A Genius for Deception

A Genius for Deception : How Cunning Helped the British Win Two World Wars

3.64 (545 ratings by Goodreads)
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In February 1942, intelligence officer Victor Jones erected 150 tents behind British lines in North Africa. "Hiding tanks in Bedouin tents was an old British trick," writes Nicholas Rankin. German general Erwin Rommel not only knew of the ploy, but had copied it himself. Jones knew that Rommel knew. In fact, he counted on it--for these tents were empty. With the deception that he was carrying out a deception, Jones made a weak point look like a trap. In A Genius for Deception, Nicholas Rankin offers a lively and comprehensive history of how Britain bluffed, tricked, and spied its way to victory in two world wars. As Rankin shows, a coherent program of strategic deception emerged in World War I, resting on the pillars of camouflage, propaganda, secret intelligence, and special forces. All forms of deception found an avid sponsor in Winston Churchill, who carried his enthusiasm for deceiving the enemy into World War II. Rankin vividly recounts such little-known episodes as the invention of camouflage by two French artist-soldiers, the creation of dummy airfields for the Germans to bomb during the Blitz, and the fabrication of an army that would supposedly invade Greece. Strategic deception would be key to a number of WWII battles, culminating in the massive misdirection that proved critical to the success of the D-Day invasion in 1944. Deeply researched and written with an eye for telling detail, A Genius for Deception shows how the British used craft and cunning to help win the most devastating wars in human history.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 466 pages
  • 152.4 x 236.22 x 38.1mm | 839.14g
  • Oxford, England, United States
  • English
  • Illustrations, black and white
  • 019538704X
  • 9780195387049
  • 1,392,913

Review quote

"A delight-filled account...[A]s much an entertainment as history."--Wall Street Journal

"A fascinating new book about British intelligence's deception operations against the Axis powers."--Washington Post SpyTalk

Rankin's page-turner makes the most of the gifted amateurs, eccentrics, and professional illusionists responsible for the imaginative schemes of the British military and details the care and seriousness with which they were implemented."--Foreign Affairs

"There isn't a dull page -- not even a dull sentence -- in Nicholas Rankin's fantastic wunderkabinet of wartime revelations. It is all here -- colonels in drag, midget submarines, corpses with stashed secrets, a black radio station called Aspidistra and more inventions than James Bond's Q could ever conceive -- and is endlessly fascinating in consequence. No better book about the mad arcana of belligerence has ever been written."--Simon Winchester

"Good, rollicking fun."--Max Hastings

"Rankin tells an enthralling, not to say astounding, true-life tale of inflatable tanks and dummy airfields and of pretend radio stations reporting on imaginary armies."--Michael Kerrigan, The Scotsman

"Nicholas Rankin's book [is a] hymn to amateur invention and its stunningly professional deployment...It is a book of marvellous yarns, which will appeal to a far wider readership than the sombre consumers of standard military history. Regimental bores may rail, but it's hard to think of anyone with a taste for human ingenuity being anything other than enchanted and, if British, sneakily proud. Knee in the goolies. Out like a light. Works every time."--Michael Bywater, Daily Telegraph

"A thoroughly entertaining read, helped along by Rankin's engaging style. But it's the characters that keep you hooked."--Jonathan Carter, London Lite

"Nicholas Rankin's well-researched and highly enjoyable book...[There are] many superb stories of the camouflage, black propaganda, secret intelligence and special forces of the two world wars, which he does very entertainingly indeed."--Andrew Roberts, Daily Telegraph

"Rankin is a great guide to these arts...[His] enthusiasm for and knowledge of his subject has produced a book replete with anecdote, character sketches and revelations, all embedded in an ability to sketch the military and civilian background with enough clarity to support his narrative and repertoire of characters."--John Lloyd, The Herald

"Mr. Rankin goes poking and probing the lesser-known facts of the two World Wars. What an entertaining journey he provides."--Len Deighton

"A most enjoyable read."--Thaddeus Holt, author of The Deceivers: Allied Military Deception in the Second World War

"This is a story clamouring to be told. During the war we heard rumours, knew there was something called 'camouflage' going on but could not have imagined the scope of the inventiveness, the daring of these people's imaginations. What a galaxy of talents - designers of all kinds, real magicians, the make-up people, dyers, painters and inventors. The theatre and the military created whole armies, ships, navies, aircraft, arsenals of weapons out of shadows and illusions, out of fantasies and clever paint and trickery. I could not stop reading this book once I had begun."--Doris Lessing

"Nicholas Rankin's engrossing book tells the story of the ambitious and complex deceptions perpetrated by the plucky Brits, which contributed to the turning of the tide and the winning of the Second World War...What makes Churchill's Wizards such an uncommon and arresting read is the detail of these hair-brained schemes. You couldn't make this stuff up. And yet, that's just what Churchill's so-called 'Unknown Warriors' did. With this remarkable book Rankin does them proud."--Miles Fielder, Scotland on Sunday

"If ever a book was meant to have a soundtrack that plays along as you read it, this is it. And that soundtrack should be the theme to The Great Escape, because Churchill's Wizards is packed with tales of derring-do and deception -- tales that in some cases remained hush-hush for decades...Rankin clearly carried out extensive research for this book and it's paid off. It's fascinating, witty, and will provide you with more anecdotes than you can shake a stick with a papier-mache head at."--Andy Ridgway, Focus Magazine

"Many of the stories...have been told before, but Rankin has enhanced them with recently released papers and diaries. It is very good reading and provides an intimate look at the use of deception and those who made it work. This valuable book gives a new perspective to the history of the warfare and deception."--Hayden B. Peake, CIA Historical Intelligence Collection

"Rankin tells his real-life ripping yarns at a fast pace and with a light touch that never obscures the fundamental seriousness of the events."--Dennis Showalter, History Book Club
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About Nicholas Rankin

Nicholas Rankin is the author of Telegram from Guernica and Dead Man's Chest. He lives in London.
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Rating details

545 ratings
3.64 out of 5 stars
5 18% (100)
4 40% (219)
3 30% (166)
2 10% (52)
1 1% (8)
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