History

Secret Warriors: key scientists, code-breakers and propagandists of the Great War

Secret Warriors by Taylor DowningTaylor Downing’s book Secret Warriors promises much but in the end doesn’t quite deliver.

It is packed full with stories about talented individuals whose inventions, innovations and improvements not only changed the way wars are fought but had a huge knock-on impact on civilian life too. The book has a welcome broad approach to what counts as military innovation, including many breakthroughs in physical and psychological health alongside the more traditional stories of weapons development.

It also makes for an extremely impressive range of material for one author to have marshalled together, and that is perhaps the cause of the book’s weakness. The book doesn’t quite come off as Downing neither goes for detailed and dramatic extensive narrative history about some of the key breakthroughs nor for more analytic approaches to the wider trends and forces at work. The brilliant opening tale of cable cutting at the start of the First World War isn’t followed by a book of quite the same drama.

Instead, we get a staccato rush through dozens of interesting stories, with the bigger questions such as ‘what impact did propaganda really have on the Germans during the war?’ getting very little attention.

The production quality of the book is excellent, with well spaced text, a healthy number of photos (albeit a few too many simple head and shoulders portraits for my liking) and extensive notes on sources.

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Secret Warriors: key scientists, code-breakers and propagandists of the Great War by Taylor Downing
My rating (out of 5): 3.0
The book's impressive breadth means it is a little short of depth
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