Published: 10 April 00
Air & Space Power Journal

The Invention That Changed the World: How a Small Group of Radar Pioneers Won the Second World War and Launched a Technological Revolution by Robert Buderi. Touchstone Books, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, New York 10020, 1997, 575 pages, $16.00 (softbound).

The terms military technological revolution and revolution in military affairs are popular in Air Force and Department of Defense journals. Many pundits subscribe to a belief that revolutions drive rapid increases in military capability. Others rely on the position that all technological changes are merely evolutionary in character. For readers of either disposition, it is indisputable that the invention of radar and its incorporation in air combat in World War II was a significant, if not pivotal, step in changing the nature of warfare.

The Invention that Changed the World does a fine job in tracking the creation and integration of a rather remarkable device frequently taken for granted: radar. Buderi, a former technology editor for Business Week and author of articles found in a variety of magazines, wrote this book with a style that reads more like a story than a detailed historical analysis. This makes his work, though containing an extensive bibliography, difficult to cross-reference due to the lack of footnotes. However, it remains an enjoyable and a rich account of scientific history that is accessible to a variety of audiences.

Most interesting for airmen and military enthusiasts alike is Buderi’s tale of the personalities and innovations that led to successful integration of radar into combat applications. Featured prominently in his World War II discussion of radar development were the scientists of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Radiation Laboratory, the “Rad Lab.” Tracing the interactions of the principal scientists, Buderi illuminates an interesting historical case study for civilian-military cooperation in the development of war-fighting technologies. Unfortunately, he tends to oversell their impact on the war effort with his assertion that this “small group of radar pioneers won the Second World War.” Although a significant contributor to the greater war effort, neither the quality nor the quantity of radars in World War II supports the absoluteness of Buderi’s bold proposition that the “Rad Lab” scientists won the war.

Buderi better supports his proposition that the radar scientists helped launch a technological revolution. If a military technological revolution is a terrific leap in war-fighting capability, the institution and operational testing of radar in World War II certainly showed hints of an emerging “revolution.” In World War II, night-radar intercepts, early radar warning, and pathfinder bombers blazed the trail for more dramatic contemporary capabilities. For example, radar has made possible all-weather flight, stealth, terrain-following at night, and a host of other military and aerospace applications that arguably have now changed the nature of war to truly be a 24-hour-a-day enterprise. Moreover, the civilian spin-offs have had tremendous impact in scientific and commercial applications.

Overall, Buderi’s The Invention that Changed the World is a well-written and entertaining story of technology development with many implications for Air Force readers. He blends his tale of history, civil-military affairs, and human interaction in an entertaining yet not oppressively academic fashion. Though a bit oversold, many of the individuals whose stories are recounted in this book truly made an outstanding and long-lasting impact. Was radar a harbinger of a technological revolution—or was it simply a product of evolution? You decide.

Maj Merrick Krause, USAF
Alexandria, Virginia


The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.

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