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A Genius for Deception: How Cunning Helped the British Win Two World Wars [Kindle Edition]

Nicholas Rankin
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)

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Book Description

In February 1942, intelligence officer Victor Jones erected 150 tents behind British lines in North Africa. "Hiding tanks in Bedouin tents was an old British trick," writes Nicholas Rankin. German general Erwin Rommel not only knew of the ploy, but had copied it himself. Jones knew that Rommel knew. In fact, he counted on it--for these tents were empty. With the deception that he was carrying out a deception, Jones made a weak point look like a trap.
In A Genius for Deception, Nicholas Rankin offers a lively and comprehensive history of how Britain bluffed, tricked, and spied its way to victory in two world wars. As Rankin shows, a coherent program of strategic deception emerged in World War I, resting on the pillars of camouflage, propaganda, secret intelligence, and special forces. All forms of deception found an avid sponsor in Winston Churchill, who carried his enthusiasm for deceiving the enemy into World War II. Rankin vividly recounts such little-known episodes as the invention of camouflage by two French artist-soldiers, the creation of dummy airfields for the Germans to bomb during the Blitz, and the fabrication of an army that would supposedly invade Greece. Strategic deception would be key to a number of WWII battles, culminating in the massive misdirection that proved critical to the success of the D-Day invasion in 1944.
Deeply researched and written with an eye for telling detail, A Genius for Deception shows how the British used craft and cunning to help win the most devastating wars in human history.


Editorial Reviews

Review


"A delight-filled account...as much an entertainment as history." --Wall Street Journal


"A fascinating new book about British intelligence s deception operations against the Axis powers. --Washington Post SpyTalk


Rankin's page-turner makes the most of the gifted amateurs, eccentrics, and professional illusionists responsible for the imaginative schemes of the British military and details the care and seriousness with which they were implemented. --Foreign Affairs


"There isn't a dull page -- not even a dull sentence -- in Nicholas Rankin's fantastic wunderkabinet of wartime revelations. It is all here -- colonels in drag, midget submarines, corpses with stashed secrets, a black radio station called Aspidistra and more inventions than James Bond's Q could ever conceive -- and is endlessly fascinating in consequence. No better book about the mad arcana of belligerence has ever been written."--Simon Winchester


"Good, rollicking fun."--Max Hastings


"Rankin tells an enthralling, not to say astounding, true-life tale of inflatable tanks and dummy airfields and of pretend radio stations reporting on imaginary armies."--Michael Kerrigan, The Scotsman


"Nicholas Rankin's book [is a] hymn to amateur invention and its stunningly professional deployment.... It is a book of marvellous yarns, which will appeal to a far wider readership than the sombre consumers of standard military history. Regimental bores may rail, but it's hard to think of anyone with a taste for human ingenuity being anything other than enchanted and, if British, sneakily proud. Knee in the goolies. Out like a light. Works every time."--Michael Bywater, Daily Telegraph


"A thoroughly entertaining read, helped along by Rankin's engaging style. But it's the characters that keep you hooked."--Jonathan Carter, London Lite


"Nicholas Rankin's well-researched and highly enjoyable book.... [There are] many superb stories of the camouflage, black propaganda, secret intelligence and special forces of the two world wars, which he does very entertainingly indeed."--Andrew Roberts, Daily Telegraph


"Rankin is a great guide to these arts.... [His] enthusiasm for and knowledge of his subject has produced a book replete with anecdote, character sketches and revelations, all embedded in an ability to sketch the military and civilian background with enough clarity to support his narrative and repertoire of characters."--John Lloyd, The Herald


"Mr. Rankin goes poking and probing the lesser-known facts of the two World Wars. What an entertaining journey he provides."--Len Deighton


"A most enjoyable read."--Thaddeus Holt, author of The Deceivers: Allied Military Deception in the Second World War


"This is a story clamouring to be told. During the war we heard rumours, knew there was something called 'camouflage' going on but could not have imagined the scope of the inventiveness, the daring of these people's imaginations. What a galaxy of talents - designers of all kinds, real magicians, the make-up people, dyers, painters and inventors. The theatre and the military created whole armies, ships, navies, aircraft, arsenals of weapons out of shadows and illusions, out of fantasies and clever paint and trickery. I could not stop reading this book once I had begun."--Doris Lessing


"Nicholas Rankin's engrossing book tells the story of the ambitious and complex deceptions perpetrated by the plucky Brits, which contributed to the turning of the tide and the winning of the Second World War.... What makes Churchill's Wizards such an uncommon and arresting read is the detail of these hair-brained schemes. You couldn't make this stuff up. And yet, that's just what Churchill's so-called 'Unknown Warriors' did. With this remarkable book Rankin does them proud."--Miles Fielder, Scotland on Sunday


"If ever a book was meant to have a soundtrack that plays along as you read it, this is it. And that soundtrack should be the theme to The Great Escape, because Churchill's Wizards is packed with tales of derring-do and deception -- tales that in some cases remained hush-hush for decades.... Rankin clearly carried out extensive research for this book and it's paid off. It's fascinating, witty, and will provide you with more anecdotes than you can shake a stick with a papier-mache head at."--Andy Ridgway, Focus Magazine


"Many of the stories...have been told before, but Rankin has enhanced them with recently released papers and diaries. It is very good reading and provides an intimate look at the use of deception and those who made it work. This valuable book gives a new perspective to the history of the warfare and deception." -- Hayden B. Peake, CIA Historical Intelligence Collection


Review


"A delight-filled account...as much an entertainment as history." --Wall Street Journal


"A fascinating new book about British intelligence s deception operations against the Axis powers. --Washington Post SpyTalk


Rankin's page-turner makes the most of the gifted amateurs, eccentrics, and professional illusionists responsible for the imaginative schemes of the British military and details the care and seriousness with which they were implemented. --Foreign Affairs


"There isn't a dull page -- not even a dull sentence -- in Nicholas Rankin's fantastic wunderkabinet of wartime revelations. It is all here -- colonels in drag, midget submarines, corpses with stashed secrets, a black radio station called Aspidistra and more inventions than James Bond's Q could ever conceive -- and is endlessly fascinating in consequence. No better book about the mad arcana of belligerence has ever been written."--Simon Winchester


"Good, rollicking fun."--Max Hastings


"Rankin tells an enthralling, not to say astounding, true-life tale of inflatable tanks and dummy airfields and of pretend radio stations reporting on imaginary armies."--Michael Kerrigan, The Scotsman


"Nicholas Rankin's book [is a] hymn to amateur invention and its stunningly professional deployment.... It is a book of marvellous yarns, which will appeal to a far wider readership than the sombre consumers of standard military history. Regimental bores may rail, but it's hard to think of anyone with a taste for human ingenuity being anything other than enchanted and, if British, sneakily proud. Knee in the goolies. Out like a light. Works every time."--Michael Bywater, Daily Telegraph


"A thoroughly entertaining read, helped along by Rankin's engaging style. But it's the characters that keep you hooked."--Jonathan Carter, London Lite


"Nicholas Rankin's well-researched and highly enjoyable book.... [There are] many superb stories of the camouflage, black propaganda, secret intelligence and special forces of the two world wars, which he does very entertainingly indeed."--Andrew Roberts, Daily Telegraph


"Rankin is a great guide to these arts.... [His] enthusiasm for and knowledge of his subject has produced a book replete with anecdote, character sketches and revelations, all embedded in an ability to sketch the military and civilian background with enough clarity to support his narrative and repertoire of characters."--John Lloyd, The Herald


"Mr. Rankin goes poking and probing the lesser-known facts of the two World Wars. What an entertaining journey he provides."--Len Deighton


"A most enjoyable read."--Thaddeus Holt, author of The Deceivers: Allied Military Deception in the Second World War


"This is a story clamouring to be told. During the war we heard rumours, knew there was something called 'camouflage' going on but could not have imagined the scope of the inventiveness, the daring of these people's imaginations. What a galaxy of talents - designers of all kinds, real magicians, the make-up people, dyers, painters and inventors. The theatre and the military created whole armies, ships, navies, aircraft, arsenals of weapons out of shadows and illusions, out of fantasies and clever paint and trickery. I could not stop reading this book once I had begun."--Doris Lessing


"Nicholas Rankin's engrossing book tells the story of the ambitious and complex deceptions perpetrated by the plucky Brits, which contributed to the turning of the tide and the winning of the Second World War.... What makes Churchill's Wizards such an uncommon and arresting read is the detail of these hair-brained schemes. You couldn't make this stuff up. And yet, that's just what Churchill's so-called 'Unknown Warriors' did. With this remarkable book Rankin does them proud."--Miles Fielder, Scotland on Sunday


"If ever a book was meant to have a soundtrack that plays along as you read it, this is it. And that soundtrack should be the theme to The Great Escape, because Churchill's Wizards is packed with tales of derring-do and deception -- tales that in some cases remained hush-hush for decades.... Rankin clearly carried out extensive research for this book and it's paid off. It's fascinating, witty, and will provide you with more anecdotes than you can shake a stick with a papier-mache head at."--Andy Ridgway, Focus Magazine


"Many of the stories...have been told before, but Rankin has enhanced them with recently released papers and diaries. It is very good reading and provides an intimate look at the use of deception and those who made it work. This valuable book gives a new perspective to the history of the warfare and deception." -- Hayden B. Peake, CIA Historical Intelligence Collection



Product Details

  • File Size: 1548 KB
  • Print Length: 489 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (October 13, 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003BVFZ78
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #215,347 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
57 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A witty and throroughly entertaining new book December 2, 2009
Format:Hardcover
Nicholas Rankin opens up a fascinating hidden world of camouflage, deception, and trickery that makes for a crackling good read, British-style. This is an engrossing account of the some of the geniuses who "saved the day" for Britain in the two world wars, some of them famous (T.E. Lawrence and John Buchan), some of them undeservedly obscure (Sefton Delmer, Dudley Clarke). The depth of detail uncovered by Rankin's research is remarkable in itself, but it is the deft and entertaining writing that makes this a hugely enjoyable book. I've rarely had such a good time reading such an intricately woven history, and I am sure other readers will enjoy it too.
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39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
The roots of the Allies' victory over Hitler's Germany in World War II, Nicholas Rankin argues in this fascinating, were sown decades earlier during the First World War in 1914, when military strategists recognized the need for new tactics. In the trenches, decisive victories in face-to-face battles by armies appeared to be impossible to come by. Maybe, they mused, finding ways to baffle and distract the enemy -- painting warships in bizarre patterns that confused U-boat captains, say, or hiding snipers in fake trees -- was not only possible but could actually give them an edge in this new kind of warfare.

Winston Churchill had been in a unique position to learn these lessons, overseeing the disaster of the Gallipoli landings (and the crucial role played by camouflage in the successful evacuations from under the noses of the Turks in 1916) as well as trench warfare on the Western front. Not surprisingly, he became convinced that propaganda, special forces, camouflage and propaganda would be vital in winning the next war. When that war came in 1939, he enlisted the talents of a vast array of artists, novelists, film-makers, scientists and other oddball experts and fantasists - collectively referred to as "Churchill's Wizards" - in the collective project of deceiving Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy. (Japanese intelligence officers, the British eventually concluded, were too dim-witted and ineffective to fool.)

The genesis of these strategies and tactics in the first war and the extraordinary heights to which they rose during the second that serve as the focus of Rankin's excellent book. Some of the wizards, for instance, wondered whether they could use a surplus of oil to literally set fire to the sea and deter a threatened German invasion in 1940.
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Page-turner December 7, 2009
Format:Hardcover
A celebration of cleverness and cunning! This book explores the creation and use of camouflage, propaganda, secret intellengence, and special forces in the twentieth century British military. Anyone interested in military history will be fascinated to follow the evolution of this aspect of the action. Would love to hear the author speak or read excerps, as enthusiasm for the subject is clear and engaging. Didn't want to put it down!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Deception revealed March 30, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This tome is a mine of information, particularly concerning military activities since and during the Great War of 1914 in Part 1 of the book. Lawrence of Arabia's involvement and the whole scenario in the Middle East at the time is particularly well explained.
There are fascinating revelations throughout, and this continues in Part 2 which deals primarily with WW2. The epilogue brings us to the present era and a set of extensive notes.
Nicholas Rankin has given us a scholarly, well-researched account from a British standpoint while always retaining a readable and pleasant style.
It's hard to put it down.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Genius for Deception December 17, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
An excellent book if you are into this genre. Lots of details, names, dates, but interesting reading. It is especially exciting for me because of previous books I have read on the subject, such as The Wizard War.
If you like history, you will love this book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The title is the greatest deception July 5, 2012
By A. Dobe
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a bad book. If I could give it less than one star, I would. There is very little information about the actual use of deception in warfare, and nothing that would lead one to believe that the British had a genius for this subject. The book is filled with anecdotes, biography, and opinion, but very little fact about what deceptions were used and how. Examples: many pages are dedicated to Solomon Solomon, despite the fact that his ideas about what the enemy was doing were never confirmed (but we do learn how his abrasive personality kept the allies from adopting his ideas); the diversions that the British attempted before and during the Gallipoli campaign get a couple of paragraphs, while the description of that debacle of an invasion goes on for many pages; there is a huge section on Sefton Delmer's activities as a reporter in Germany prior to WW2, but no indication that he ever deceived the Germans at that time or even attempted to. The fictional stories of John Buchan (of which I am a big fan) and others are offered as evidence for what was supposed to have happened - art equated to reality. The writing is overly academic, and the experience of reading it is dismal. I have seldom been so disappointed with a book, especially as I purchased the hard-bound version. The only nice thing I can say about this volume is that it is printed on good quality paper. Calling it "A Genius for Deception" is the greatest deception in the book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Good price, quick delivery
Published 4 days ago by TashaLynn
4.0 out of 5 stars Separated by a common language...
Excellent depth and detail; the British was hard to cut through, but once you adapt to his style and vocabulary, the subject matter made it hard to put down!
Published 22 days ago by Will Carroll
2.0 out of 5 stars Pass
Wanted to like this book but I really can't recommend it at all. It's just not well constructed or well written.
Published 1 month ago by George H
5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth the time
Some of the operations, ie Mincemeat, are well known, still well done here. Those that are not so well known or new to the reader are fascinating.

A good read!
Published 1 month ago by MSB PA
2.0 out of 5 stars Deception is as deception does.
A rather humdrum treatment of 'The Great War' and World War 2 gussied up to look like a treatise of British cunning. Read more
Published 4 months ago by AllAmericanAlienBoy
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Entertaining and Informative
This is a very interesting book about the development of not only spying, but also battlefield deception such as camouflage. Covers both WWI and WWII.
Published 6 months ago by Mary Wylie
4.0 out of 5 stars ... you are big history buff it can seem a tedious, but I personally...
Unless you are big history buff it can seem a tedious, but I personally enjoyed it. Interesting to find out how important deception is during war.
Published 7 months ago by Brian Perry
4.0 out of 5 stars The Bodyguard of Lies and the Bodyguard of Truth
The key thought behind this book is stated explicitly on page 305. Churchill is quoted as saying that in war truth is so precious that it should always be attended by a bodyguard... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Peter W. Donovan
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written, much like a review of other writings.
If you are a long time WWII geek, then this will be more of a review for you.
However, even for the WWII geek, it will be an eye opener of how fiction can become fact from the... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Dave
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved Insider View of British War Trickery
I usually buy my ebooks when they are the Kindle Daily Deal. This was one of those purchases, and I was glad I took the plunge and bought it for the very reasonable price. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Amazon Customer
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More About the Author

Nicholas Rankin spent 20 years broadcasting for BBC World Service where he was Chief Producer and won two UN awards. His first book for Faber, Dead Man's Chest, followed in Robert Louis Stevenson's footsteps from Scotland to Samoa and was much enjoyed by Graham Greene. His second, Telegram from Guernica, was a widely-praised biography of the ground-breaking war-correspondent and front-line propagandist George Lowther Steer.

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