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Churchill's Wizards: The British genious for deception 1914-1945

3.63  ·  Rating Details ·  496 Ratings  ·  53 Reviews
By June 1940, most of Europe had fallen to the Nazis and Britain stood alone. So, with Winston Churchill in charge, the British bluffed their way out of trouble, drawing on the trickery which had helped them win the First World War. They broadcast outrageous British propaganda on pretend German radio stations, broke secret codes, conjured up phantom armies and fake airfiel ...more
Paperback, 672 pages
Published May 7th 2009 by faber and faber (first published September 1st 2008)
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Fascinating and highly-recommended history of military deception in the World Wars.

I found the development of deception during the Great War particularly interesting, because the armed forces were fighting a new kind of warfare in which the old rules didn't necessarily apply. Deception had, of course, been part of military technique for as long as men had been fighting, but by the 20th century there was a distinct sense that it wasn't "playing the game" of war; it wasn't cricket; and it certainl
The concepts of camouflage, propaganda, double agents, secret intelligence, snipers, guerilla units and commandos are all so much a part of our modern image of warfare that it's hard to remember that most of these developments only came in with the twentieth century. I suppose it took the horror and carnage of the trenches to finally bury the notion that warfare could ever be civilised, a gentlemanly game between two sides who both played by the same rules. Once it became a matter of 'win at all ...more
Aug 31, 2010 Liz rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This had some good stuff in it, but way too much detail. I was a little disappointed after reading reviews and expecting better writing. The content itself was fascinating, but bogged down. I liked Silk and Cyanide way more, even though it was specifically about code breaking.
Michael Pryor
Sep 11, 2016 Michael Pryor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Eye-opening, startling, engrossing.
Joel Arnold
Lots of fun. Walks through WWI and WWII with different anecdotes about how the British used intelligence successfully. A very entertaining and interesting book. Here are some of my highlights from the Kindle edition:

The Archduke Ferdinand was the hated symbol of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that had annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina in October 1908, tearing it away from Greater Serbia. The Black Hand, a Serb nationalist terrorist cell, intended to kill the archduke as he drove in his motorcade throu
Mar 28, 2015 Hans rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, military
In the world of deception honor and praise are rare and few emerge to be celebrated as heroes. Instead of the imagery of the brave soldier and their heroic deeds and sacrifice that can be easily pointed to, the warrior who fights in the shadows is rarely hailed a hero. Where the measure of a man is normally tallied by his deeds, those who specialize in cunning and deceptions are ones who achievements are difficult to measure. Where a soldier can claim to have single-handedly killed 24 enemy comb ...more
A reasonable history of British military deception in World War I and II. The scope of the book is very broad, somewhat to the book's detriment. The book covers the earliest use of camouflage, propaganda, deception, spying, code breaking, concealment - pretty much every tactic used to misdirect or misrepresent to the enemy. The problem is that in trying to cover so much ground the subject matter flits about quite a bit and consequently the book lacks focus at times. It's quite hard to read in lo ...more
Jean Poulos
Nicholas Rankin tells about Archibald Wavell, whose career began in the Boer War and ended with him a Field Marshall and Viceroy of India. Wavell wrote “The beginnings of any war by the British are always marked by improvidence, improvisation, and too often, alas, impossibilities being asked of the troops.” Improvisation defined British deception operations, camouflaging soldiers in the field, building entire fake armies and fake cities to fool airborne reconnaissance and bombers, counter snipin ...more
Zohar -
Aug 19, 2013 Zohar - rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
A Genius for Deception: How Cunning Helped the British Win Two World Wars by Nicholas Rankin is a non-fiction book which tackles the history of camouflage, lies, bluffs and tricks which helped the British win World War I and World War II.

A Genius for Deception by Nicholas Rankin is a fun and fascinating account of British military history in deception. As a fan of trivia, I especially enjoyed this book due to little known facts which were kept secret out of political or cultural necessity (for e
M.G. Mason
Aug 08, 2011 M.G. Mason rated it really liked it
This is a military history book with a difference. So many about the two world wars are concerned with grand events, personalities, battles, how many people died, tales of heroism and tragedy and political analysis. I'm not really into military history for the reason that it is done to death, that and the fact that my interests lay in periods much earlier than the 20th century!

However, this is a book with a difference. It deals entirely with the propaganda wars of both world wars. There are some
Mar 31, 2011 Xing rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A sprawling and enjoyable casual read, the perfect holiday travel companion (lie back in the sand and think of beach landings, naval warfare, and Channel crossings)! Strongly narrative in style, evocative of a grandfather historian/ war veteran who pulls out incidents from memory and describes them in rambling and engaging detail. The scope is immense (camouflage, decoys, codes and ciphers, spies, propaganda), so provides an overview of military deceptive techniques without delving deeply into t ...more
David Campton
Aug 26, 2011 David Campton rated it really liked it
Shelves: factual, history
A fascinating account of the little known story of British military deception in both World Wars, with Churchill acting as a recurrent, if background narrative device. It is little known for a number of reasons; ongoing political necessity in the wake of World War 2 and throughout the cold war, as well as the culture of deception and secrecy that seem to have soaked into the very bones of those involved in camouflage and counter intelligence. Most didn't talk about what they did, those who did o ...more
Ashton Robbins
Jan 27, 2015 Ashton Robbins rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Churchill's Wizards by Nicholas Rankin Churchill's Wizards: The British Genius For Deception 1914 1945
by Nicholas Rankin is Brilliant. Mentions family like Leo Amery (albeit distant), and places my grand father fought like El Alamein and Tobruk.

What is disappointing is the penchant of the English to continue to dress up (as witnessed at cricket games) just joking. No what is disappointing is that the theatre of operation of this book hasn't really changed in the 21st century. We are still killi
Liz Polding
Apr 21, 2014 Liz Polding rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thoroughly enjoyable and a fascinating insight into propaganda and deception as military and political techniques. This area of ops starts with camouflage and the use of artists to both conceal real weapons and personnel and create the illusion of military strength where none existed or to divert attention. Military prestidigitation! As the area become more accepted, techniques moved into more sophisticated propaganda to demoralise enemy forces and undermine morale among enemy civilians as well. ...more
Frank Roberts
Feb 16, 2011 Frank Roberts rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
An uneven history--certain segments were absolutely fascinating, but others were mind-numbingly boring. I'd highly recommend finding other books to learn the incredible stories of the British deception campaigns during the run-up to the Sicily and Normandy invasions.

Also: the very beginning and the very end had very discordant notes: at the very beginning, the author mentions Mohammed and then promptly adds "peace be upon him." Is the author a muslim? If not, what is that about?

And at the end,
Thrilled by the creativity, problem-solving, & technological innovation. Bored by the tales of bureaucracy behind them...

By the time I finished, I wished this was two books, one about WW1 and the other about WW2. The sheer roster of names to keep up with would have been divided in half then, and there would have been room for more storytelling.

And portion of the epilogue in which Rankin sorts out the different sorts of deceptions human beings practice on each other and which are defensible
Greg Smith
Endlessly fascinating book that goes well beyond the promise of the title. Just the tale of Juan Pujol's exploits -- one of many in this book -- is worth the price of admission, and even if the subject of this book doesn't appeal to you, I'd urge you to look him up in the Wikipedia. (It's worth noting, though, that Pujol's reasons for leaving his first wife out of his own later recollections are much better justified here than in the Wikipedia article.)

The book's postscript is a nice surprise.
Dave Koch
Dec 19, 2012 Dave Koch rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book seems a little tedious at times with many references to people and places that are not familiar, but for that reason it is very educational. It provides a much broader view of the world wars beyond what happend in Germany, France, England, and the rest of western Europe. Many aspects of the wars in Africa and the Middle East are described. The focus, however, is primarily on the role of deception in posturing many of the key events of both wars.
Oct 19, 2009 James rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating read on a subject that is usually in the background. The title is a little deceiving as it has very little to do with Churchill and the bulk of the book focuses on deception and camouflage development during WW1. However the author manages to keep the reader enthralled throughout and does justice to the unsung heroes. I would recommend that anyone interested in the two world wars delve into this book.
Stan Bebbington
The objective of this book, stated in the title, is to inform us about the Service Staff who were variously in charge of deception in two world wars.The connecting thread is Winston Churchill. Because most of the topics covered, in what is an overview, have been extensively published and read in detail, it is difficult to see for whom it is intended. Maybe in time there will be readers who would benefit from a broad review, but not yet.
Dec 26, 2016 Nathan rated it liked it
A trot through the tricks that the British got up to in order to stymie and confuse the Hun (Japan and Italy don't matter, it seems) during the world wars, and the individual characters that came up with them.

One of those light and fluffy popular history books that does not feel the need for lots of footnotes or endnotes. Just sit back and enjoy the seminar.

Learned a few things.

Rated G with war references and a picture of a dead body. 3/5
May 20, 2015 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first half of the book covers the First World War. Perhaps, because I've spent very little time with that period, the narrative seemed a bit confusing. I wasn't sure of the point nor that all would qualify under the deception label. The Second World War section is better, and the connection to the First makes the first part more important and significant. Overall interesting.
Ian May
May 17, 2012 Ian May rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
I really enjoyed this book.

Even after more than half a century, there's always more information to learn about WW2, and of course, the whole origins of deception back to WW1 are most interesting.

It was an easy read too, and it only took me a long time because I have so few spare minutes in the average day to pick up a book!
Mar 15, 2012 Mick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book's title is misleading since it's mainly about general facts during WW1/WW2 with only small amount of palpable camuflage/propaganda/cunning examples. However, if you'd like to extend your knowledge on the World War from the British perspective, this read is perfect and larded with dates & interesting datums!
Feb 07, 2013 Peter rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: military
This was retitled "A Genius for Deception" when I read it. Rankin's books are about wartime efforts by the British to deceive and disinform the Germans. See "Ian Fleming's Commandos." This book covers both Wworld wars. There are lots of interesting vignettes and operations, but Rankin's turgid style makes it hard to plow through them.
Apr 23, 2012 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An engaging and comprehensive look at British innovations in camouflage and military deception in WW1 and WW2. Some of it will be familiar ground to the WW2 buff (Operation Mincemeat, the decoys at El Alamein), but there's something new for everyone. The author writes with a dry British wit that makes the whole sordid affair seem bloody civilized.
Oct 08, 2012 Antony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The British genius for deception 1914-1945. A most readable and informative history charting the rise of the arts of camouflage and deception from the simple to the elaborate, how they came about and their application in the theatres of war. Heroes and villains,stories and 'myths',and much which has remained hush hush and in the shadows for a long time.
Jul 23, 2009 Gill rated it really liked it
Although the use of Churchill's name is more a marketing ploy than historical fact, this is a fascinating history of 20th-century military deception including double agents, the planting of false intelligence, and the development of the art of camouflage.

It's written in an engaging narrative style that only occasionally strays into dull recitation. Educational and entertaining.
Jun 25, 2013 Christian rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-of-2013
Decent enough book, but less factual than I was expecting. The author places a lot of stock in the story of the deception, rather than the history or the facts. In it's own right, it's a fun book, but not what I was looking for at the time. I would call it a 3-star summer read, in any other context.
John  Ashtone
It uses Churchill as the glue to hold the different threads of Espionage and spying during the period covered. Some cracking stories, some average and other used to fill, but even these add to the overall idea that Britain's spies could old their own against the best the rest of the world had.

Also leaves in no doubt how the use of turning agents succeeded where other agencies failed.
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“The great offensives of the future would be psychological, and . . . the most deadly weapon in the world was the power of mass-persuasion . . . In” 0 likes
“In war, Shaw says, keeping a cool head is better than seeing red: ‘Hatred is one of the things you can do better at home. And you generally stay at home to do it.’ This idea may have come out of his talks with C. E. Montague, who observed in Disenchantment: ‘Hell hath no fury like a non-combatant.’ Serving soldiers understood that the morality of war was different from the morality of peace, ‘just as the morality of an interview with a tiger in the jungle is distinct from the morality of an interview with a missionary.’ Shaw was not a pacifist, and he saw that people went to fight out of solidarity, not selfishness: ‘It is not that you must defend yourself or perish: many a man would be too proud to fight on those terms. You must defend your neighbour or betray him: that is what gets you . . .’ George” 0 likes
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