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Terrors and Marvels: How Science and Technology Changed the Character and Outcome of World War II Hardcover – May 14, 2002

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; 1st edition (May 14, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0380978768
  • ISBN-13: 978-0380978762
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,156,884 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

There was more to WWII science than the atomic bomb, demonstrates Shachtman (Absolute Zero and the Conquest of Cold) in his fascinating history of the use of intelligent machines in the conflict. He traces the development of scientifically engineered weapons such as poison gases, encoding devices (like ENIGMA), rockets, radar and early heat-seeking defenses, showing how both sides relied to an unprecedented extent on the work of scientists. Germany's defeat on the scientific front, Shachtman argues, was due largely to Hitler's sluggishness in making full use of his researchers and to the Third Reich's predilection for flashy, impractical weapons over the more mundane, efficient ones that could counter Allied bombs. Moving back and forth between Allied and Axis advances, Shachtman dramatically captures the breakneck pace of research and the charged atmosphere of the WWII lab. He examines the effects of scientific developments on pivotal battles, and he also profiles individual engineers, chemists, physicists and biologists in Europe and Japan. In addition, Shachtman shows how developments during the period would later improve the lot of postwar consumers. The impeccably researched, taut volume maintains its focus on the role of science without drowning in voluminous WWII historical material. This effortlessly readable text will be of interest to fans of history and science, and to the casual reader as well. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School-Shachtman explains that prior to World War II, many European and U.S. scientists were hesitant to pursue advances in any field of science that pertained to the military because of World War I. Those who did, did so quietly, and often did not get far except in Germany, where Hitler was already gearing up for war. However, his support didn't last and by the time he allowed the development in military ideas to come into production again, Germany had lost the war. A somewhat similar situation occurred in Japan. Although the Allies came from behind scientifically and technologically, they had the resources and support to pursue and solve military problems through research in any area from biology to meteorology. Shachtman tells the story through the men and women, both Allied and Axis, who provided the scientific answers for the war. Major players emerge, such as Vannevar Bush and Wernher von Braun, and a host of other recognizable names. As technological advantages pushed the Allies toward winning, the race to find scientists once under the control of the Germans ensued. That led to the Cold War and the present patterns of scientific research supported by business or government grants. Filled with information and insight, this book offers a wealth of facts about events, people, and the technology of World War II that have determined the world we live in today.
Pam Johnson, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By John P. Rooney on October 30, 2002
Format: Hardcover
"Terrors And Marvels" by Tom Shachtman, sub-titled "How Science and Technology Changed the Character and Outcome of World War II".
HarperCollins Publishers, 2002.
This book attempts too much. The author attempted a more or less complete history of technology development and its impact in all the warring nations of World War II. The resultant volume is almost an Anglophile book, emphasizing more the war between the Western Allies and the Nazis. History is not only the material being included but also by whatever is excluded; Shachtman tends to include the efforts and counter-measures of the Anglo-Americans against the Germans. Often excluded are the successes in the Pacific Theatre. For example, at the commencement of hostilities, the Japanese Imperial Navy had an advantage in night fighting over the American navy. When radar was introduced to American ships, night fighting advantage swung to the Americans. This important story is not really covered in this book. In a similar fashion, the struggle for air superiority in the Pacific was a major technological success for the Americans. The Mitsubishi Zero fighter permitted Japan to dominate the early war in the Pacific. Then, the efforts of Grumman Aviation, Long Island, NY, as an example, in developing the Wildcat countered the advantage of the Japanese Zero. This story would be enough for a book in itself. On page 111, Shachtman notes that the Dutch government ordered "...its two radar experts to flee to Great Britain". Why not give the names of these two Dutchmen? And why not edit out the in fighting in England where one Englishman was made a lord and the other was insulted? Who cares? The major technological advance and change from marvel into a terror was, of course, the development of the atomic bomb.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Kenneth Kaplan on August 16, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book was a real disappointment. Contributes nothing that anyone reasonably familiar with WWII technology would not already know. Full of irritating errors, inaccuracies and omissions. For instance, there is no mention of the ignored radar detection of the incoming Pearl Harbor air raid and its lessons, the dramatic defenses of the Anzio beachhead and the Remagen bridge by radar-directed artillery, the ordeal of the radar picket ships at Okinawa? Not a word. You think there might be a chapter on The Manhattan Project? There is none. Shachtman even gets the story of the defense of London against the V-1 bombs completely wrong.
Tries to tell the story following loose biographical lines of scientists but it does not hang together. Little tactical or strategic insight.
The inaccuracies are rampant and annoying. Examples: Shachtman calls the famous British Chain Home radar system "Home Chain". In referring to a number of Japanese radar pioneers he names half surname-first Western style and the other half family-name first, Japanese style. How about two mistakes in the same sentence? "The Phillips company of Einthoven, Holland" How about "the Philips company of Eindhoven, Holland", which is by the way very much still in business.
All in all, this book is a waste of time. There are much better books on the subject.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Edelman TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 30, 2004
Format: Hardcover
As other have noted, this book contains very little new material, and a lot of errors resulting from poor copying or the author's ignirance of technology. Much of the material on the Tizard comittee's work seems to have come from R. V. Jones' "Wizard War", along with a great many errors.

Shachtman states that gun turrets on ships were covered with something called "plastic armor" "although it had no plastic in it". A quick review of Jones' book reveals that the plastic armor was called "plastic" becasue it was flexible, having been made from asphalt and a particualr granite with a strong resistence to crushing. And it was not used on gun turrets, but on merchants ships; the steel armor plate on gun turrets as far stornger than the plastic armor, which was developed to provide a cheap armor for the merchantmen.

The narrative is spotty, and has the feel of having been stitched together from various sources in large chunks. Topics are introduced without being developed. Others are introduced with no context. Long technical descriptions of systems are introduced with no explanation for the reader. The material on the Atomic Bomb is particuarly disconnected, with bits and pieces of the narrative scattered through the book and no thread pulling them together.

In short, a sloppy and rushed job. Not recommended.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Robert V. Jacobson on July 1, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Shachtman has written an interesting book that explores a less well know part of the history of World War II, but I have a serious problem with the book. I don't know why, but the book has an unusually high number of factual errors. Two example: Antwerp is referred to as a Dutch port. (Page 292). In several places the author refers to the bandwidth of radars, but the context suggests that he means wavelength, something completely different.
My problem is this: how much of the parts that I don't know about should I believe? It is regretable that Mr. Shachtman did not have proper prepublication editorial support. Without the doubts raised by the numerous error, I would give this book five stars.
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More About the Author

Tom Shachtman has written or co-authored more than thirty books, as well as documentaries for ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, and BBC, and has taught at New York University and lectured at Harvard, Stanford, Georgia Tech, and the Library of Congress.
His most recent book is AMERICAN ICONOCLAST: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF ERIC HOFFER, published in November 2011. Presidential historian Herbert S. Parmet called it "as complete and masterful a biography as could be imagined."
His most recent award, in February 2010, was the American Institute of Physics' sciencewriting prize for his script of the two-hour documentary, ABSOLUTE ZERO AND THE CONQUEST OF COLD (PBS, 2008), based on his book of the same name. The New York Times Book Review characterized that book as written "with passion and clarity," the Library Journal called it "a truly wonderful book." In print in four languages, it is cited in many compilations of the best popular science books.
His most celebrated recent book is RUMSPRINGA: TO BE OR NOT TO BE AMISH (2006). Publishers Weekly labeled it "not only one of the most absorbing ... ever written about the Plain People, but a perceptive snapshot of the larger culture in which they live." The Christian Science Monitor wrote, "Shachtman is like a maestro, masterfully conducting an orchestra of history, anthropology, psychology, sociology, and journalism together in a harmonious and evocative symphony of all things Amish."
Earlier Shachtman books in use as secondary texts include TERRORS AND MARVELS (2002), about science and technology in World War II; THE INARTICULATE SOCIETY (1995), about mass media and culture, recently re-issued in paperback; SKYSCRAPER DREAMS: THE GREAT REAL ESTATE DYNASTIES OF NEW YORK (1991), which Business Week characterized as "A fascinating history, showing how the city has been molded by the edifice complexes of risk-takers" and by The New York Times Book Review as "Superb reporting on the industry's wheeling and dealing"; and DECADE OF SHOCKS, 1963-1974 (1983).
AROUND THE BLOCK (1997), a socio-economic study of a single block in Manhattan over the course of a year, was called "a near-classic" by The Economist, by The New Yorker "a grand idea, splendidly executed," and by The Washington Post Book World a "thoughtful, interesting ... good and useful book."
Among his documentaries are six programs in the CBS science and technology series THE 21ST CENTURY. Documentaries that he also directed and produced, notably the CHILDREN OF POVERTY trilogy of one-hours about inner-city children, won first prizes at San Francisco, Atlanta, and New York International festivals, a half-dozen New York area Emmys, and were shown in Congress and at the White House.
He is a former chairman of The Writers Room in Manhattan, a trustee of the Connecticut Humanities Council, a founding director of the Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area, and is currently a consultant to the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation's science and technology initiatives.
Further details at