The Invention That Changed The World
by Robert Buderi

Microwave radar systems sparked the technological revolution of the current era and in this book Robert Buderi writes about the many famous and not so famous names, and the circumstances of the numerous scientific discoveries that brought us to where we are today.

Buderi takes the reader all the way from the 1930s re-armament leading up to WW2, the "War of the Wizards"; the race for supremacy during the Cold War, and right on to his conclusion with the Magellan space probe descending through the soupy atmosphere of planet Venus.

"Surely radar was the most important thing for winning the war....It is a pity that at the end of the war, it was overshadowed by the bomb."  - Hans Bethe, physicist.
About half the book is taken up with WW2, probably because of the gravity of the threat posed by Germany's head-start in firepower and lead in technology; the catch-up, and subsequent ever escalating series of scientific measures and countermeasures by both sides in the European theatre. Critical to winning the War of the Wizards was the Anglo-American co-operation that commenced in the fateful summer of 1940 when Britain sent a scientific delegation to the U.S. with a black box containing the cavity magnetron and other key scientific devices. This is the point where we meet and read about the lives, personalities, motivations, and discoveries of the scientists, initially clustered at M.I.T., and the roles played by academics, industrialists, military leaders and politicians on both sides of the Atlantic.
"The lessons of the last war are clear. The armed forces could not have won the war alone. Scientists and business men contributed techniques and weapons which enabled us to outwit and overwhelm the enemy.....This pattern of integration must be translated into a peacetime counterpart." - Dwight Eisenhower.
For those whose science and physics are rusty there are numerous anecdotes, particularly about WW2, that lighten the chapters that are heavier on technology. Some examples being: what happened that awful day in September 1940 when the RAF had no more reserves to stop the bombing of its airfields; who was the mysterious disaffected German scientist that leaked vital information; or, what happened when the junior radar operator on Oahu picked up the Japanese bombers on the Day of Infamy.

A key characteristic that comes through about many of the scientists in this book is that the creative mind belongs to an individualist who pursues his own goals and interests from an early age, often in the face of opposition and frequently in contravention of organizational policy. Fortunate are the ones that enjoy tenure or sufficient resources to permit pure research; however, it takes the cataclysmic events of war or its threat to speed the practical delivery of scientific discoveries, and their application to the needs of society are delivered best by Western-style democratic institutions.

Read Buderi's book - and the silicon chip or your satellite dish will never look the same again.

The Invention That Changed The World 
By Robert Buderi, Simon & Shuster, New York.

IB

   


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