Book review: “Fruits of War”

A review of the book “Fruits of War” by Michael White. The book discusses how war has accelerated technological progress and provided unexpected benefits to society. The author is a bit defensive about not professing that war is good in any way, which is pretty obvious and does not really need to be an issue in reading the book. It is a fairly straight reporting of facts, rather than any attempt to editorialize or present radical opinions.
The book is, overall, a decent read that gives some “aha” insights in terms of when, where, and why various technologies developed. However, it is let down by a sequence of minor fact errors, as well as being a bit rapsodic in style. It seems like the author tried to pack almost everything interesting into a fairly thin book, and the net result is that nothing is really treated in depth.

The best researched chapters are those on medical technology, where there is also deep data and clear dates and names. In other chapters, this depth of detail in persons and dates is missing, and the fact checking has been downright sloppy in places. This gives a slightly uneasy feeling to my reading of the book: what can be trusted at detail level and what cannot?

Some example fact errors:

  • The author talks about the Heinkel He 280 being the main German jet fighter in World War II, while anyone versed in technology history knows that that honor befalls the legendary Messerchmitt Me 262.
  • There is a claim that Vikings forged swords from carbonised iron which were longer and stronger than those of continental Europe. As a Swede, I have never heard of this fact. I believe the Vikings main military strong point was there fast and shallow-running ships, along with good timing that allowed them to exploit a period of weakness of the European continent.

And I have a suspicion that there are more such minor details which are not quite right in the later chapters of the book.

So overall, a nice concept that should have focussed on a few fewer technologies with more depth.

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