funny human detail, he never takes that easy line. Instead, he overcomes the challenge of linking a list of contrasting stories to reveal a larger theme: how successive sons of a fading empire have tried to make their technological dreams come true in a changing political and economic climate. This is a celebration of the true "White Heat of a new technological revolution" - a heat that still burns in the hearts of individual scientists, inventors and professional engineers.
As one who nearly joined their ranks, please indulge me while I add my own anecdote to Spufford's excellent book. I vividly remember a holiday in 1975, on the day when one of the Viking landers touched down on Mars. While the family were sitting down to watch Patrick Moore and the first pictures from the surface of an alien world, we heard that the local chippy had acquired a new-fangled invention - a "microwave" oven. Dad rushed out and returned with chicken cooked from raw in the magic rays. It was pale and pasty, but somehow that didn't matter. We sat munching it with soggy chips in front of the telly and it felt like the dawn of our very own Space Age. Soggy chips and vaunting ambition is what this book is all about.
"Backroom Boys" starts with a chapter about the early British space programme ("Flying Spitfires to Other Planets") and ends with the "Beagle 2" mission to Mars. There's a scrotum-crawling irony about the way the latter turned out to be such a dog of spacecraft.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a marvelous book. A selection of tales from the highpoints of British science and engineering.
What's best for me is Spufford's use of language, this is no dry list of geekery and geeks but a tale of human endeavour, brought to life by a talented author.
His writing about the shape of Concorde, "it still looks as if a crack has opened in the fabric of the universe and a message from tomorrow has been poked through. Only it is clear now that the tomorrow in question was yesterday's tomorrow. " moves us to realise that even after thirty years this plane is still an artifact of future but that sadly it is not our future.
The descriptions of ultimate fate of the Prospero satellite and the challenge to sequence the human genome are both alternately moving and amusing. The sad tale of the falling out between the authors of "Elite" shows just how human these inventors are.
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By ZDDQ140770 VINE VOICE on 6 Jan. 2005
Format: 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.
Highly recommended.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There is a great amount to like in this book. Francis Spufford has a very assured writing style - warm and conversational without being 'folksy', and his stories of British ambition (tempered with British failure) are told with a considerable amount of real affection. It's full of tremendous insights across a range of scientific disciplines, and I learned much from it - especially the role of Vodaphone in innovating the design of mobile phone coverage and the importance of British scientists in keeping the Human Genome project in public hands.

However, it's not a perfect book - as might be expected given the range of content, it's a wee bit on the shallow side - just as you're really getting into a chapter, it comes to an often unceremonious conclusion. A list of sources and further reading is provided, but it seems like more could have been meaningfully included in every section. It's a pretty slim book after all, and it's not as if anyone would have been suffering readers fatigue to a degree sufficient to justify cutting the tales so short.

A charming book overall, but one that you really need to view as a 'toe-dipping' overview rather than a worthy investigation in and of itself.
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