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Blackett's War: The Men Who Defeated the Nazi U-Boats and Brought Science to the Art of Warfare Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 19, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

Review


“[A] terrific story, exciting, illuminating, well told.  And what a movie it would make, especially in 3-D . . . [Budiansky] is a fine writer.”
—David Walton, Dallas Morning News

“[T]horough and focused . . . [Budiansky’s] lively writing style delivers a fascinating portrayal of how science contributed to winning the war in Europe.”
—Marc Levinson, The Wall Street Journal

“Lively and enlightening . . . Writing with an easy command of science and a sharp eye for fresh and telling detail, Budiansky knowingly and entertainingly re-creates the almost constant struggle between hidebound military traditionalists and the clever civilians who saved them.”
—Evan Thomas, The Washington Post

"Budiansky does a masterful job illustrating the debt we owe to [Blackett's] courage and foresight at a time when innovation made all the difference in the direction of world history."
—Bob Kustra, Idaho Statesman

“[E]ngaging . . . the more closely one looks at Patrick Blackett, the more impressive he appears . . . Far more than a scientific or military biography, Blackett’s War is also a finely wrought and well-sourced social history of elite science’s wartime mobilization . . . [A] wonderful revisionist history of how intelligence derived from Bletchley Park’s breakthroughs combined with Blackett’s operational research to bypass and destroy the Nazi Wolfpacks.”
—Michael Schrage, Fortune
 
“A fascinating and skilful blend of naval warfare, science, and British social history with a richly diverse cast of characters.”
—Alex Kershaw, World War II Magazine
 
“Little-known story of the Allied scientists whose unconventional thinking helped thwart the Nazi U-boats in World War II . . . [A]n excellent, well-researched account . . . An engrossing work rich in insights and anecdotes.
Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Recommended reading, Scientific American 

“A beautifully written history . . . Budiansky skillfully provides biographical sketches of the important contributors as well as the historical context of the issues they wrestled with.”
—Colonel John J. Abbatiello, Proceedings

“[A] terrific story, exciting, illuminating, well told.  And what a movie it would make, especially in 3-D . . . [Budiansky] is a fine writer.”
—David Walton, Dallas Morning News

“A broad history of the foundation of ideas in OR [Operations Research] . . . Revelatory . . . [Blackett’s War] should bring renewed admiration for some forgotten scientific heroes.”
—Rob Hardy, The Dispatch (Columbus, Starkville and the Golden Triangle)
 
“Fabulous . . . [Blackett’s War] got me thinking. Is there a modern field of endeavor, operations research & analysis combined with historical business analysis, that can create a body of knowledge that describes, in an operations research sense, how to compete against a giant like Amazon, Apple, Google or Microsoft? . . . Perhaps the next generation of CEOs will use the sophisticated OR strategies developed 70 years ago that are still being used today to tackle our nation's Biggest Problems . . . After all, business is war.”
—John Martellaro, TheMacObserver.com

“[W]onderfully done, well written, suspenseful and full of the personal and organizational conflicts that can make otherwise pedestrian stories so colorful. In addition to its entertainment value, Blackett’s War speaks clearly and authoritatively about a multitude of technical subjects.”
—John R. Satterfield, Naval Historical Foundation

About the Author

Stephen Budiansky is a journalist and military historian. His previous books include Air Power, Battle of Wits, The Bloody Shirt, Her Majesty's Spymaster, and Perilous Fight.  
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st Printing edition (February 19, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030759596X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307595966
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (104 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #594,366 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Stephen Budiansky is a writer, historian, and journalist, the author of 14 books about military and intelligence history, science, and the natural world. He is a former editor and writer at U.S. News & World Report and The Atlantic and the former Washington Editor of the scientific journal Nature. He lives on a small farm in northern Virginia.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

70 of 77 people found the following review helpful By Loyd E. Eskildson HALL OF FAME on February 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover
From 1941 - 43, a small group of British and American scientists, almost entirely without military experience or knowledge, changed how wars are fought and won. Six would win the Nobel Prize for their other work, most were far left in their politics (some even Marxists or pacifists). Patrick BLackett, British physicist and ex-naval officer, future Nobel winner, and ardent socialists led the British efforts in this dimension.

On average, there were 2,000 Britishs merchant ships at sea at any given time. German U-boats at the beginning of WWII were faster and more fuel efficient than their predecessers. Their torpedoes were also new - electric, that no longer gave off a tell-tale stream of air bubbles. Since England's vaunted new asdic (sonar) detection system was then effective for up to 5,000 yards, Admiral Donitz changed strategy to focus on night attacks while the submarines were on the surface, redering the Brits new detection tool useless. Concentrated targets (Allied convoys) were contered by concentrated U-boats, brought together from loose groups via radio signals.

Churchill's ascendancy brought a search for new ideas. One of his early ideas, creating 'hunting groups' that roamed the oceans searching for U-boats, was a failure. Eventually others convinced him that the place to look for U-boats was where their prey was - around convoys. A second Churchill ideas was even worse - assigning two obsolete carriers and their planes to the U-boat hunt - despite the fact that their torpedoes and bombs were useless once a submarine dived. One of those carriers was very quickly sunk by a U-boat.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Frank G. Splitt on March 24, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is a very well-written history of submarine warfare that reads like a page-turning novel. Although the book centers on Patrick Blackett, it is by no means a biography.

The author makes a compelling argument to the effect that during World War II, Allied civilian intellectuals -- scientists and other professionals such as physicists, chemists, biologists, actuaries, and mathematicians -- made remarkable contributions to winning the war in Europe. For example, they developed a new discipline, Operations Research (OR), as well as microwave (10-centmeter/3-gigahertz) radar and other breakthroughs that are still in use today.

These civilians applied scientific thinking to battlefield situations -- teaching Allied military leaders to use their resources in as optimum a fashion as possible. They asked penetrating questions that challenged accepted naval and air-force thinking. In so doing, they revolutionized anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and made a significant contribution to winning the Battle of the Atlantic -- the linchpin for the winning of the war.

Real heroes abound. To begin there is Winston Churchill, who in the mid-1930s was a powerless Parliament backbencher. Churchill, a first Lord of the Admiralty in World War I, was a skeptic of military ways and means as well as a firm believer in scientific methods. He made the acquaintance of the Oxford University physicist F.A. Lindemann. "Lindeman became my chief adviser on the scientific aspects of modern war," said Churchill. He lectured Churchill on ways science might help protect Britain against aerial bombardment. Churchill then pressed the government to bring in scientific advisers on military affairs as early as 1934.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on May 24, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
Science has enabled us to do a lot of things better, and unfortunately, given the way people and nations conduct themselves, it has enabled wars to be fought with more effectiveness. When we think of scientific contributions to warfare, we think of gadgets, from better guns to better bombs. Hitler had his scientists, and we had ours, and we can all be thankful that ours were part of the effort that brought us victory. One of the scientists who deserves our thanks is Patrick Blackett. If your reaction is, "Who?" that was my reaction too, but he is the central subject of _Blackett's War: The Men Who Defeated the Nazi U-Boats and Brought Science to the Art of Warfare_ (Knopf) by Stephen Budiansky. The author writes, "It is no exaggeration to say that few men did more to win the war against Nazi Germany than Patrick Blackett," and he makes a persuasive case. Blackett would later go on to win a Nobel Prize in physics for work he started before the war, examining cosmic ray tracks within cloud chambers, but his work during the war did not have to do directly with gadgetry or physics. Rather, he championed taking data from battle procedures and formulating tactics based on the data, an idea that seems obvious in retrospect. Blackett is acknowledged as the founder of the discipline known as Operations Research, which has had far broader applications than just warfare.

Budiansky's book is a broad history of the foundation of ideas in OR rather than a biography of Blackett, but of course Blackett's life is recounted. Churchill was an enthusiast for scientific ideas, and was perhaps overeager to promote the next scientific gadget.
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