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VINE VOICEon 7 December 2016
I bought this book for my husband originally. He thought it was OK but was did not think I would be very keen, hence why it has taken so long for me to pick it up. I'm not a fan of war stories but I do like a good biography.
The book is nearly 550 pages but the last 100 is filled with references and indices. It is split into 2 parts, which roughly cover each of the World Wars, divided up into about 20 chapters overall - sandwiched between an author's note, an introduction and epilogue.
It became clear fairly quickly that there is almost no detail that has been imagined and that the author has done a huge amount of research to get everything clear.
Many illusions are contained in the book, set within the text, meaning that they appear at appropriate times. They add to the story and make it seem much more real. It does waver towards fiction at times but this is just because real life is often more incredible than fiction and the touches of reality serve an important function.
Reading a biography of someone you've never heard of is quite unusual and it's impressive how quickly the author gets the reader to care about Geoffrey Pyke. There are also many interesting parallels to modern day running throughout the life - the British public's attitude to the future king marrying a divorcee was mainly gained from the media (as opinions are often measured today), there is also a rise of fascism which is generally ignored by the people. These comparisons have to be in the readers mind but are never focused by the text. The work that Geoffrey Pyke did in Germany just before World War 2 was amazing and gave a clear indication that the silent majority were being led by the noisy few and sleepwalking into disaster - a pattern that is repeated time and time again.
As the book is written in recent times, the language can be very up to date which makes the process of reading more accessible than if it had been written soon after it's subject died.
The narrative is packed with detail and there are a huge number of people referenced. It does take a degree of concentration to read but keep with it as it's worth it. Even the military strategy I did not struggle with and spent many hours reading the book slowly so that I could understand it fully. It is easy to get lost with the people and the organisations that appear, maybe the author could have explained some of the acronyms more frequently but, as it is all factual, I found that the internet was very helpful.....
"Every idea he had was science fiction" - this sums up Pyke and is the key to understanding him. When you think about it, every invention is fiction until it becomes reality
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on 5 November 2014
A very readable and well researched volume describing the many-faceted life of a virtually unknown but highly intelligent British eccentric who in WWII was invited by Mountbatten to take a job as 'Director of Programmes' at Mountbatten's Combined Operations HQ in London, without any formal vetting by the security services. At the start of the Great War he travelled to enemy Germany disguised as a neutral American war correspondent, was arrested and imprisoned in Ruhleben Camp. He escaped after 10 months and reached the neutral Netherlands. Between the wars he was engaged in research on the education of young children, setting up a school to study this; the pupils included his own young son. During the 1930s he organised aid for the legitimate Republic during the Spanish Civil War and instigated an investigation into what ordinary Germans actually thought about the impending war; this work can be described as the origin of the Mass Observation Movement. The 'Iceman' in the book's title relates to work for Mountbatten on the development of aircraft carriers built from reinforced ice to aid the Battle of the Atlantic. Experimental constructions were prepared at Lake Louise in Canada, but the project was later dropped as more conventional methods started to win over the U-Boat menace. His political affiliations were studied by many, he certainly had many important friends on the left, but nothing was ever proved. He died in February 1948, by his own hand, aged 54. The book is well supplied with photographs, full academic footnotes and a bibliography. Magnus Pyke, the TV scientist, was a cousin.
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on 9 August 2017
So often genius is shrugged off by closed minds as eccentricity. But Geoffrey Pyke managed to gain the ear and admiration of both Earl Mountbatten and Churchill during and after World War Two. What appeared at first to be madcap ideas, proved to be brilliant ways of beating the Fascists. Pyke struggled with illness, which sometimes interfered with his progress , yet he will go down history as having paved the way for some of the best solutions to problems in both the military and private sectors in his time. Sadly, he took his own life in his early fifties.
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on 9 July 2017
really interesting and a good read
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on 16 August 2017
A good read,quality book
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on 2 December 2017
a really good interesting read. hemming is an excellent writer and his books very well worth reading
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on 16 March 2017
Enjoyed it a lot
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on 20 August 2014
Those with any perspective on the originators of the technology that was used or created in the second world war to baffle and confound the enemy will recall the designs and inventions that became famous for their ingenuity and effectiveness. Watson Watt with A.D. Blumlein and radar, Barnes Wallace and the bouncing bomb, R.J Mitchell for the Spitfire, Whittle, Halford and Fedden for the British jet engine, Shepherd and Turpin for the ubiquitous Sten Gun, Randall and Boot for the cavity magnetron, Turing, Newman and Flowers for code breaking and the Colossus digital computer and so on.
And yet there were innumerable unsung heroes who had the creative and ingenious facility so much needed when conventional solutions to enemy actions failed to block the tide of impending disaster.
One such hero, now recognised in a new book, can only be said to have had been saved from total and undeserved obscurity by the author Henry Hemming who has diligently researched the life of Geoffrey Pyke, cousin to the famous and eccentric Magnus Pyke the TV science guru of the 1970's and 1980's.
If anything, Geoffrey Pyke stood head and shoulders above his later cousin in terms of creativity and ingenuity. Coupled with a brilliant intellect (at Cambridge a contemporary likened him to Einstein) he constantly thought outside the conventional problem solving competency of a scientist. Yet, because of his eccentric approaches, he too often made enemies in the scientific community of the time.
Born in 1893, by 1914 he had breached the German wartime security and arrived in Berlin purely as an act of bravado - to him it was adventure and fun On being arrested he contrived an escape and at 21 was the first escapee of the first world war.
Later, as an advocate of Freudian psychology he decided to set up a Kindergarten based on Freudian principles but requiring substantial funds to pay for it, he speculated on the metals market using an investment model he derived himself. He rapidly accumulated a small fortune.
By 1938 he had decided that a continental war was inevitable and considered ways of stopping it. In the summer of 1939 he sent pollsters disguised as typical eccentric English tourists into Nazi Germany, all of whom were tasked with conducting a Gallup poll into the question of whether Germans really supported Hitler's war-mongering. Amazingly, none of these undercover pollsters was arrested by the Gestapo. By mid-August 1939 the survey was on course to demonstrate scientifically that most Germans were anti-war. Everything was going perfectly until, that was, Germany invaded Poland!
As the war progressed Pyke's genius blossomed and in 1940 he suggested a snow-borne guerrilla force designed to operate behind enemy lines in Norway. Ultimately Lord Louis Mountbatten adopted the idea and both Churchill and the US Army were enthusiastic. Pyke eventually found himself in Washington DC developing the planned special force and its snowmobile vehicles, all of which resulted in the inauguration of the current US special forces.
Sometime later, Pyke realised that eventually the allies would have to invade the continent and realised that the supply problem was crucial. He had some ten years previously conceived of an Anglo French oil pipeline under the sea and this was adopted and became PLUTO - the allies Pipe Line Under The Ocean.
While Pyke was in the U. S. he had his most radical idea - giant aircraft carriers made out of ice reinforced with wood pulp called Pykrete. These Habbakuk berg-ships, driven by 28 side mounted motors and impellers, were virtually unsinkable, they were virtually impervious to torpedo, artillery or bomb damage. They were comparatively cheap to construct and large enough to accommodate bombers and long-range fighters. Again Mountbatten jumped at it, as did Churchill. The Americans joined in and millions of pounds were spent on experiments and prototypes in Canada. It remains arguably the most imaginative and ambitious scheme of the war - yet by the time the practicality of the concept had been proved (and sag in the Pykrete ice platform plagued construction) it was too late for the ice-ships to play a meaningful part in the war.
For all his undoubted brilliance and energy in supporting the allied cause he was always treated with suspicion. One scientist commented that Pyke 'clothed commonplace ideas with 'pseudo-scientific blather' most of it 'pretentious nonsense'. Only the undinted support by his champions Mountbatten and Churchill saved him from those that believed his perceived left wing ideology made him a security risk, and that his Jewish origins alienated him amongst a small element of anti-Semites. Sidelined, after the ice-ship project and put on half pay, he objected vehemently and was sacked. However he refused to vacate his desk at the HQ of Combined Operations and was eventually turned away by armed guards.
Ultimately discredited, humiliated and lost, he became deeply depressed. Pyke committed suicide in 1948 only to be hailed as a 'genius' in the obituaries.
Henry Hemming's fascinating book 'Churchill's Iceman: The True Story of Geoffrey Pyke: Genius, Fugitive, Spy' (Penguin - Random House) is a well written, well researched and gripping tale that explores one of the many unsung heroes of WW2.
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VINE VOICEon 18 February 2015
Geoffrey Pyke was a genius destined to fail. His gift was to devise solutions by first defining the question, often finding that the wrong question had been asked in the first place.

His various activities included smuggling himslef into first World War Germany and escaping from an internment camp, launching a polling organisation, setting up a school for six-year-olds without formal lessons or discipline,writing a best-seller, successfully gambling in shares (until he went bankrupt)/

At his lowest ebb - physically exhausted and virtually penniless - he came up with an idea to win the second World War, an idea which led to a close friendship with Lord Louis Mountbatten. Introduced in turn to Winston Churchill, Pyke made detailed proposals for creating aircraft carriers out of ice. This foundered, as did so much else, because Pyke the visionary was frustrated by those who could see no further than the present problem.

In counterpoint to an absorbing tale is the question of whether Pyke was at the same time a Soviet agent. The author has unravelled a the tale of a frustrated life that ended in suicide. Only towards the end does the book lose a fifth star by over-analysing Pyke's personality, extensively recapping earlier material.
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on 7 October 2014
This book is an interesting study of an intelligent bi polar disorder, who, while up with his condition had classical flight of thought, pressure of speech, inability to complete tasks, and many other features of the condition. A ready reference is either ICD10 or DSMV, both of which list many aspects of Pyke's personality.
His lack of insight, and inability to perceive risk are reflected in activity as banal as failing to attend to personal care, clothes and washing, an inability to see the wrecking effect of behaviour on personal relationships and the pyramid of both diplomatic and military command. The flight of concentration makes him an unlikely spy as though contributing intelligence,he is unlikely to have been able to operate with deep cover, or in plain sight. He seems to have been too noisy and disorganised for either.
Much of what he did was as a dabbler, diving in, submerging in a subject, but on surfacing moving on, often without supporting his original process. The luck of his trading in metals, riding the wave but then as his bets grew larger risking the farm, and losing everything, completes the circle.
It is interesting how those in power frequently seem bowled over by someone like this, plausible on first sight, coming from left field with an unexpected idea, lateral thinking with ideas which buck the convention and defy process.
The raised risk of suicide in bipolar presents itself as he is finally worn out by his condition and the evident struggle over the previous 20 years.
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