Book Review: ‘Narrow Gauge Railway Stamps’*

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Narrow Gauge Railway Stamps*

Author: Howard Piltz

Total Number of Printed Pages: 64

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 6

* The title is disputed

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The Introduction to this work contains a subsection titled Coming Together with Works of Art. Within the latter, the author notes ‘…That in stamps one could find the wonderful combination of transport history told within a glorious gallery of miniature works of art’. It is a fair summation of what is to follow.

An Introduction appears behind the Contents page. Within the former the author uses subsections to provide details about himself; the reasons behind the creation of the work and the volume’s format and content. An interpretation of relevant philatelic terms is also given.  Confusingly (and at a point seven pages into the Introduction section) a separate four page section titled Narrow Gauge Railways appears. Bearing the page numbers 13 – 16, it is in turn followed by pages 17-20 of the Introduction section. As the Contents page indicates that a section titled Narrow Gauge Railways starts on page 13 and is in turn followed by another section titled The British Isles on page 20, some confusion results. The volume contains no Chapters per se’. There are instead nine un-numbered Sections (including the Introduction) which fulfil that function. Six of these Sections form the focus of the volume. Placed in its centre, these are arranged in respect of geographical land masses, with The British Isles, Asia and The Americas being but three such examples. Subsections within each geographical area name specific nations, provide images of their stamps, then precis’ their postal history and that of their railway systems. A final section (titled Collecting) is placed at the rear of the volume. This discusses the rationale behind stamp collecting (albeit with a focus on the specific topic of Railway stamps), and is accompanied by a subsection titled Looking after Stamps, the latter’s title being self-explanatory. No Index, Bibliography or Maps appear within the book. As one would expect, the volume is illustrated by images of all sorts of trains on postage stamps. The range is wide and includes examples from all parts of the globe and both ‘working’ units and those that have been preserved. Some stamps appear individually, some as part of a larger set. With one exception (on page 25) none are captioned and the Contents page carries no mention of their existence.

Regrettably, if asked to describe this volume on one word, this reviewer would have to say ‘Confused’. In addition to the previously-noted ‘Insertion’ of one section within another, the author of this volume is seemingly unable to decide its purpose. Is it a book about stamps? Is it one about trains, horses (as per the image appearing on page 25), or is it in fact something else – and if so, what? To compound this ‘difficulty’, the volume also appears to have an alternative title, albeit one which may in fact hint at its actual purpose. While both the Cover and Title pages state unequivocally that the volume is called Narrow Gauge Railway Stamps, the Page Header on the left-hand (even) pages throughout the volume inform the reader that the title is in fact Narrow Gauge Railway Stamps – a Collector’s Guide. Which is correct? There is no way to know, although the reviewer suspects that the Header-title may be the more accurate of the two available options. The images of pristine envelopes, First Day Covers and proof blocks of stamps with which the volume is illustrated would seem to reinforce the possibility.  The lack of both an Index and a Map also adds to the confusion; the reader having to both guess where specific nations actually might be, while having no certainty that they have even been included within the work. Readers seeking images of specific trains are similarly doomed to what could be ultimately-fruitless searching. Railway ‘Enthusiasts’ interested in technical specifications or seeking a ‘learned treatise’ on motive power etc. will also be disappointed.  And the previously-mentioned, horse?  Apparently a winner of an ‘English’ horse race (the ‘Grand National’) in 1983, it was named after a lighthouse located at Corbiere on the island of Jersey (appearing as a background within the stamp). Although Corbiere was the terminus of a now-extinct narrow gauge railway, the connection between animal and railway is (at best), very tenuous.

Although Philatelists are its primary focus, readers interested in the more exotic permutations of ‘trains’, may also find it of interest, with even children perhaps getting pleasure from viewing Thomas’ relatives. Despite the images being stamp-centred, readers who just want ‘nice’ pictures of trains might also find it worthy of their attention. Artists with an interest in ‘Things railway’, might also find the volume a useful resource.

On a Rating Scale where Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 6.

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Book Review: ‘Narrow Gauge Railway Stamps’*

BOOK REVIEW: ‘World Naval Review 2018’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: World Naval Review 2018

Editor: Conrad Waters

No. of Pages: 192

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 7

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To look forwards it is sometimes necessary to look back and although its’ title suggests this volume is a review of ‘things naval’ for 2018, in fact it isn’t. Rather, by virtue of being written and published in 2017, it is a ‘forecast’ of what the editor and his associates believe will be likely to happen militarily on the world’s oceans during 2018. It is simultaneously both a review and a preview.

The volume has no Chapters per se’ but consists of four Sections which function in a similar manner. Each section deals with a specific subject (for example World Fleet Reviews; Section 2; Technological Reviews; Section 4), and within each Section subsections provide more detail about a specific part of the aforementioned section. In many instances these subsections contain even smaller sections which fulfil the same function and provide even greater detail; the subsection Singapore, which forms part of the Regional Review – Asia and the Pacific (Section 2.2) of Section 2 World Fleet Reviews, being a case in point.  Within each larger Section (Chapter) the subsections follow a Section-specific numbering sequence. In Section 4 (For example), the sequence is 4.1; 4.2; 4.3 etc.  Where additional information is necessary, notes are provided at the end of the individual Sections (Chapters). These are keyed to sequentially-occurring and chapter-specific numbers within the text. The previously-mentioned subsections have been contributed by a variety of authors (Eight in total), these individuals being evidently experts in their fields. The Editor has contributed an Introduction along with various articles throughout the volume. A single-page Contributors section placed after Sub-section 4.4 is the volume’s final section. Numerous photos from a variety of sources appear throughout the book, together with tables, graphs, half-tone and line drawings. No mention of their existence appears on the Contents page. Surprisingly (for a volume which presents itself as being ‘authoritative’ on its subject), there is no Index, a detail which makes searching for a specific item difficult, there being no guarantee that what is being searched-for will even be located.  Such an omission is surprising and must inevitably reduce this book’s value and usefulness. Numerous acronyms are scattered throughout the volume, yet no central Glossary is provided to enable quick reference to their meanings should the need arise. Despite publication-sources being referred-to within each Section-end Notes section, there is also no stand-alone Bibliography. No Maps are provided.

While the lack of a Glossary, Maps and evidence of Photographs etc. is a cause for concern, for this reviewer, the complete lack of an Index in an otherwise authoritative and well-written volume is a major failure. The purpose of an Index is to be able to locate specific information quickly and easily, the corollary being that its absence must make information-location both slow and difficult. As already noted, searching through this volume confirms the corollary’s premise! Where quick reference could be crucial, to have to fruitlessly search through innumerable pages could, at minimum, be farcical…

The provision of an Index in future editions of this title is strongly recommended.

The Index and other limitations notwithstanding, this volume provides a comprehensive coverage of the contemporary international naval scene. On that basis it is likely to find a home on many military bookshelves, while readers with ties to the defence industry could also find it useful. Naval and aviation modellers interested in ‘modern’ naval equipment   may also find that this volume of use, while civilian readers with a more general interest in naval and military matters, international relations, or ships in general, may also find it worthy of their attention. .

In precis, this is an excellent, comprehensive and well-written book. For this reviewer however, it was let down by the small but important details, especially in respect of the Index.

On a rating scale of 1-10 where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I would give this volume a 7.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘World Naval Review 2018’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘ A History of Birds’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  A History of Birds

Author: Simon Wills

Total Number of Pages: 180

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

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In the final paragraph of this volume’s Introduction, the author writes the following: ‘The world would be a miserable place without birds, and in this book I hope to show how the relationship between us and our avian counterparts has evolved. Our modern attitudes are very much shaped by our ancestor’s beliefs and experiences’. It is an excellent precis of the book’s content.

In addition to the afore-mentioned paragraph, the Introduction also discusses the place that birds have played in human society throughout the centuries. It is followed by an Acknowledgements section, within-which those who assisted with this volume are thanked. The 30 sections which comprise the majority of the volume follow. The book contains no Chapters per se’, but rather Sections devoted to individual bird types. These are unnumbered, but include both the common (Blackbird) and the exotic (Flamingo). Although not stated, the qualification for inclusion with this volume seems to be that at some stage such birds have either been resident in the British Isles or are familiar parts of British culture (the Ostrich being a case in point). Within each Section, the reader is introduced to the subject, and given details of both its behaviour and its place in British and European legend and folklore. Subsections enclosed in boxes within each section provide additional, frequently-idiosyncratic details about the bird-type under discussion.  The Seagull on Stage (page 67) is one such example.  Where appropriate, the author includes personal reminiscences about the bird he is describing. The volume contains numerous illustrations. These are largely photographic in nature and comprise both monochrome and colour images. However, where required by the narrative, there are also reproductions of etchings, drawings, manuscripts and trademarks. While the sources of some of these photographs / images etc. are noted, many do not provide that detail. The Index and Contents pages contain no reference to the existence of illustrations within the work.  Numerous quotes also appear throughout the volume. Regrettably these lack source-citations, and as a result their authenticity must inevitably be questioned. A two-page Index completes the volume. Despite the fact that some species are range-specific while others migrate over considerable distances, the book contains no Maps.

That this volume is readable and well-researched is very evident. This reviewer does however have reservations concerning the Index. During the review process, words were randomly sought from within the Index.  Included were such terms as Publius Claudius Pulcher (page 13), Ostrich Racing (page 104) and Heyhoe (page 176).  No Index entry was found for any of these terms. In addition, although the Index noted that the term Falconry appeared on pages 34 and 71-72, that term also appeared on pages 126 and 127. Why the latter entries were omitted is unknown. As these were the results of random Index searches; what else may be missing cannot be known.

As already noted this volume is readable and well-researched. Despite the previously noted ‘limitations’, it is likely to have wide reader appeal. ‘Bird lovers’ of all persuasions and interest-levels are likely to find it a delight and it could well become a standard reference work with their libraries.  Readers who simply see a bird and want to learn about it, are also likely to find this volume of use. The unusual information it contains may also appeal to the compilers of ‘Pub-quiz’ competitions, while visual artists could find the photographs a useful resource.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume an 8.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘ A History of Birds’