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

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4.02  ·  Rating Details ·  212 Ratings  ·  25 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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(showing 1-30)
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Edmole
Mar 25, 2012 Edmole rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Victoria Roe
Apr 05, 2015 Victoria Roe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: b-roes-books
I wasn't at all sure of this when I started but, on reflection, I think it just took me a while to get used to the style of writing. I really don't read a lot of this sort of book but it was very engagingly written with a lot of humour and some great use of interview quotes throughout. I struggled slightly with some of the engineering detail but managed to get through it; I think it's fairly telling that the two stories I found the hardest to get through (the rockets and the radio) were probably ...more
Tim
Aug 09, 2011 Tim rated it it was amazing
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.
Jim
Dec 23, 2010 Jim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
Nose in a book (Kate)
This is a sort of love letter to British engineering, but a deprecating one with notes of doubt. Spufford looks at projects from the Black Arrow space rocket to the computer game Elite to the Human Genome Project. Sometimes, like that last example, the Brits formed part of an international effort, but it is very much the Brits that Spufford is writing about.

Spufford is playing up the idea of the unsung hero, the small project dwarfed by international (especially US) comparison, which isn’t actua
...more
Ian Smith
Nov 15, 2012 Ian Smith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Gordon
Jun 25, 2009 Gordon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Lauren
May 27, 2013 Lauren rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Steve
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
Fiona
Dec 20, 2008 Fiona rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: from-orbit-2008
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 imagin ...more
Janet
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?
Steve
Jun 22, 2011 Steve rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Mid 1. 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.
David Tucker
Some great facts and insight to untalked about technologies but sometimes goes on too long about to and froing between government etc. Glad to have read it, favourite chapter was on history of mobile phone
Robert
Feb 16, 2015 Robert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
You can find my review of Backroom Boys on my book blog.
Dick Davies
Aug 17, 2013 Dick Davies rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Gary
Nov 04, 2012 Gary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
writing is entertaining and the stories are fascinating
John Bradney
Jun 20, 2013 John Bradney rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An enjoyable look at some of the more interesting science, engineering and business projects to originate in the British Isles. Very informative and entertaining.
John
Aug 20, 2014 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really fascinating. A thorough (and slightly nerdy) account of hi-tech successes by UK engineers in the post war period.
Allan Donald
Made me think of Vodafone in a whole new light. And want to play Elite again.
Tony
Readable technical stuff; interesting about how companies attempted to patent the gene.
Su-Min Lee
I liked some of the chapters, but not all of them. It's likely due to my own personal interests.
Sarah
Nov 30, 2016 Sarah rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Six snapshots of science in Great Britain since WW2. Inspiring
Mark
Mark rated it really liked it
May 22, 2012
Matt
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David
David rated it it was ok
Jun 20, 2012
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Jon Veal
Jon Veal rated it really liked it
Oct 28, 2013
MR ANDREAS WHEELER
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