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.