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The Small Back Room

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  97 Ratings  ·  14 Reviews
A true modern classic, THE SMALL BACK ROOM is a towering novel of the Second World War.

Sammy Rice is a weapons scientist, one of the 'back room boys' of the Second World War. A crippling disability has left him cynical and disillusioned - he struggles with a drink problem at home, and politics and petty pride at work. Worse still, he fears he is not good enough for the wom
Paperback, 192 pages
Published April 12th 2001 by Cassell (first published 1943)
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Jul 18, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lit
I am frightened, but not as much as I was. I did have a drink last night but only one. Good-bye pet. Sammy.

Like a British WWII Hurt Locker, Nigel Balchin tells the tale of a psychologically and emotionally damaged man who puts it all on the line to diffuse a booby trapped bomb left on British shores by Jerry planes and still can't justify his continued existence with himself.

"If I'd been a bit sillier, or a bit more intelligent, or had more guts, or less guts, or had two feet, or no feet, or bee
Dec 12, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am very attracted to literature from the 1930s and 1940s and so was excited to learn of Nigel Balchin, a writer about whom, until recently, I knew nothing. That a recent biography, 'His Own Executioner: The Life of Nigel Balchin' by Derek Collett, had garnered praise from a couple of my favourite writers, Cathi Unsworth and Paul Willetts, made me even more keen to sample his wares…

‘A riveting and revealing biography’ – Cathi Unsworth, "First Lady of noir writing" and author of 'Without the Mo
Rob Kitchin
Aug 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Nigel Balchin started the war as a psychologist in the personnel section of the War Office before transferring to the Army Council, eventually becoming Deputy Scientific Officer. By the end of the war he’d risen to the rank of Brigadier General. His insider knowledge of how science was being employed to help the war effort gives The Small Back Room an authentic feel. Indeed, I was somewhat surprised that the book had been published during the war given that he paints a fairly negative picture of ...more
Feb 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A minor masterpiece this.
At times it felt like reading about my own workplace, much of the book is taken up with arguments about non scientists or scientists of different disciplines sticking their respective oars into things they know nothing about but don't let that leave you thinking this is a dull workplace drama. From the two books of Balchin's I have read it seems that he enjoyed showing every little detail in his protagonists life leading up to the crisis point and so we frequently encou
Aug 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Nigel Balchin's other great book written of and during WW11 (the other being "Darkness falls from the air").
I love the way he lets dialogue drive his stories.
An enjoyable, witty, ultimately tense and thoughtful book.
Dec 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literature
This is the book I come back time and again, and get more out of each time. Sam Rice is a brilliantly-constructed character, a very diffident semi-alcoholic who has never faced up to a disability ('In 1928 my foot was hurting all the time so they took it off and gave me an aluminium one that only hurt about three quarters of the time'), in fact treats it as a sign of inferiority to all the uniformed servicemen around him, an obstacle he has to overcome through the most reckless risk-taking. It's ...more
Sep 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
I chanced to see a pile of these paperbacks among others, and remembered the name of Nigel Balchin.

Rob Kitchin's review mirrors my own feelings about it. I thought that the character Sammy Rice was a bit improbable, but the setting is spot on. The story of the academic and political rivalries, the unsuitability of some of the people for the work they have to do, the incompetence of politicians in technological decisions and the general way that Britain "muddled through" the 1939-45 war is brilli
Apr 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
I picked this book up off my bookeshelf to find it inscribed with my mum's name and the dated September 1949, just prior to her migrating to Australia. This inspired me to read the book. This story is set during WWII in London. Sammy Rice was a civilian scientist working on projects to bring forth the end of the war. He was an amputee suffering great pain at times which encouraged a jaded view of his world. I found the story very interesting when it described that it mattered who you were workin ...more
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Jul 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
This book is about cynical, depressed Sammy Rice who has an aluminum leg, and a drinking problem. He works as a weapon's scientist during WWII and is sick of the petty office politics at work. The book is basically a (humorous) account of his day-to-day life. It isn't exactly thrilling plot-wise, but it is a very interesting and insightful glimpse into the mind of man trying to prove his worth.

Well-written, funny, and an interesting look at the 'back room boys' of the second world war. Really go
Mar 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: military-war
Great book exploring one man's insecurity within himself and within a selfish, individually self-serving bureaucratic cubbyhole, and how he eventually works his way through it.

Movie based on this book was OK, but didn't explore the psychological and bureaucratic conflict as much as the book.
Kelly Mahaney
May 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
Pretty sure this was based on a true story. I remember reading a similar story line years ago in an old copy of Reader's Digest. Good story of small bombs dropped randomly in England to disrupt civilian life.
Frank Pellecchia
Fiction. A British weapons scientist in WWII has to deal with booby-trapped unexploded bombs dropped by the Germans.
Gareth Evans
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Sep 12, 2010
Steve Freyne
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Jan 26, 2013
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Edward Sargisson
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Apr 24, 2010
Xavier Thomas
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Dec 26, 2014
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Apr 23, 2010
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What's The Name o...: SOLVED. WW2, England, Bomb Disposal, Terror Weapons [s] 45 67 Jun 08, 2014 02:27PM  
Trained originally as an industrial psychologist, in which capacity he helped Rowntree’s to successfully launch Black Magic chocolates in 1933, Nigel Balchin first received critical acclaim as a novelist during the Second World War when he wrote Darkness Falls From the Air. It was the first of three evocative novels (including the smash-hit The Small Back Room) that made good use of his wartime em ...more
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