Secret Warriors: Key Scientists, Code Breakers and Propagandists of the Great War Hardcover – 1 May 2014
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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)
A fresh, new take on the Great War that uncovers how wartime research laid the foundations for much scientific progress in the twentieth century.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I was really surprised by the enjoyment I got from reading this book . It gives a moving and realistic. Read morePublished on 9 Jun. 2014 by richard a cox
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