BOOK REVIEW: ‘COMBAT AIRCRAFT OF THE UNITED STATES AIR FORCE: RARE PHOTOGRAPHS FROM WARTIME ARCHIVES’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  Combat Aircraft of the United States Air Force: Rare Photographs from Wartime Archives

Author: Michael Green

Total Number of  Pages: 196

Total Number of Printed Pages: 72

Total Number of Photographic Pages: 124

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent) 3

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The United States Air Force (USAF) is currently the world’s most powerful air arm and performs a wide variety of tasks in a variety of locations around the globe. It has a long and colourful history, and has operated many different types of aircraft since its inception.  It has many admirers, amongst them the author of this volume.

This book is a soft-cover work of the ‘Aviation Monograph’ genre, and is essentially a ‘picture book’ of photographs, accompanied by a small amount of text. It is both a written and visual history of the USAF. The photographs it contains are from the author’s collection, although the majority are originally sourced from USAF archives, a fact that the author acknowledges. The volume is divided into six separate chapters, with each of these covering a specific time period. A well-researched and well-written section appears at the beginning of each chapter. Within this section the relevant information is presented under appropriately-worded subheadings. The written section is in turn followed by a photographic section showing aircraft of the era, the majority of these images being in colour. The photographs are clear and crisp, the colour images especially-so. The photographs appear to have been professionally-taken, and provide a level of detail and quality that few amateurs can match. If photographs (especially colour photographs) of USAF aeroplanes are what the purchaser requires, then this book will have few equals. The volume contains a Contents section together with a Dedication, Foreword, Acknowledgments and Notes to the Reader. There is however no Index, nor or a list of the aircraft-types that appear within its covers.  For those interested in a once-over-lightly review of the USAF and pictures of its aircraft, it is unlikely that the lack of the latter will be of any consequence.

However, the serious aviation enthusiast may not find this volume especially useful. As this reviewer has a  long-standing interest in the USAF, he was attracted  to the work by its promise of ‘Rare Photographs From Wartime Archives’, and the expectation that he would see some previously-unknown World War II images.

While there certainly were images from WWII, to this reviewer they were neither rare nor new.  In addition, although Chapter 3 is the section of this volume that specifically deals with USAF operations during WWII,  of the 60 images it contains, only 24 were actually taken during that period; the remaining 36 being Twenty-first Century photographs of preserved aircraft.  In the absence of the promised ‘Rare Photographs From Wartime Archives’ this reviewer felt that the title misrepresented its subject.  In this specific case it promised much, but did not deliver.

In precis, this work is something of a mixed bag; it has beautiful photographs (especially colour ones) and a well-researched and well-written text. As such it would be useful as an introduction to its subject, although whether or not it would be useful to serious students of the USAF will depend on individual assessments of its content. However, it also promises what it does not deliver, namely ‘ Rare Photographs From Wartime Archives’, a situation which this reviewer finds unacceptable. Were that it were not so.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I would give it a 3.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘COMBAT AIRCRAFT OF THE UNITED STATES AIR FORCE: RARE PHOTOGRAPHS FROM WARTIME ARCHIVES’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘THE INGENIOUS VICTORIANS: WEIRD AND WONDERFUL IDEAS FROM THE AGE OF INNOVATION’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: The Ingenious Victorians: Weird and Wonderful Ideas from the Age of Innovation

Author: John Wade

Total Number of Printed Pages: 288

Total Number of Illustrations: 139

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 8

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Many years ago, when discussing Victorian ‘inventiveness’ this reviewer was told that ‘The Victorians didn’t know something couldn’t be done, so went ahead  and did it anyway’. That, in essence, summarises this volume; the things that Victorians did because they didn’t know they couldn’t.

The author defines the ‘Victorian era’ as being the period 1837-1891 when Queen Victoria was Monarch  of both Great Britain and the lager British Empire,  this work  naturally tending to concentrate on the eccentricities, successes and failures of ‘inventive’ residents of Great Britain during this time.  As a result, the reader is introduced to such worthies as the builder of the Crystal Palace, the many inventors of the phonograph, and those involved in the design and construction of both Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament in London.  Many other individuals, some perhaps eccentric, who did feats of daring do during this period, also make their appearance  In addition, the subjects covered include such wonders as the world’s biggest camera, electric submarines and London’s well-known Cleopatra’s Needle. Although largely Anglo-centric in its focus, inventors and creations from Germany, France and the United States of America also make their appearance, their relevance to the topic under discussion being explained clearly and objectively.

This book is well written in a clear, easily-read and informative style. It consists of an Introduction, followed by 28 Chapters, each focusing on a specific subject. Within the individual chapter, photographs and engraved images provide visual reference to the subject under discussion. A Bibliography and Index are also provided, while the sources of the images used within the work are noted in a separate Picture Credits section.

Within this volume’s covers, and on the basis of its title, this reviewer expected to find examples of ‘Victorian Inventiveness and Ingenuity’ from both the United Kingdom itself, and from within the larger British Empire. The Victorian ‘Age of Innovation’ was, after all, a time where, as already noted, ‘The Victorians didn’t know something couldn’t be done, so went ahead and did it anyway’. In this expectation he was disappointed, finding instead that the work had a very definite United Kingdom, European and North American focus.

In addition (and despite the title) the work ignores Victorian inventiveness in the field of international commerce. In this reviewer’s opinion, the absence of such items (of which there were many) reduces its appeal and potential audience. Rather than being an authoritative discourse celebrating the inventiveness that saw Victorian Ingenuity accomplish the impossible in many parts of the world, the volume is inclined toward the ‘quirky’ rather than the practical. What results is essentially a narrative of curiousities and oddities.

There will undoubtedly be those who will purchase this work on the basis of the ‘oddities’ that it contains. Such buyers will be seeking a detailed recitation of the more eccentric aspects of the Victorian era, and for them this volume will serve that purpose well. Despite the emphasis on the ‘unusual’, purchasers seeking examples of commercial ‘Victorian Ingenuity’ could also find some of the information of use. Ultimately and despite the promise inherent within the title, for this reviewer, the eccentric has triumphed over the innovative and while the result is an interesting treatise, it could have been so very, very much more.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I would give it an 8.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘THE INGENIOUS VICTORIANS: WEIRD AND WONDERFUL IDEAS FROM THE AGE OF INNOVATION’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘THE RHODESIAN WAR FIFTY YEARS ON’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  The Rhodesian War Fifty Years On

Author:  Paul Moorcroft and Peter McLaughlin

Total Number of Pages: 208

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent)

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It is rare to find an academic work that is readable. It is even rarer to find an academic work that is readable, well-written and objective. By those criteria, The Rhodesian War Fifty Years On is a rare book indeed. It is a delight to read, being well-written and well-researched, and, most importantly, objective in its narrative.

The volume is an upgraded reprint of a title originally published in 1982 as Chimurenga, a fact reflected in the provision of additional preface and analysis sections at the front of the work. It is comprehensive, well-researched and authoritative in its narrative and chronicles the Rhodesian / Zimbabwean conflict from that country’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) in 1965, to the cessation of hostilities in 1979. In addition, it also records Zimbabwean history for the period 1980-2015, during-which time this once-prosperous nation gradually acquired ‘failed-state’ status. The ‘Rhodesian’ conflict was a nasty little war with a pre-ordained conclusion and, at one level could be simply seen as European colonialism’s last gasp in Africa. Such was not in fact the situation and the work records the rise and fall of various personalities, the changing allegiances and alliances and the unique military tactics that were developed in response to an increasingly-untenable military situation. The conflict was also one of invasion and counter-invasion and of intrigues and modified ideologies where the protagonists could be simultaneously in conflict while working in harmony.  It was very definitely not a ‘little war within a little country’, but rather one in which a small nation punched high above its weight and in ways un-thought of and considered impossible by larger powers. As a feat of arms it was unique. As a political event it was ultimately, for some of the protagonists, a disaster.

All of these events, and many more besides, are carefully recorded in this work, which has to be worthy of the appellation ‘Classic’. The authors describe the events and the sub-conflicts within the larger war in detail, with care and, most notably, with objectivity and complete impartiality. It is a refreshing change.

The work is arranged in four main sections, with subsections appearing within these. Maps, tactical illustrations and photographs also appear within the work, together with two Prefaces, a Prologue, a Glossary, a Select Bibliography and an Index. Zimbabwean history for the period 1980-2015 is contained in a separate section, as are the authors’ biographical details. The need for anonymity means that quotes and the majority of photographs are unsourced.

In this reviewer’s opinion, this work will appeal to several groups of readers. On one level it will be of use to military personnel interested in tactics and responses to specific military situations and exigencies, while historians and war-gamers will also find the information it contains useful. In addition to these special interest groups (and because it explains ‘the reasons why’), this work could be of immense value to those expatriate- Rhodesians who may still be wondering why events occurred as they did. If only for that reason, this little volume would be invaluable. That it manages to do so much more, clearly, concisely and objectively must inevitably earn it the appellation ‘Classic’. In the opinion of this reviewer, that is a designation well–deserved.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I would give it a 9½.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘THE RHODESIAN WAR FIFTY YEARS ON’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Rails Across Australia: A Journey Through the Continent’.

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Reviewer: N Z Crown Mines

Title: Rails Across Australia: A Journey Through the Continent

Author: David Cable

Total No. of Pages: 258

Colour Pages: 248

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): Photographs: 8; The overall volume: 4.

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The volume Rails Across Australia: A Journey Through the Continent by David Cable, is of the genre known as ‘Enthusiasts’ picture books’ and contains 248 colour images of Australian trains and locomotives; some in preservation, but most in operating situations in a wide variety of locations across the continent.   The author travelled widely while resident in Australia, taking numerous photographs when doing so. He is a very competent photographer and some of the images can only be described as ‘stunning’. My personal favourite within the book is the ‘outback picture of ‘BHP CW60AC 6071 Chichester …pass Goldsworthy Junction …etc.’ (it’s a long caption) on page 142. This image is quintessentially ‘Australian’ in its content of blue sky, red dirt and a very, very long train. As an example of Mr. Cable’s photographic abilities it is excellent.

On this basis alone, some will find it worth purchasing.

However, the volume does have drawbacks, some major, some minor, with the most obvious a complete lack of maps of any sort. As a result, unless the reader is familiar with Australia and its railways, the locations and captions are largely meaningless.  As if this was not enough, no key is provided for the numerous abbreviations that appear within the work; again rendering them of little value. The reader should not have to guess what is meant.

The order of the photographs is also perplexing as it seems to follow no rhyme or reason. Locomotives and trains from different states are frequently placed opposite each other, rather than within sections applicable to their home railway systems and states. There is no apparent order for the locations. To this reviewer, it would have been logical to start with Queensland (in the north east of the country) and follow the population centres around until finally reaching Western Australia. This has not been done, reducing the volume’s usefulness.

The work has no Index, with the result being that should a specific location, train or locomotive be sought, a search through the entire volume becomes necessary; a very time-consuming and frustrating exercise.  There is no Table of Contents.

In precis, the images within this work are beautiful, the photography superb, and if that is what the purchaser is seeking, they will be well-satisfied. If however, a buyer is seeking some sort of ‘authoritative’ work (if only for random ‘dipping-type’ searching), then this work may not be what they require.

The inclusion of the additional items (Maps, Abbreviation Key etc.) could have made this work so much more; its potential may have been compromised by their absence.

On a rating scale of 1-10 where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I would give the photographs an 8, the overall volume, 4.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Rails Across Australia: A Journey Through the Continent’.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Britains Toy Soldiers: The History and Handbook 1893-2013’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: Britains Toy Soldiers: The History and Handbook 1893-2013

Author: James Opie

Total Number of Printed Pages: 480

Total Number of Photographs: 400

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent):  8

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The hobby of ‘collecting’ is widespread and can range from full-size machinery to very minute items. Almost anything can be ‘collected. If the interest is sufficient and the collecting fraternity large enough, eventually ‘learned tomes’ are written about the subject. Such works can cover all and any aspects of the hobby, and can themselves be worthy of collecting; if only for the sheer volume and detail of their contents.

It is this reviewer’s opinion that James Opie’s Britains Toy Soldiers: The History and handbook 1893-2013 falls into this latter category; it’s comprehensiveness and encyclopaedic detail ensuring that it is worthy of attention on its own merit.

As will be evident from the title, this volume is essentially a history of Britains Ltd., internationally-renowned makers of the small-scale figures known colloquially as ‘Toy’ soldiers.  Britains do however make other figures and objects and these (and the aforementioned soldiers) are covered within the eight chapters (and a separate sub-chapter) which comprise the majority of this work’s pages.   The author believes that there have been seven separate stages in the evolution of the Britains organisation and its models. He designates these stages ‘Ages’ and uses them to form the basis for the volume’s seven main chapters.  Within each chapter the company’s activities during that time are detailed and the models created during that period, critiqued. The previously mentioned sub-chapter (2a) investigates in detail the many variations of a specific series within the larger Britains range of models. In addition (and to quote the author) , Chapter 8 provides ‘…An encyclopaedic glossary of subjects…that are of interest to Britains collectors’. It is a fair summary.  The work also contains a Foreword, an Introduction, a Bibliography, an Appendix and an Index. Four hundred high-quality photographs are also provided.  Regrettably, the Foreword, although subtitled Auctioneering, does not detail the Auctioneering process, but rather describes the author’s experiences as an auctioneer of both toy collections and Britains figures. As it broadly outlines what the author’s activities consist of, some readers may find it of interest.

That the author knows his subject is very evident, yet it is precisely that knowledge which caused this reviewer difficulties. The work contains an incredible amount of detail, with the photographs acting as aid memoirs for the text. The information appears to be accurate and as noted, it is both comprehensive and encyclopaedic. However, the sheer volume of information tends to overwhelm the casual reader, to the extent that it is almost information  ‘overload’. This is very definitely not a volume for light reading; but is rather (as with many encyclopaedia-type books), a work which can be dipped-into when seeking specific information about a specific item. Used in that manner, this volume will be a work of great value.

This reviewer believes that this work is very-much in the ‘niche market’ category and as such will be invaluable to any specialist collector of Britain’s material. In that context, it may well become a classic, and perhaps even a ‘Collectable’ in its own right. To a lesser extent, researchers interested in toy-history and toy companies may also find it of use. The information it contains notwithstanding, it is probable that the average reader will however only read it for its curiosity value. This is unfortunate, but is a fate not unknown for similar works in other fields.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I would give it an 8.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Britains Toy Soldiers: The History and Handbook 1893-2013’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘ENDLESS STORY: DESTROYER OPERATIONS IN THE GREAT WAR’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  Endless Story: Destroyer Operations in the Great War

Author: ‘Taffrail’ (Tapprell Dorling)

Total Number of Pages: 452

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent) 8

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This reviewer has over the years, read many volumes of history, and is of the opinion that they come in three distinct and discernible categories. Some (indeed, the majority) are boring, some are mildly interesting, and some are exciting; Endless Story is in the latter category.

In precis, this volume (which is a reprint of the 1931 original, with an additional Introduction to compliment that originally supplied), describes the operations of Royal Navy Destroyer-type warships (including Patrol Boats, Torpedo Boats) during the First World War. It is done well and with authority. The book is essentially a collection of anecdotes and stories (all true), rather than the more usual ‘formal’ historical narratives one would expect to find.  The anecdotes / stories are from both the author and other naval personnel who were active on Royal Navy Destroyers during World War I. These are placed against a background of the historical circumstances to which the speakers are referring. Where necessary, these are in turn reinforced by quotes from Official Histories or from autobiographies written by Senior Officers within the service.  This is an unusual method of recording and presenting ‘history’ and refreshing because of that fact. It is also presented in a very readable manner, and as the author knows his subject well, records the highs and lows (both personal and tactical) that accompanied Royal Navy Destroyer operations during the 1914-1918 period.  As would be expected, specific actions are recorded, with this reviewer finding the descriptions relating to Gallipoli especially interesting.  Chapters devoted to Australian naval operations in the Papua New Guinea region and American Destroyer activities in the Northern Hemisphere also made for fascinating reading. The ‘military’ part of this work ends with a detailed description of the Zeebrugge Raid of 23 April 1918. There is however a following chapter which outlines in depth and detail the development of the Destroyer-type vessel and describes the attributes of the various classes of these types of vessels.

As previously-noted this work is a reproduction of the 1931-published original, and has been provided with a New Introduction which is largely biographical in nature. The rest of the volume is composed of 26 Chapters, four Appendices, a List of Illustrations, a Bibliography,  an Acknowledgements section and an Index. As would be expected, the List of Illustrations details the eight photographic images that appear within the work. Curiously, the diagrams and maps which accompany many of the chapters are also listed within this section.

In this reviewer’s opinion, this work will be of value at several levels. For the naval enthusiast (especially those with specific interests in Royal Navy Destroyers and their operations) it provides technical information concerning Destroyer activities by during World War I. For the Naval Historian it provides personal, first hand details about specific battles and engagements (some of them little known), while for the generalist-historian interested in British naval operations it provides ‘meat’ to engagements large and small, providing the small details against the larger and wider military background of the War itself, the previously-mentioned Gallipoli Campaign being but one example.

As this work was originally published in 1931, its format and content are reflective of publishing practices of that time.  On that basis, this reviewer found it difficult to critique and compare these with those of the Twenty-first Century, but would note that some readers could find the images and maps less-numerous and smaller in size than they may be used to.

In conclusion, this work is rightly considered to be a classic of naval history and it would be of use to anyone interested in the Destroyer-type activities of the Royal Navy and its allied services during World War I.  It will be of value to those professional and amateur historians with an interest in ‘Things naval’ and the conflicts in Europe, the Middle East and the Southern Hemisphere during the period 1914-1918. In this reviewer’s opinion, it would be a valuable addition to the collection of anyone interested in such matters.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I would give it an 8.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘ENDLESS STORY: DESTROYER OPERATIONS IN THE GREAT WAR’