Jul 30, 2013

Book Review: Engineers of Victory by Paul Kennedy

A good book makes vacation time even better. My choice this year was particularly good as I took a copy of The Engineers of Victory: The Problem Solvers who Turned the Tide in the Second World War by Paul Kennedy with me. it combined two of my favorite topics of history and analytics in a very exciting way. It explains how the tide of WW2 has been turned in Allied Forces favor in the period 1942-1944.

What's in it
The book covers the five major problems faced by the Allied force:
- How to get convoys safely across the Atlantic
- How to win the command of the air
- How to stop a Blitzcrieg
- How to seize enemy-held shore
- How to defeat the "tyranny of distance"
The book is organized around these topics. Chapters could be written separately and are extremely well researched and provide lot of examples, data and references. The term "engineer" is used in the broadest sense of "to originate, cause, or plan in a clever or devious manner" not the strict

What I liked in it
It is a very well written book. It is a bit surprising a non-fiction book could be such a page-turner. The stories and analyses follow a line that made me immerse in the context and not leave unclear anything of importance.
I expected the book to be focused on some particular problems during the war and how they were solved. For example, I had expected detailed account of the Blackett's analytical team. It turned out much better. The book presented the war in its multiple dimensions and put all problems and in the context of politics, economy, technology, weapons, previous history, organization and involved personalities. In my experience the books and documentaries about WW2 provide limited view on a operation, events or processes development.This one puts together the immense number of factors that influence a particular event. I feel I understand much better now the logic of the events and the driving forces behind them.
The best feature in the book probably is the concept that there is not one decisive factor in the overall logic of the war. There are not wonder weapons nor genius leaders nor strategy nor method nor anything else that solved the problems on its own and won the war. It is a mix of all that and more. Everything is connected and has its share. Of course, some things matter more but none of them is decisive. A leader like Churchill would not do match for winning the war in the Atlantic is the cavity magnetron had not been invented, the A-bomb could not been dropped if the B-29 has not been constructed - there are plenty of examples.The role of luck is also covered as a part of it all. There are more than one story in the book about lucky coincidences and confluence of factors - like the one for construction of P-51 Mustang.
The book pays respect to all the servicemen  on all sides of conflict and recognizes their successes and suffering.

Who could be interested in reading it?
I believe the book is a very good read for anyone interested in WW2 and military strategy and tactics. Any of you interested in management or logistics could also find great value in it. It is a very interesting read in general as well. I will be re-reading it over time for sure. Now I have my eyes on Budiansky's Blackett's War.

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