Summary and book reviews of The Ingenious Mr. Pyke by Henry Hemming

The Ingenious Mr. Pyke

Inventor, Fugitive, Spy

by Henry Hemming

The Ingenious Mr. Pyke by Henry Hemming
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  • First Published:
    May 2015, 512 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2016, 512 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sinéad Fitzgibbon

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About this Book

Book Summary

The untold story of an enigmatic genius who changed warfare forever.

This is the extraordinary story of Geoffrey Pyke, an inventor, war reporter, escaped prisoner, campaigner, father, educator - and all-around misunderstood genius. In his day, he was described as one of the world's great minds, to rank alongside Einstein, yet he remains virtually unknown today.

Pyke was an unlikely hero of both world wars and, among many other things, is seen today as the father of the U.S. Special Forces. He changed the landscape of British pre-school education, earned a fortune on the stock market, wrote a bestseller and in 1942 convinced Winston Churchill to build an aircraft carrier out of reinforced ice. He escaped from a German WWI prison camp, devised an ingenious plan to help the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, and launched a private attempt to avert the outbreak of the Second World War by sending into Nazi Germany a group of pollsters disguised as golfers.

Despite his brilliance, Pyke ultimately could not find peace, committing suicide in 1948. Yet the full scope of his story remained secret even after his death: in 2009, MI5 released a mass of material suggesting that Pyke was in fact a senior official in the Soviet Comintern. In 1951 papers relating to Pyke were found in the flat of "Cambridge Spy' Guy Burgess after his defection to Moscow. MI5 had "watchers" follow Pyke through the bombed-out streets of London, his letters were opened and listening devices picked up clues to his real identity. Convinced he was a Soviet agent codenamed Professor P, MI5 helped to bring his career to an end. It is only now, more than sixty years after his death, that Geoffrey Pyke's astonishing story can be told in full. The Ingenious Mr. Pyke is a many-faceted account of this enigmatic man's genius, and reveals him as one of the great innovators of the last century.

How to get a Job as a War Correspondent
(as an Inexperienced Twenty-Year-Old)

For many young men like Geoffrey Pyke, who had grown up in upper-middle-class Edwardian London and liked to read, the idea of being a war correspondent had a heroic and at times breathless appeal. In 1912 the journalist Philip Gibbs described it as 'the crown of journalistic ambition, and the heart of its adventure and romance'. The life of a war correspondent seemed to combine the most attractive elements of explorer, spy and best-selling author. Marinetti had been a war correspondent several years earlier in Libya, as had Churchill in South Africa, and by 1914 Pyke described himself as 'absolutely determined to be a correspondent somewhere'.

But where?

On his way back from Denmark Pyke had pored over a map of the world in the hope of finding a newsworthy spot which did not yet have a full complement of correspondents. yet whenever he found a likely destination his ambition ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The Ingenious Mr Pyke is an incredible — and ultimately tragic — tale of a man whose astonishing mind proved to be both his greatest gift and his greatest burden. It is a tale that has to be read to be believed, a true life story that not only stretches the bounds of credulity but breaks the bounds of possibility - a true life story that is, in short, infinitely stranger than fiction.   (Reviewed by Sinéad Fitzgibbon).

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Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

Fans of Graham Greene and Alan Furst will revel in this well-told true-life story.

Library Journal

Those fond of biographies and 20th-century European war tales told in a modern vein will enjoy this book

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Hemming's superlative text is nearly as nimble as Pyke's mind, and he reveals who this remarkable innovator really was.

The Guardian (UK)

Reads wonderfully like an adventure story - Hemming turn[s] the story of a nerdish chameleon into a page-turner.

The Sunday Times (UK)

[Pyke's] was not a lucky life but, in his biographer, he has gained a little bit of posthumous luck. This admirable and thoroughly enjoyable book should rescue a weirdly original and innovative talent from oblivion.

The Independent (UK)

Well-written - throws fascinating light on a forgotten hero of the Second World War.

Author Blurb Sir Michael Holroyd
It is as if [Geoffrey Pyke] had been invented by G. K. Chesterton and given posthumous fame by John le Carré - which underlines the extraordinary accomplishment of his actual biographer Henry Hemming.

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Beyond the Book

Geoffrey Pyke's Genius

Geoffrey Pyke, the subject of The Ingenious Mr Pyke, was a man of many talents; his interests were as varied as they were obsessive. To understand them, we need look no further than two of his most successful projects, The Malting House School and the development of a remarkable substance which became known as "pykrete."

The Malting House School was a radical new approach to teaching based on the emerging science of psychoanalysis. The impetus for its creation was the birth of Pyke's only son, David. Concerned about the limitations of what he perceived to be an unenlightened English educational system, Pyke (characteristically undeterred by the fact that he had no previous experience either in teaching or child psychology), founded the ...

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