Clarion Review

Scientists Against Time treats with awe the monumental undertakings, creativity, commitment, cooperation, and selflessness that went into World War II’s scientific missions, making every discovery memorable.

Knowing that Hitler was defeated doesn’t dampen the suspense that vibrates through H. A. Feiveson’s Scientists Against Time, a look behind the battle lines at the science that helped win World War II, and at the men and women who made it happen.

Based on a series of lectures that Feiveson delivered at Princeton, the book examines the technologies that led to crucial World War II victories. A helpful timeline of the war is included, predating Pearl Harbor and tracking Hitler’s occupation of Europe. Maps of Europe and Asia show Hitler’s formidable domination, and the equally extensive reach of the Japanese empire. An introductory chapter provides a succinct overview of the theaters of war, from the 1930s through to the Japanese surrender.

The meat of the book comes in six chronologically arranged chapters, each of which focuses on a battle or campaign in which science and technology played a crucial role. These include the Battle of Britain and the battle against German U-boats on the Atlantic; improved radar played a role in both. The successful hack of the Germans’ Enigma code is covered, as is the strategic bombing of Germany that was made possible by the development of planes that could fly long distances without refueling.

Also included are the atomic bomb, which brought a final end to the war, and the myriad technologies that made DDay possible. Each chapter functions independently, is succinct, and is well-explained. Occasionally, the math and science are overly intricate for general audiences, but such instances are brief, rare, and do not impede the larger picture. The book does an especially good job of putting events and inventions into context, taking the time to explain
what both sides were trying to accomplish, what they expected the enemy to do, and making it clear why things we take for granted today represented game-changing breakthroughs back then. Chapters conclude with summaries and bibliographies.

Interesting facts are presented throughout, such as that penicillin, still in the experimental stages when the war began, became a secret defense that saved millions of lives. Human interest stories abound, including one about men from occupied Norway who risked their lives to deprive Germany of the heavy water needed to develop an atomic bomb.

Even coverage of familiar events like D-Day yield surprises, such as the invention of a fictitious British “Fourth Army” as an Axis decoy.

Scientists Against Time treats with awe the monumental undertakings, creativity, commitment, cooperation, and selflessness that went into World War II’s scientific missions, making every discovery memorable.

SUSAN WAGGONER (July 12, 2018)


TITLE INFORMATION

SCIENTISTS AGAINST TIME
H.A. Feiveson
Archway Publishing (224 pp.)
$33.95 hardcover, $15.99 paperback, $3.99 e-book
ISBN: 978-1-4808-5478-9; March 12, 2018

 

BOOK REVIEW

A concise history of the role that science and technology played during World War II.

In 1942, the triumph of the Allies over Nazi Germany and imperial Japan was anything but a foregone conclusion; in fact, the prospects for victory seemed grim. Feiveson (Unmaking the Bomb, 2014) looks at scientific innovation during the Allied prosecution of the war effort, focusing on different fields of battle: the Battle of Britain; the race for actionable intelligence; the struggle against German U-boats; the challenges of air combat, D-Day, and the invasion of Europe generally; and, of course, the Manhattan project. In each case, the author provides a brief but impressively thorough investigation of the ways in which technological know-how tilted the scales. For example, breakthrough advances in radar were decisive in gaining the upper hand against German U-boats as well as in assuming command of the air. Also, the collaborative decryption of Japanese naval code was integral to victory at the Battle of Midway. Feiveson also takes edifying detours into other significant discoveries—for example, of an anti-malarial other than quinine, which the Japanese monopolized—and the strategic effectiveness and moral defensibility of the Allied bombing campaigns. The gripping narrative that emerges shows that the Germans didn’t have the practical mechanisms in place to efficiently channel their scientific resources into the war effort, while the Allies did. Feiveson was a senior research scientist for the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University, and his mastery of the historical material in this work is magisterial. He succinctly and successfully covers a great deal of territory with intellectual rigor and rhetorical transparency. Furthermore, this book serves as a marvelously clear introduction to the war as a whole, including the tumultuous years that preceded it and the uncertain aftermath.

A model of academic scrupulousness and popular accessibility.

 

 

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Scientists Against Time