The Secret State : Preparing for the Worst 1945 - 2010, Paperback Book

The Secret State : Preparing for the Worst 1945 - 2010 Paperback

4.5 out of 5 (1 rating)


Peter Hennessy's The Secret State: Preparing for the Worst 1945-2010 is the story of secret government plans for combatting attacks on Britain, from the Cold War to modern counter-terrorism. Now completely revised and updated, Peter Hennessy's acclaimed account of the secret state includes material from a host of recently declassified documents, to give an up-to-date picture of Whitehall's efforts to defend the safety of the realm. What were the secret plans for Britain if World War Three had erupted and 'breakdown' had occurred?

When would the Queen have been informed and where would she have gone?

How does the contingency planning for a national emergency work today?

By what procedures would the Prime Minister authorise a nuclear strike and how would those orders be carried out?

This book now gives the most detailed and authoritative answers to all these questions. 'Riveting, path-breaking and wonderfully readable' Christopher Andrew, The Times 'Effective and vivid ...

One of the fascinations of this book is the bureaucratic aridity to which Whitehall reduced concepts of bloodcurdling awfulness' Philip Ziegler, Daily Telegraph 'An insider's insider, if ever there was one' Anthony Howard, New Statesman 'One of those rare books that reflects credit not only on the author but on its subjects too' John Crace, Guardian Peter Hennessy is Attlee Professor of History at Queen Mary College, London, and the Director of the Mile End Institute of Contemporary British Government, Intelligence and Society.

He is the author of Never Again: Britain 1945-51 (winner of the NCR and Duff Cooper Prizes); the bestselling The Prime Minister and The Secret State.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: British & Irish history
  • ISBN: 9780141044699

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.A fascinating, and often terrifying, analysis of the machinery of government designed to orchestrate Britain's defence since the end of the Second World War and, in particular, on how the nuclear deterrent might be delivered in the event of a breakdown of peace.Chapter 7, "The Human Button" (based upon Hennessy's Radio 4 programme of the same name) is especially chilling as it offers a step by step guide to how the decisions to use that deterrent might be arrived at, and how the bombs would eventually be launched. I had not previously realised, for example, that all of the Vulcan Bomber pilots were well aware that, in the event that they were ever scrambled to bomb the Soviet Union, they would not have enough fuel to return home.While the weaponry may have been among the most technically advanced machinery to be found anywhere in the world, the administration required to launch it often stooped to farcical levels. For instance, during the early 19060s there was a standing requirement that the Prime Minister's official drivers should always ensure that they had four pennies with them in case the PM had to phone through instructions to launch the missiles. As the Cabinet Secretary of the time put it, "It would be ridiculous if the Prime Minister had to ask a bus conductor for change of a sixpence before he could phone the Chiefs of Staff!".The depth of research behind this book is positively breathtaking, and it is all delivered in Hennessy's pellucid prose.

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