A riveting addition to the literature on scientific innovation during the Second World War.

BLIND BOMBING

HOW MICROWAVE RADAR BROUGHT THE ALLIES TO D-DAY AND VICTORY IN WORLD WAR II

An engineer hails a lesser-known technological breakthrough of the World War II era.

The United States’ weaponization of nuclear technology and England’s cracking of the Enigma code are often discussed in conversations about the roles of scientists and mathematicians in the Second World War. However, this book suggests that “one small piece of hardware” may have been “the single most important physical invention” that ended the war in Europe. The resonant cavity magnetron paved the way for microwave radar systems that gave Allies a distinct advantage over Nazi Germany. The difference between the radar used during the early years of the war and this new version, the book notes, “was akin to that between the musket and the rifle.” The author convincingly suggests that microwave radar’s abilities to detect U-boats and to give bombers the ability to “see” through overcast skies were essential prerequisites to the successful D-Day campaign. Indeed, the book notes that microwave-enabled bombing campaigns on Nazi factories and infrastructure essentially disabled Germany’s air force before a single Allied soldier stepped foot on the beaches of Normandy. Some academic historians may balk at the author’s overreliance on a handful of secondary sources for historical context, and cynics may question the book’s hagiographic tendencies. However, as a retired electronics engineer who helped design radar equipment used in air traffic control towers, Fine expertly breaks down the complex technology and deftly guides readers through myriad acronyms used by the military and government agencies. The book also tells a compelling story of how a network of “unlikely partners”—including politicians, businessmen, army generals, and university presidents—transformed what was previously a “hazy dream to a few scientists” into a deployable tool. Original interviews with those who made and used the tech, including project engineers and B-17 navigators, complement the narrative, as do ample photographs and illustrations.

A riveting addition to the literature on scientific innovation during the Second World War.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64-012220-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Potomac Books

Review Posted Online: May 12, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: yesterday

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A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

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ON JUNETEENTH

The Harvard historian and Texas native demonstrates what the holiday means to her and to the rest of the nation.

Initially celebrated primarily by Black Texans, Juneteenth refers to June 19, 1865, when a Union general arrived in Galveston to proclaim the end of slavery with the defeat of the Confederacy. If only history were that simple. In her latest, Gordon-Reed, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and numerous other honors, describes how Whites raged and committed violence against celebratory Blacks as racism in Texas and across the country continued to spread through segregation, Jim Crow laws, and separate-but-equal rationalizations. As Gordon-Reed amply shows in this smooth combination of memoir, essay, and history, such racism is by no means a thing of the past, even as Juneteenth has come to be celebrated by all of Texas and throughout the U.S. The Galveston announcement, notes the author, came well after the Emancipation Proclamation but before the ratification of the 13th Amendment. Though Gordon-Reed writes fondly of her native state, especially the strong familial ties and sense of community, she acknowledges her challenges as a woman of color in a state where “the image of Texas has a gender and a race: “Texas is a White man.” The author astutely explores “what that means for everyone who lives in Texas and is not a White man.” With all of its diversity and geographic expanse, Texas also has a singular history—as part of Mexico, as its own republic from 1836 to 1846, and as a place that “has connections to people of African descent that go back centuries.” All of this provides context for the uniqueness of this historical moment, which Gordon-Reed explores with her characteristic rigor and insight.

A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63149-883-1

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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