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A Genius for Deception: How Cunning Helped the British Win Two World Wars

3.9 out of 5 stars 67 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195387049
ISBN-10: 019538704X
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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


About the Author


Nicholas Rankin is the author of Telegram from Guernica and Dead Man's Chest. He lives in London.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (November 10, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019538704X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195387049
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 1.1 x 6.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #118,562 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robin J. Lewis on 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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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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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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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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I feel like the author wanted to make a few bucks, so he did superficial research, threw together a few quotes, and declared the book finished. I know the Brits did some awesome stuff in WWII, but I could not make myself read more that far in the book. On the whole, this was a waste of time and money.I was hoping for a fun account of British antics but was sorely disappointed. The author quotes long long long long fictional passages from spy novels, like "The 39 Steps," which has nothing to do with what the book is supposed to be about, but includes very little in the way of facts about actual events. When he does write something factual, he simply quotes a few sketchy lines from current newspaper accounts but does not go into the background of the people who staged the event, what they went through to make it happen, etc. Shame on you.
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