Backroom Boys: The Secret Return of the British Boffin
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Backroom Boys: The Secret Return of the British Boffin

4.01 of 5 stars 4.01  ·  rating details  ·  119 ratings  ·  18 reviews
Britain is the only country in the world to have cancelled its space programme just as it put its first rocket into orbit. Starting with this forgotten episode, The Backroom Boys tells the bittersweet story of modern British engineers and inventors. Sad, inspiring, funny and ultimately triumphant, it follows the technologists whose work kept Concorde flying, created the co...more
Hardcover, 250 pages
Published January 1st 2003 by Faber & Faber
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The poetry of science and determination told with equal eloquence and passion. A book about British people calmly and good naturedly going about complex tasks for good reasons. Francis Spufford teaches at Goldsmiths about 2km from my house, and having read this and Red Plenty, it is another reason I am proud to be a South Londoner again. (ZONE 2, EAST LONDON LINE, COFFEE SHOPS, ART STUDENT GRADUATE WOMEN, NICE FRONT DOORS)

The book details six Quiet British Science Triumphs of the post war era as...more
Loved every piece of this book. One of the best non-fiction I have read.

Six chapters/sections on various "British" scientific endeavors: Black Knight (Rockets to Space!), Concorde (Wow!), Elite, Cellphones (I still hate Oftel), DNA (Saving the Human Genome project from corporate America) and Beagle 2 (our last, best hope).

Every one well written. Every one a good length. Every one compelling.

In a parochial somewhat British way all of these stories struck a chord, but they are also great stories....more
Ian Smith
Utterly brilliant. Six quirky histories of postwar British engineering - everything from Concord to Mars exploration. Not all of it successful, but then we Brits thrive on qualified failure. "Better to have loved and lost....." and "It doesn't matter whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game." Pure BS, but a great way of disguising failure!

The weakest of the six? Perhaps the story of 'Elite' - an apparently groundbreaking computer game. No, I hadn't heard of it either.

And the best? Eas...more
In my favorite sections, Backroom Boys is an immensely readable account of technological and technical innovations in Britain, and at its finest, it sustains an incredible amount of tension over whether--or, at any rate, how--specific plans will bear fruit. Because of varying levels of technical detail and (my) technical expertise, I didn't find all the sections equally involving (and since I'm weakest at physics, the opening chapter on rockets was the one I found hardest to follow), but a remar...more
For anyone who wants to know how the Brits established themselves as leaders in the cellphone and computer games industries (amongst others), then this is a great introduction. More importantly though, it describes the inspiring and motivational "can-do" attitude of some of the most important applied scientists, engineers and scientific entrepreneurs. The story of a bunch of men driving around London in a van trying to work out mobile phone cell blackspots made me chuckle. If you like this book,...more
A collection of essays about a selection of British projects in science and engineering, ranging from rocket-design, to computer-game development, to the siting of base stations for cellphone networks. The individual essays are fascinating and Spufford describes the technical and organisational issues extremely well, but he makes no attempt to pull them together - which is the same problem I had with I may be some time , his book about the place that the polar regions have in the British imagina...more
British non-fiction author writes a love letter to technology. He covers the period from post-WWII British rocketry, through the supersonic Concorde, software startups, cell phones, and mapping the human genome. He's a wonderful writer, with an amazing gift for the delicious anecdote. There was a computer game in the 1980s that sold 150,000 copies -- the same as the number of BBC Micro computers in the world, and that release only ran on the BBC Micro. How's that for market penetration?
Aug 09, 2011 Tim added it
Shelves: physical
A fascinating book looking into the development 6 British technical and geeky projects involving rockets, DNA, home computers and mobile phones. Some were more successful than others! Sadly the edition I read ends in late 2003 just before the British Beagle 2 was due to land on Mars. At least the author was open to the risks and possibility of the probe being unsuccessful, and concentrated on the joy of the probe getting built and launched at all.
A cracking account of what British scientists have brought to the modern world, touching on the space programme, the making of Vodaphone, Concorde, gene therapy and computer graphics. Interesting, informative and, on the race to prevent the an American mapping the human genome and selling it, quite inspiring.
This provides a synopsis of the technological breakthroughs in which the unsung British scientific 'boffin' has played a major role since the end of the Second World War. The major problem with this work is the 'nerdy' attention to detail which he finds so enthralling, but which left this reader totally disinerested.
Dick Davies
A ripping yarn of British boffins which climaxes with the arrival of a British suitcase on Mars. Don't let the boffin bit put you off this book makes advanced science (including the rocket type) understandable and fascinating.
John Bradney
An enjoyable look at some of the more interesting science, engineering and business projects to originate in the British Isles. Very informative and entertaining.
Su-Min Lee
I liked some of the chapters, but not all of them. It's likely due to my own personal interests.
Readable technical stuff; interesting about how companies attempted to patent the gene.
Allan Donald
Made me think of Vodafone in a whole new light. And want to play Elite again.
Boffins ahoy! Wonderful reminder of how clever we brits used to be!
writing is entertaining and the stories are fascinating
Tom Webster
jolly good stuff eh what?
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