HISTORY

12 Seconds of Silence: How a Team of Inventors, Tinkerers, and Spies Took Down a Nazi Superweapon

Houghton Harcourt. Aug. 2020. 416p. ISBN 9781328460127. $27. HIST
COPY ISBN
Journalist Holmes regales readers intrigued by espionage in this story of how scientists and mechanics developed the proximity fuse to destroy Axis-launched attacks. Although British scientists initiated the research, Holmes maintains that American scientists, ensconced in a secret unit based in Maryland, were the primary heroes. Extant timed or contact fuses required a direct hit to be effective. Instead, a perfected fuse for weapons counteracted the V-1 (vengeance weapon) rockets, or “buzz bombs” (recognized by their wailing sound, followed by several eerie seconds before detonating) when the antiballistics approached their vicinity. The author contends that the use of the proximity fuse at the Battle of the Bulge, among other battles, together with decoding the Enigma cypher machine and the atomic bomb were the West’s technological contributions that helped to win World War II. Holmes honors the contributions of scientists such as Vannevar Bush and the efforts of double agent Jeannie Rousseau as well as Stateside project assembly workers.
VERDICT Holmes synthesizes technical reports and archival materials to produce this first book-length, accessible narrative on an essential factor of Allied victory in World War II. Readers of similar works on Navajo Code Talkers will also enjoy this story of wartime espionage.

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