Much of our view of the technological achievements emerging from World War II is driven by nuclear fetishism, but a more fundamental truth is revealed in the subtitle to this remarkable book. Buderi, former technology editor for Business Week, traces the radiation revolution from its earliest beginnings to today. This captivating tale of a dedicated group of scientists and engineers begins with a small box carrying all of Britain's wartime secrets on its mythiclike journey to MIT. Gizmos, glitches, and gadgets that eventually won the war for the Allies are then introduced. That's only half the story: Buderi then pursues the unlikely heroes and their creative energies into postwar inventiveness. Through extensive interviews and impressive bibliographies, the author has produced a fascinating history. If the rest of the "Sloan Technology" series is like this, interested readers will want to read them all.John J. Yurechko, Georgetown Univ., Washington, D.C.
In a narrative that often reads as compellingly as the best spy fiction, freelance science writer Buderi tells the story of how British and American scientists developed microwave radar, a device that helped win WW II and spurred a transformative postwar technical revolution.
In Liverpool in August 1940, at the height of the Battle of Britain, British scientists secretly accompanied a mysterious black box aboard a Canadian liner bound for the US. Inside was one of Britain's most closely guarded military secrets: a cavity magnetron, a radar transmitter that made the precise identification of military targets possibleeven at night and during inclement weather. Brushing aside American prewar isolationism, American and British scientists, working under the aegis of American government and industry, formed the Radiation Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for exploring scientific applications for Britain's microwave research. Buderi tells the riveting story of the "wizard war," as Allied and German scientists attempted to trump each other in horrific technological gadgetry and electronic measures and countermeasures. The ultimate triumph of the Anglo- American scientists was a key to Allied victory in the air and U-boat wars. Aided by excellent British intelligence, including now-famous intercepts of the German Enigma encoding machine, British scientists were able to disrupt radar guiding German bombers over England, prevent German electronic devices from detecting British planes over Europe, and jammed German broadcasting. American refinement of a British radar invention resulted in the disruption, and ultimately the cessation, of German V-1 rocket attacks on London. After the war, Buderi points out, the work of the microwave radar pioneers resulted in a potpourri of technical advances in engineering that transformed American life, including transistors, microwave ovens, and computers, and in advances in astronomy, including radiotelescopes.
A fascinating story, well told.