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Triumph and Tragedy: The Evolution and Legacy of 20th Century War Machines

ISBN: 9780986212727
Binding: Hardcover
Author: Martin Miller
Pages: 208
Trim: 8.4 x 10.3 inches
Published: 11/1/2021

Bronze Medal in Oversized History Book Category   —  2022 Independent Publisher (IPPY) Book Awards

Bronze Medal in Non-Fiction Book Series Category (with The Neutron's Long Shadow and Weapons of Mass Destruction). —  2022 Independent Publisher (IPPY) Book Awards

Silver Prize Winner in Documentary Photography Book Category  —  2021 Tokyo International Foto Awards


The twentieth century was both the brightest period in the evolutionary journey of humankind and the darkest. Heir to four centuries of discovering what the mind can do, humanity used that growing awareness to virtually end the timeless cycles of famine and epidemics of disease, to invent and mass produce countless labor and lifesaving technologies, and to discover nature’s most intimate secrets. These are magnificent accomplishments. And yet, these same miraculous gifts were placed in the service of chauvinistic ambitions that twice plunged the world into paroxysms of death and destruction on unprecedented scales. This is the great enigma of human existence, its agony and its ecstasy.

Triumph and Tragedy traces the course of the scientific, industrial, and cultural revolutions that set the stage for humanity’s deadliest century. It describes the political movements that sponsored the development of a new generation of weapons enabled by the newly available technologies and how governments mobilized their populations to fight a new kind of war, one dominated by machines. Rare historical photographs bring the story to life and give the personalities a human face. The weapons themselves are shown in brooding, high-resolution detail in a gallery chapter with over a hundred of the author’s award-winning photographs, serving as reminder and metaphor of our brilliance and folly.


Martin Miller has been doing high-resolution photography since 1970, first with 4x5” and 8x10” view cameras then, more recently, with digital cameras in a technique called stitched mosaics. In 2003 he retired from a 31-year career as a research physicist with the US Army Research Laboratory to devote full time to his photography. In 2006 his oeuvre shifted from nature abstracts first to the heavy implements of war and then to weapons of mass destruction, including a major multiyear substudy of the production facilities of the Manhattan project. His photographic work has received international recognition and is currently represented by Galerie Gora in Montreal and Galerie Sakura in Paris.

"As its title suggests, Miller’s blunt, gorgeous photographic history of twentieth century war machines surveys is as pained as it is impressive, as its parade of mighty tanks, planes, cannons, and more—all shot by the author in vivid black and white–stirs both awe at humanity’s power to create and disquiet at its zeal to destroy. “In studying this long sweep of history, one cannot help but be struck by the extreme spasms of violence and destruction that occurred in the twentieth century,” Miller notes, before considering, in several persuasive text chapters, the forces that brought about this era of “unprecedented calamity”: mass production, improved mass transit, crucial cultural and scientific developments, and, fascinatingly, the improvements in public health that allowed populations to surge. 

The third book in a trilogy on twentieth century war weapons (after The Neutron's Long Shadow and Weapons of Mass Destruction), Triumph and Tragedy lays out a clear, compelling history of the development of war technology, with welcome attention paid to the political, economic, and cultural currents powering a series of international arms races before, during, and after the World Wars. Miller appreciates that war machines aren’t produced in a vacuum, and his attention to sneaky business like the self-serving relationship between Bethlehem Steel and the secretary of the U.S. Navy during the Cleveland administration is welcome and clarifying, as is his depiction of the deployment of these weapons by often reckless actors working from perceived national interests.

Miller supplements this rich material with accounts of the changing nature of war, often with telling quotes from the people who lived and died in the shadows of these machines. The star, though, is Miller’s photography, plus a host of well-selected archival images and documents. He offers a succession of marvelous photos, often beautiful and barbarous at once, the killing machines looming and unmanned, the gray bolts, treads and gun barrels mute testament to our ingenuity–and appetite for power." - BookLife Reviews: Editor’s Pick, a book of outstanding quality

"Impressively illustrated and well written examination of the dramatic evolution of conventional weapons during the twentieth century.  Highly recommended." - David R Woodward, author of The American Army and the First World War 

"Supported by a text that sets them in their technological context, these stark and powerful images reveal the immense economic and industrial effort that lay behind the unprecedented violence of the twentieth century." - Paul Cornish, author of Machine Guns and the Great War

"Dr. Miller has written an outstanding narrative that includes background in the arts, literature, music, economics and politics — all necessary to understand the scientific advancements that made modern weapons possible. Furthermore, he has successfully reduced some rather complex scientific concepts to the point they are easily understood by the average reader." - William F. Atwater, Ph.D., Director Emeritus of the U.S. Army Ordnance Museum