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Technology and Culture 41.3 (2000) 630-631

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Book Review

The Science of War: Canadian Scientists and Allied Military Technology during the Second World War

The Science of War: Canadian Scientists and Allied Military Technology during the Second World War. By Donald H. Avery. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998. Pp. xv+406; illustrations, appendixes, notes/references, bibliography, index. $40.

Conflicts have driven technological innovation for millennia. And, as we are all aware, this century's major wars have significantly influenced the organization and function of institutions that employ scientists. In Canada, the National Research Council was established in 1916 as a result of a wartime request from Britain. With few exceptions, science in Canada was not on a firm base until the creation of the NRC and its founding of the Canadian Journal of Research in 1929. Being a federal institution, the NRC was the logical pivot around which Canadian war research was organized in the late 1930s.

The organization of The Science of War is sound. Donald Avery's introduction necessarily lists "who was who" in Canadian science, along with their primary British and American associates prior to World War II. He demonstrates the importance of enlisting the expertise of scientists and engineers in universities and shows how these links were strengthened during [End Page 630] the war. He also introduces the leading researchers in universities--such as Otto Maass at McGill, and John McLennan and Frederick Banting at Toronto--and describes the role of the NRC's Associate Committees in coordinating scientific research between the NRC and universities in the 1930s, a legacy that persists today.

One interesting aspect of The Science of War is its address to the links with British and, somewhat later, American research efforts. The United States was not formally drawn into hostilities until late 1941, and this was a key reason why Canadian contributions were as significant as they were, as noted by C. J. Mackenzie, NRC director for most of the war. The need for coordinated efforts among Britain, Canada, and the United States enabled Canada to participate in a way that would not have happened otherwise. These collaborations set research in Canada on a dramatic new path, which persisted for more than twenty-five years in the postwar era. That this was possible was, according to Avery, due in large part to four individuals: Mackenzie, Gen. A. G. L. McNaughton, Frederick Banting, and Otto Maass. From 1935 through 1945 these four men were responsible for establishing the communications and functional links between individuals and organizations and planning the government's scientific activities. Avery repeatedly stresses that the formal and personal relationships that developed among these science administrators, and with Henry Tizard and Vannevar Bush, made possible tripartite agreements and subsequent sharing of essential information, though not without occasional problems.

Avery's account, indeed a major portion of his treatise, traces the organization and development of Canada's most significant scientific contributions to the war effort and adds new information on scientific work such as radar, RDX explosives and proximity fuses, chemical and biological weaponry, and atomic research. Secrecy breeds scrutiny, and in the final two chapters Avery details several postwar spy cases that had Canadian scientific connections with internal and international links. Here Avery also addresses the long-term consequences of increased scientific expertise on Canadian political and military decisions about banning nuclear and other weapons.

The Science of War is well researched and well edited, and it provides new information and insights into Canadian science and science policy in the mid-twentieth century. It can be recommended to anyone interested in Canadian history or in cooperative international scientific efforts before, during, and immediately following World War II. Avery's research is thoroughly documented, with eighty pages of notes, a very substantial bibliography citing many archival sources, and, most important, acknowledgment of personal interviews with twenty-five key participants.

Randall C. Brooks

Dr. Brooks, curator of physical sciences and space at the National Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa, is editor...


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