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Secret Warriors: Key Scientists, Code Breakers and Propagandists of the Great War Hardcover – 1 May 2014

4.4 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown; First UK Edition edition (1 May 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1408704218
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408704219
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 3.9 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 256,921 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

Exactly what you want from a history of the boffins and technological pioneers of the First World War. There are bluff military adventurers and clumsy gentleman scientists (The Times)

[A] fascinating new take on the Great War (Daily Express)

Secret Warriors is a compelling insight into the role intellectuals can play in the business of war (History of War magazine)

Unique and timely, interesting and useful (Military History)

[A] fascinating study (New Statesman)

Lucid and entertaining . . . Secret Warriors is full of interesting characters . . . The straightforward story Downing tells is a refreshing change from older treatments of science and war (Nature)

The war started the long road to the world of cyber warriors, electronic eavesdropping and large-scale chemical weapons we know today. It is a fearsome legacy, and Downing charts its birth with knowledge, wit and skill (Literary Review)

Downing delivers a riveting account (Starred Review Publisher's Weekly)

A very successful work. Downing's voice is clear and highly readable (Library Journal)

an ingenious history that sets aside WWI's immense slaughter in order to concentrate on those who labored behind the scenes . . . Downing delivers a riveting account (Publishers Weekly)

Secret Warriors lifts the lid on an underappreciated cast of characters (Herald)

Book Description

A fresh, new take on the Great War that uncovers how wartime research laid the foundations for much scientific progress in the twentieth century.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Taylor Downing's book promises much but in the end doesn't quite deliver.

It is packed full with stories about talented individuals whose inventions, innovations and improvements not only changed the way wars are fought but had a huge knock-on impact on civilian life too. The book has a welcome broad approach to what counts as military innovation, including many breakthroughs in physical and psychological health alongside the more traditional stories of weapons development.

It also makes for an extremely impressive range of material for one author to have marshalled together, and that is perhaps the cause of the book's weakness. The book doesn't quite come off as Downing neither goes for detailed and dramatic extensive narrative history about some of the key breakthroughs nor for more analytic approaches to the wider trends and forces at work. The brilliant opening tale of cable cutting at the start of the First World War isn't followed by a book of quite the same drama.

Instead, we get a staccato rush through dozens of interesting stories, with the bigger questions such as 'what impact did propaganda really have on the Germans during the war?' getting very little attention.

The production quality of the book is excellent, with well spaced text, a healthy number of photos (albeit a few too many simple head and shoulders portraits for my liking) and extensive notes on sources.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Secret Warriors is, in true Taylor Downing style, a Right Ripping Yarn.  As a collection of thirteen racy stories it is excellent but it is not, in my opinion a serious historical study (and perhaps is not meant to be).  The book is certainly too broad to create deep effect but this may be the intention, seeking to encompass a wide range of topics that deserve exposure in the round and in this arena the book has much merit. The title is pithy but perhaps not accurate; most of the characters were not warriors and nor for the most part secret in the accepted sense. The sub-title also misses one of the key aspects he pursues, that of the military innovator in the field.

I am disappointed by his negative view of the pre-1914 Army’s leadership and his Butchers & Bunglers assessment of the expansion, transition and operations of the BEF on the Western Front; modern scholarship has revealed a complex picture in which there is great credit to be given at all levels of command.  A professional historian would have at least explored these key interactions because they are germane to the debate; in such circumstances failure constantly loomed and quite frankly it is surprising that there was not more of it. I also take issue with his underplay of German atrocities against civilians on the Western Front in 1914; recent research underpins the view that they were widespread as were Austro-Hungarian ones in Serbia. The medical piece is however strong and I would refer readers to Mark Harrison's outstanding work, The Medical War, which was awarded the Templer Medal in 2010, to understand the complexities of medicine in the Great War.

Another issue is the author’s occasional habit of making a sweeping statement in one sentence only to follow it later with one contradicting it.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An enthralling account - though I have my reservations about his claim that 'Blinker' Hall was present at Basil Thomson's meeting with Mata Hari. I once found the full transcript of this in the National Archives and it makes it clear that only Thomson questioned her.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Downing as always has produced a book well researched, well documented but easily readable by all. An excellent record of troubled times consisely written luminating the hidden souls of the participants. Oh, how about some illustratons of Sottish men or women other than Old Etonans who were involved in WW1

Dominie
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Format: Hardcover
Mr. Downing, I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed Secret Warriors. I met you at the end of the day at Bletchley Park last June; I think you had completed a lecture that day and you were signing your book; I am so glad I purchased Secret Warriors that day. Like many, I have always had an interest in the world wars however, after reading many books related to the key players (both political and military),the battles, the movement of armies and navies, I now find myself more interested in other elements and the contributions of others involved. That is why I found your book so fascinating, informative and even thought provoking- Like, for instance, the bicycle’s requirement for maintenance creates new professions and skills that help craft an environment necessary for the development of the automobile and aircraft. In addition, I enjoyed learning about the technical advancement of all things mechanical, the advances in medicine, communication, intelligence, code breaking and propaganda. I particularly enjoyed learning of some of the incredible individuals mentioned and their contributions on a wide range of subjects. It takes a lot more skills than merely the military ones to conduct a war and makes one wonder, given the range of skills and talented individuals required, why anyone would ever start one. Richard Leffler, California
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