...[an] infuriating book ... The cover of this book proclaims it to be 'true', but inside the author concedes it to be 'more of a novel', with the result that it ends up somewhere between the two. This is frustrating because the author has an important story to tell ... There are moments of real tension ... All too often, however, in his quest for the zingy one-liner, Kean resorts to caricature ... Sentences frequently begin with phrases such as 'The problem was...', 'The only hitch...', “Mind you...”, 'Little did he suspect...', and once, unforgivably, 'You can imagine the flabbergastation...' This breezy, slangy style is initially quite amusing, swiftly becomes repetitive, and is finally so irritating that I wanted to find the author’s car and set fire to it ... Kean puts thoughts and feelings into the heads of real people ... Great swathes of history are reduced to a single sentence ... The Bastard Brigade is the past as fun, adventure and drama, a complex and often sinister story told through cartoons, colloquialisms and jokes; Horrible Histories for grown-ups.
...Mr. Kean overemphasizes the external pressures working against Germany’s progress without acknowledging the internal factors that likely did more to impede the development of a bomb ... Mr. Kean’s book breaks no new ground, but attributions to source materials are far from clear. There are no footnotes or endnotes, making it difficult to learn where a quote came from or to look something up. The sources he does cite at the end of the book are listed in an odd manner—alphabetically, by title. My book on the subject isn’t included, though there are facts Mr. Kean uses that likely came from it ... In 59 fast-paced chapters, some only two pages long, Mr. Kean hopscotches around the globe, describing colorful characters, some of whom had only limited or no connection to the Nazi bomb. The result is a popularized account of the external efforts to slow or halt the German atomic program. It all makes for an entertaining tale, one that might entice the reader to pursue some of the more detailed studies in the wide literature on the topic.
Featuring concise illustrations of atomic physics, each worth a thousand words, and a cast of real-life characters that Ian Fleming, Tom Clancy, and the Marx brothers would have strained to invent, The Bastard Brigade is as entertaining as it is fascinating. Kean’s colloquial expressions and metaphors provide levity to the gritty history of a world at war, with the survival of freedom, and possibly humanity, hanging in the balance. He never lets the reader forget what was at stake, often stating that failure could have resulted in the ultimate mushroom cloud. Kean’s page-turner about a still too-little-understood chapter in history deserves a prominent place in WWII collections.