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Britain's War Machine: Weapons, Resources, and Experts in the Second World War 1st Edition

3.2 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199832675
ISBN-10: 0199832676
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Editorial Reviews

Review


"A fascinating revisionist account that is also enjoyable to read. Highly recommended." --CHOICE


"A stunning booktold with authority, clarity and compelling energy." --James Holland, author of The Battle Of Britain


"Absolutely fascinating. This book will make you think differently about Britain's role in the Second World War." --Laurence Rees, author of Auschwitz: The Nazis and the "Final Solution"


"A remarkable achievement. He re-envisions Britain's role in the Second World War and with it Britain's place in modernity. The period will never look the same again." --Adam Tooze, author of The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy


"An important corrective to the black-and-white portrait of the period that still prevails" --Financial Times


"Edgerton has written what could prove to be one of the most influential books on the history of the Second World War ... majestic ... [he] has successfully shown us that we still have a lot to learn about the conflict ... it will become the required reading for all students wishing to study the Second World War" --Reviews in History


"A major new assessment of Britain's war effort from 1939 to 1945. Never again will some of the lazy assessments of how Britain performed over these years ... be acceptable. That's why this is such an important book." --History Today


"Edgerton's well-researched volume bursts with data that reveal Britain's true strength even when supposed to be in critical condition." --Peter Moreira Military History


"Brilliant and iconoclastic ... debunks the myth that Britain was militarily and economically weak and intellectually parochial during the 1930s and 1940s." --David Blackburn, Spectator Book Blog


"This book has certainly changed my views ... It is a necessary and timely corrective to a great deal of loosely thought-through conventional wisdom, and makes a real contribution to our understanding of the war." --Richard Holmes, Literary Review


"Accessibly written and deserves a wide audience. Above all, Edgerton demonstrates that the war is a subject we haven't yet heard nearly enough about. Britain's War Machine is a considerable achievement." --Graham Farmelo, Times Higher Education


"Edgerton has excelled himself with this highly revisionist account of Britain's national performance during the Second World War ... an unusually provocative book." --Twentieth Century British History


"Brilliant and thought-provoking ... There are moments of edgy humour, too ... This remarkable book shows that whatever the reasons for the length of time it took to bring Hitler to heel, the quantity and quality of British war material was not among them." --Brendan Simms, Sunday Telegraph


About the Author


David Edgerton is the Hans Rausing Professor at Imperial College, London, where he was the founding director of the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine. He is the author of the iconoclastic and brilliant The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900 (OUP, 2007).
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (September 9, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199832676
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199832675
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 1.5 x 6.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #220,145 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
David Edgerton's "Britain's War Machine" is a wonderful book which deserves a place on one's boookshelf beside the companion work The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy by Adam Tooze.

The first merit of Edgerton is to demolish the die-hard myth of Britain's unpreparedness in 1939. On the contrary he convincingly demonstrates that Britain was first of all opulent, "the richest state in Europe... certainly richer than Germany"; no wonder that "the British were the great meat-eaters of Europe" (even during the war "rationing did not imply drastically cut supplies, except in the case of sugar") and that "Britain was the most motorized nation in Europe" as well as "the world's largest importer of oil"; to be more precise "Britain started and ended the war as the world's largest importer". "So powerful was Britain in the world economy that it could in effect force many people around the world to supply it with goods for credit". Moreover "it had resources to spare, was wealthy enough to make mistakes, and could fight as it chose to rather than had to".

This enviable condition reflected itself both in the industry and in the armed forces. "The warfare state was one of plenty, of armed forces generously supplied with new equipment by new factories", "interwar Britain was a military superpower at sea and in the air, supporting the largest arms industry in the world" (incidentally, "it was the largest arms exporter of the world"). "Britain rearmed on a scale unprecedented in peacetime".
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was hoping for a lot from this but, but I was disappointed. It's a hard book to review, because there is good info in it, and the author does makes some good points and arguments.

The book makes a good first impression. Nicely bound and printed, with a attractive dust cover, and at almost 450 pages, it seems good for $34.95 (list). Until you realize the end notes and bibliography consume more than 100 pages of the book, and contain the most difficult to use endnotes in history (more later).

His biggest problem, however, is that he just can't decide who is customers are. Was he writing for an academic audience, or was he writing for amateur historians? He can't decide, and his book suffers because of that. He can't decide if he is primarily trying to entertain and inform amateurs, or sway the opinions of professionals, though he seems to lean towards the latter. Personally, I believe he was writing primarily for other professionals, to make a name for himself with a new theory in history. But I think he failed.

His big premise is that Britain was much better off during the war than most people realized, at the time or even today. When you combine Britain and the Empire it commanded, it vastly overwhelmed anything Hitler and Germany had or could produce, in every field. In virtually every way, Britain outproduced Germany. Many more tanks, airplanes, guns, artillery pieces, ammunition, ships-you name it, and Britain had it, generally had more of it, and generally had better quality than did the Germans. Some examples: Except for the ME-262, Spitfires, Mustangs (designed under contract for Britain, not the US), and others outclassed anything the Germans had.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A little over the top in terms of presenting the idea that everything was wonderful about Britain's industrial effort regarding aircraft, tanks, ship building, and so forth. For a more balanced view on British tank design and manufacture (for example) see Death by Design by Peter Beale and Blood, Sweat, and Arrogance by Gordon Corrigan. For a thorough discussion of the relatively low level of the German military industry in the second world war, see The Wages of Destruction by Adam Tooze. None the less, it does present a good alternative to the traditional historical view that Germany was the ultimate technical and industrial leader in the war.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Edgerton presents a very detailed and wide ranging work on British war production in WWII. He shows us tables of goods produced and imported. I liked that part of things. I was less interested in the extensive coverage of inter agency battles among the various players in the British industrial and scientific community. I still found this a useful work chock a block with data.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A really interesting reflection on Brittain's "war machine" debunking many widely held beliefs. Author makes a very convincing case that Brittain at no time was on verge of loosing WW II from the perspective of resources. Lots of interesting background information, informative graphs and tables.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is a bit of a disappointment.

Both the author and I have read Adam Tooze's poorly named but otherwise excellent book "The Wages of Destruction" on the economic history of and surrounding the Third Reich and World War II. If you only read one book on European theater in World War II, that would be it, but it is centered on Germany. Because they resulted in "total war", the economic history of fighting a world war is fundamental to understanding the histories of the two world wars, including tactics, strategies and motivations. Hitler, know doubt was trying to pole vault a Germany to take on continental proportions, and to do so attempted to manipulate Germany to produce on that order of magnatude. But what of Britain?

Essentially the economies of Britain and Germany were of equivalent size in over all capacity, but the British, with a smaller population operated at a higher per capita level of output, meaning England had a more capital intensive, and so, the author suggests this shaped British perspectives in how to conduct the war - i.e. reliance upon machines and capital over population to fight the war. Perhaps this is not new - given that Napoleon had greater numbers and England a greater navy, and the navy being a capital intensive way of fighting a war, and so on going back to the Nine Year's War in the 1690s and the English/Britain winning nearly every time out.

But I recall reading from several sources that no nation succeeded in their economy being more successful mobilized in World War II than Britain's and that was the story I wanted to read: a British Counter part to Tooze's history on Germany's economy. Surprislingly, I was only partially satisfied.
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