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on 7 January 2015
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on 27 November 2016
The author, David EDGERTON, is a Professor at Kings College, London. He is an economic historian. England and the Aeroplane is the latest (revised 2013) in a series of books where DE challenges the view that in the early part of the 20th century Britain was a nation in decline (Declinism). This is not a social history. DE deconstructs the romantic myth that the development of the aeroplane in Britain is the story of amateur inventors, boffins and philanthropists - plucky heroism in the Blitz, The Few, the Dambusters and Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines.

The author’s sees the development of the aeroplane as a function of the entrepreneurial spirit, hardheaded businessmen and the enduring national characteristic of settling issues through warfare. Britain (the United Kingdom) was, and may still be, a warfare state built on technology and a need to acquire and maintain an Empire through military power. DE’s analysis of production output, government expenditure and private and public investment shows that in WW1 Britain was by far the biggest air power, that in the inter war years Britain the biggest global producer of aircraft, that in 1940 (the Battle of Britain) Britain was producing (rolling off production lines) 50% more military aircraft than the Germans and that up until the 1960s, Britain was the strongest global air power.

The ‘dubious cultural theory’ of the decline of Edwardian Britain, exemplified by country houses, public schools, cricket, Empire, effete young men reading A Shropshire Lad and the City of London, is a myth. The reality was the modernity of businessmen and entrepreneurs who had a clear vision of flight as the civil and military future. This is the story of men like A. V. ROE (the Avro Lancaster), C. S. ROLLS, Frederick HANDLEY-PAGE, Robert BLACKBURN, T.O.M. (Tommy) SOPWITH, Geoffrey de HAVILLAND, Oswald SHORT and Frank WHITTLE (1920 a young officer in the RAF just down from Cambridge and wondering about jet propulsion).

The book is a little heavy on number crunching, policy analysis and technical detail but is a first class history of British aviation for the general reader, the engineer and the historian. Where else could I have read about the Women’s Aerial League of the British Empire (1920) or that in 1936 the influential aviation magazine, The Aeroplane, urged Britain to form a Joint Air Force with Germany and Italy to bomb the ‘real enemies of civiliisation, the Russians and the Japanese.
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on 20 June 2013
As a self confessed aero anorak I found this book fascinating. It gives a thorough examination of the growth and decline of the English, (as he says in the book, most of the firms involved were within the Home Counties), Aircraft Industry. He praises the suceesse, like the Spitfire, and condemns the turkeys, like the Fairey Battle, it shows how closely the companies were involved with the Government, in the specification and buidling of the aircraft involved. It is essentila reading for anyone interested in aircraft, the Second World War and the politics of the period.
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on 7 July 2013
Excellent, balanced and objective survey of how the British aircraft industry really developed. The crucial role of government and state in the pre WW2 era is made very clear and this history demolishes the unlikely myths of government incompetence which held sway for too many years.
Highly recommended
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on 26 March 2015
Perhaps more of an essay than a full history, certainly represents the facts in a new light - so Britain was not so old-fashioned and wary of technology after all. Useful to get that learnt. Not really only 'England' but makes for a snappier title one imagines.
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on 1 January 2016
Not as interesting as I'd hoped.
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on 20 October 2014
Excellent service, well packaged and excellent book. Recommended.
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on 27 March 2015
Used this book for an online course I took
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on 20 May 2014
After managing to get past the irritation caused by the title, I enjoyed this book and found it informative and very worth reading. Without the “further reading” section and the references, both of which are copious, it is a concise text and I would recommend it as an important read for anybody who wonders about Britain’s military and economic place in the world.

On the title, restricting it to a particular geographical area, England, ignores the fact that society is about people, not arbitrary lines on maps. The people who worked in the industry came from all parts of the UK.

One of the courses on my own degree was called “Man and the Environment” and I like to imagine, or at least hope, that Prof. Edgerton, if he based this book on a course he taught, that he had to spend the major part of every opening lesson of his course, trying to deal with this issue, -- just like my lecturer had to with his title! Indeed, Edgerton has clearly been taken to task over this at some point because he proceeds to dig himself in deeper in the introduction to the second edition by trying to justify it. Just change the title!!

The book is touted as a “polemic” by reviewers such as the Guardian newspaper, but its main premise that Britain is, and has been, one of the largest designers and producers of military aircraft in the world, will come as no surprise to the people who work in the defence industry and take notice of what is going on around them. I don’t know exactly where we stand at the moment, but throughout my life we have been as high as the third or fourth largest supplier of weaponry to the rest of the world, a fact that was brought home to me back in the 1970’s, when the sonar system I was working on, as I thought, for the Royal Navy, was sold to the Chinese instead! I conclude that it is the media and academia (with Prof. Edgerton as one exception) who are really the culprits here in not discussing the issue fully. I’m not sure if Edgerton felt or justified that this was a deliberate act on the part of the UK’s managing elite, but I have to admit that I picked up the book feeling that this was the case before I even opened it so maybe I read into it what I wanted to see.

The 1st edition was written at the end of the 80’s so I think a surprising omission, are adequate notes on the Harrier jump jet and Concord. I don’t think this has been sufficiently rectified in the 2nd edition in 2010, considering how world leading both projects were, and how other county’s manufacturers significantly failed at duplicating them. Of course Concorde was in collaboration with the French, but that is also an important part of the story concerning the British aviation industry of the last 40 years that appears to have been glossed over.

I wasn’t impressed by the illustrations, being in most cases to my mind somewhat unconnected with the text apart from some showing the capability of aerial reconnaissance photography and the effects of mass bombing. In general, they seemed to be a bit of an afterthought.

Another concern of the book was the effect that social class had. But is it surprising that the first half of the twentieth century the UK aviation industry was apparently moved and shaken by people with money and who had been to public school? Was ever such in British industry and society? However, such a view fails to sufficiently acknowledge the massive contributions made by the likes of Hawker, Whittle, Camm, and many others who had worked their way up from an apprenticeship or were even self-taught.

The other thing I had difficulty with was the attributing of various motives and actions to political factions. As a baby boomer myself, I felt that such terms as left and right wing, socialist, conservative, liberal etc. had lost a lot of their meaning even when I was going to school in the 50’s and I found it difficult to see the point of discussing it in the book. There might have been a generality of sorts for people who believed in state control of production or whatever, to have been against the development of the aviation industry and for others to have been pro it, but I’m not sure I could see it fully. Not having been educated in sociology or history I would have liked Prof. Edgerton’s definition of these political types for the purposes of his book. Certainly in the last 30 years of politics in this country we have seen the notions of left and right completely blow away so I would think that younger readers would certainly benefit from an explanation of how these terms are being used.

Anyway, I found the book to be a good enough read to encourage me to other Edgerton works. At present I am reading “Britain’s War Machine” and I would have loved to have been able to take one of Prof. Edgerton’s courses. The subject is key to understanding Britain’s place in the world and the effect, good or bad, that we have had on it.

The first edition of the text can be found at [...]
Rock on All!
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