The British Army Challenge Book
Reviewed by Stephen Carey
As a Psychiatrist, I often see people for whom the stabilising fins of family, organisational structure, tradition and support have proven insufficient to prevent their boat overturning. And once overturned, a changed and corrosive world view can set in, taking time to correct. More broadly, we all need to be able to navigate the unexpected opportunities and threats we encounter throughout life – and previous practice can indeed help, if not always make perfect.
The British Army Challenge Book is an excellent way of helping us get better at navigating life’s challenges: it provides tests and puzzles to exercise the brain cells, encouraging the development of new pathways and approaches to problems and the best use of existing capability. It also offers its readers a useful insight into the types of skills that are relevant to the British Army.
It starts with a foreword by the Chief of the General Staff that is crisp and analytical, yet warm. It emphasises the need for clear, logical thinking and introduces military-based problems which are intended to sharpen problem-solving skills. It ends with encouragement, to those who have an interest, to further develop these skills.
The formal Introduction is also clear and outlines the five sections: Issues in the Field, Cognitive Tests, Teamwork, Survival, and ending with a final test of planning and decision. It is written, as is the rest of the book, logically and in clear English, with a preliminary explanation regarding how the skills are relevant in the military environment.
Fieldcraft looks at (solid) logical reasoning, (clever) practical puzzles, (subtle) camouflage and night vision pictures, (frustrating) mazes. It ends with some (laborious) map scale calculations. Overall this section is, however, lively and interesting.
Cognitive Tests: the importance of quick, flexible thought is emphasised and a set of Sudokus follow at the end.
Teamwork: standard ground rules of teamwork are stated and are followed by Command Tasks – done in teams and requiring props – some of which seem rather unusual such as making a model out of spaghetti, or the more practical re-arrangement of car tyres onto new poles, in the same order.
Survival: This looks at the ability to think quickly (speed puzzles), communicate securely (code breaking), and includes some tests of sharpness and memory. It ends with tests of knowledge, some better placed in a pub quiz than in a military challenge book. For example, the number of ceremonial counties in England or longest river in the UK.
Planning and Decision-making
Planning and Decision Tests: This provides a comprehensive test of planning and decision-making ability such as that undertaken during employment selection.
In summary, The British Army Challenge Book is as an excellent book: well written, coherent and intellectually stimulating, with problems of varying difficulty and nature. It promotes a clear and positive direction of travel towards greater flexibility of thought, real-time reactivity and further enhancement of mental resilience. As a result the reader helps build up some effective ways to deal with a changing external environment will help retention of that sense of safety and of belonging – an inner core – which many people have.
So, for the price of two Lattes and two Lorne Sausage rolls I would see this book as excellent value. And its long-term benefit to the individual is undoubtedly greater than those sausage rolls.
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