4 out of 4 stars
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It is the 1920s. Only a few years have elapsed since World War I when we're introduced to Petty Officer Harry Kidder, an experienced US Navy radioman stationed at one of the Navy's communication stations situated in the Philippines. Harry is an ingenious, self-driven radioman, and he likes radio so much that, besides being a career to him, he has also made it a hobby. Within the station, the radiomen's work was to communicate between ships and shore stations around the world using the international Morse Code, something he always did diligently. But, on that fateful day, during the course of performing his usual duties, Harry happened upon an unusually loud military radio signal that considering its uniqueness, instinctively heightened his curiosity. The combinations of “dits” and “dahs” he was hearing on that particular signal completely made no sense to him, as they were not part of the international Morse Code they were used to. Consequently, in the subsequent days, Harry spent several sleepless nights trying to figure out what that signal could be and how to decrypt it. He, therefore, gave himself a homework. Little did he know that the activities he were to later engage in would, in the process, lead to the birth of radio intelligence discipline within the US Navy.
The US Navy's On-the-Roof Gang: Prelude to War by Matt Zullo takes us through how Harry, together with other self-driven, ingenious US Navy radio personnel, developed the fledgling field of radio intelligence, a contribution that later leveraged US forces against future external attacks. It is a gripping account of the US Navy and Marine Corps radiomen, “On-the-Roof Gang”, who, from scratch, trained themselves in intercepting Imperial Japanese Navy telegraphic communications as part of new radio intelligence prior to and during World War II. Among other things, we get to attend over-twenty-five classes with the “On-the-Roof Gang”, go with them to various intercept stations they established after their graduation, witness the hurdles they had to surmount during the course of serving their nation, and most importantly, celebrate with them the various achievements they made for the discipline. All this was done in an engrossing and entertaining way, and I greatly enjoyed this story, thanks to the author's outstanding storytelling ability.
I loved every ounce of this book; it is excellent in all facets. I couldn't help but realize how gifted Matt Zullo is in storytelling. It didn't take me long to predict I would enjoy reading this novel, and enjoy it I did. The narration is vivid and descriptive, a feature that created for me long-lasting mental images of the scenes. The main characters’ background information is adequately given, the dialogues are natural and unstrained, the flow is fluid and consistent, the plot is suspenseful and engrossing, and most importantly, the characters’ emotions are exquisitely captured. Moreover, the amount of research the author devoted to this novel was evident, and that, together with the fact that the author ensured a historical accuracy in writing On-the-Roof Gang, make it an invaluable read for researchers and history enthusiasts. Additionally, I appreciated the author's inclusion of maps at various instances within the text as they not only acted as an excellent guide but also ensured an uninterrupted flow of the story. All this enhanced my enjoyment of this poignant novel. As a result, I really learned a lot about the “On-the-Roof Gang” and radio intelligence, in general, and so, will readers who like well-written, informative historical fiction.
My favorite aspect of this book was the characters. They are interesting and well-developed, and therefore, I couldn't help but be attached to some of them. In particular, I liked the main characters Harry Kidder, Agnes Meyer, and Laurance Safford. They have extraordinary abilities, and most importantly, they all possess that persistent, innate drive. Their sheer commitment to the budding discipline of radio intelligence within the US Navy is something readers will openly see. As a matter of fact, these characters enhanced my concentration in the entire text, since I would patiently wait for the scenes they featured in. In turn, this not only facilitated my enjoyment of this novel but also kept me glued throughout my entire reading sessions.
All in all, I didn't find anything to dislike about this book. I believe it was professionally edited since I found no single error. Therefore, I'm glad to award The US Navy's On-the-Roof Gang: Prelude to War by Matt Zullo 4 out of 4 stars, considering all those exceptional attributes.
This novel is dedicated to both past and current US Navy radio personnel, and so, I highly recommend it for them. Moreover, fans of character-driven historical fiction, together with professionals in the fields of cryptology and radio intelligence, will also love this. This book has just a few profanities. That, coupled with the fact that there was no erotic content but just some instances of on-page kissing, make it suitable for a wide range of audiences. On the other hand, with the exception of those who are not into historical fiction, I can't find any person to caution against picking this.
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