By David Coles & Peter Sherrard
Pen & Sword Military, $39.95, 172 pages
The 20th century introduced a new dimension to warfare as aircraft increasingly supplemented soldiers on the battlefield. In The Four Geniuses of the Battle of Britain, David Coles and Peter Sherrard pay enthusiastic homage to four men whose brilliance contributed to the Allies’ success in the 1940 Battle of Britain and thus shifted the national sentiment to the hope for victory in World War II.
When biography is interspersed with technological detail the result tends to alienate readers unfamiliar with the particular field; not so in this book. The authors successfully integrate descriptions of the engineering achievements that led to the invention of radar, the Hurricane and Spitfire aircraft and the Merlin engine developed by Henry Royce.
Royce in particular makes for a compelling story. Raised in poverty with minimal schooling, he survived the first acknowledged colostomy in England, suffered perpetual bad health and initially saw no future in aviation. Despite the contrast in their social standings, he successfully partnered with Charles Rolls and launched the Rolls-Royce automobile.
Despite the engineers’ dissimilar backgrounds, the authors focus on three shared attributes: their intellectual precocity, an unusual creative flair and a propensity for hard work.
Reviewed by Jane Manaster