AND THE WINNER IS: MICHAEL KEITH’S TOP TEN BOOKS FOR 2018

Since 1 January 2018 I have placed 27 book reviews onto this site. Not as many as in 2017, but still an interesting range and variety. As those who follow me will be aware, the titles reviewed cover a wide range of subjects and receive varying ratings out of a scale of 1-10, with 1 being very poor and 10 being excellent.

On the basis of the gradings / ratings received, I thought that it would again be fun to list the Top Ten Titles  of 2018. They appear below:

Port of London  (Stone)

Captain Elliot and the Founding of Hong Kong  (Bursay)

River Gunboats (Branfill-Cook)

A Marine Artist’s Portfolio: The nautical paintings of Susanne Fournais (Fournais-Grube)

A History of Birds (Wills)

Escorting the Monarch (Jagger)

Around Britain By Canal: 1000 Miles of Waterways (Burton)

Rebuilding the Welsh Highland Railway: Britain’s Longest Heritage Line (Johnson)

Duel Under The Stars: The Memoir of a Luftwaffe Night Pilot in World War II  (Johnen)

Cathedrals of Britain: North of England & Scotland (Fallon)

Tempting though it might be, and out of respect to both the titles and the authors, I will not be listing those titles which received the poorest ratings. Should you wish to know what these might be, you are, of course, quite welcome to trawl through the individual entries.

A HAPPY NEW YEAR  TO YOU ALL and thanks for visiting this site.

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AND THE WINNER IS: MICHAEL KEITH’S TOP TEN BOOKS FOR 2018

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Rebuilding the Welsh Highland Railway: Britain’s Longest Heritage Line’

85 rebuildign welsh highland railwy

BOOK REVIEW

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  Rebuilding the Welsh Highland Railway: Britain’s Longest Heritage Line

Author: Peter Johnson

Total Number of Pages: 288

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

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On this volume’s dustjacket it is opined that ‘The revival and restoration of the Welsh Highland railway is one of the greatest heritage railway achievements, yet its success followed more than one hundred years of failure’. It is an accurate precis of the content of a well-written and very readable book.

A Sources section placed immediately behind the Contents page lists the many and varied resources used during the volume’s creation., providing, where necessary, additional information concerning both their condition and the reasons for their inclusion.  This is in turn followed by an Acknowledgements section. In it the author details the individuals, publications and organisations which contributed to the creation of the volume. A short section titled Welsh Place Names follows. This clarifies the use of that language within the book. An Introduction follows. This summarises the information contained within the two Parts and nine Chapters which form the main part of this work. The parts titles (Setting the Scene and Rebuilding the Welsh Highland Railway are self-explanatory and cover the history of the line until 2012. The narrative is then updated by a Postscript placed as a subsection of Chapter Nine (The final push), which relates events which occurred in the 2012-2017 period. Eight Appendices follow the Postscript. These are in Table format and present, in visual form, a variety of subjects important to the larger narrative. A single-page Bibliography follows, with a two-page Index completing the volume. The book contains numerous monochrome and colour images. In addition to photographs, these include plans, posters, diagrams and ephemera relative to the narrative. These are informatively captioned and,  where necessary, their sources are noted. There is not mention of the existence of these items on either the Contents page or within the Index. A Map of the railway in its entity appears inside the covers at each end of the volume. Where relevant to the narrative, other maps are  placed within the relevant chapters. Curiously, there is no General Outline Map of Great Britain to place the railway in context. This could prove problematical for potential visitors (especially if they live outside Wales or off shore) as if they don’t know where the railway is, how can it be visited? As with the images etc., the Maps are given no mention in either the Contents page or within the Index. Where quotes appear within the volume, their sources are not given.

For this reviewer this volume is badly let down by its Index. Although in the course of random searching he found many examples where items appearing within the volume did not appear in the Index, one example will suffice; that of Dinas. The Index lists six entries for that location, these being on pages 9,10,21,26, 27, 38.  It contains no entries for pages 113, 114, 116, 118, or 120 where Dinas is also mentioned.  As noted, these latter being found during random searching, there is no way to know what other references to Dinas are also unrecorded. There were numerous similar examples, with the omission of references to both Beyer-Garratts and South Africa (Page 108) being especially noticeable; this on a railway which is unique in Great Britain for its operation of such locomotives. As it cannot be known what else may be missing from the Index, the authority and veracity of that section is inevitably compromised. The lack of an outline Map has already been noted. The volume contains no plans or diagrams of locomotives, rolling stock or infrastructure,

In precis this volume is of the ‘Company history’ genre. This reviewer found it to be well-researched, well-written, eminently readable and interesting. While not ‘perfect’ it is an excellent introduction to the Welsh Highland. When combined with Pen and Sword’s recently-published works on the Festiniog Railway (the Welsh Highland Railway’s parent / owner) it forms a valuable resource on a unique narrow gauge railway system.

Unsurprisingly, this volume will inevitably appeal to the ‘Welsh Highland enthusiast’ members of the railway fraternity. Readers with a specific interest in Welsh narrow Gauge Railways are also likely to find it worthy of their attention. However, it is also likely to have a wider appeal, especially amongst holiday-makers seeking a souvenir of their visit to the railway. Railway historians and railway enthusiasts of a more ‘generalist’ nature may also find it of interest. The volume’s photographs could also be useful to railway modellers interested in the Welsh Highland specifically, and Welsh narrow gauge railways in general.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Rebuilding the Welsh Highland Railway: Britain’s Longest Heritage Line’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Armistice and the Aftermath: The Story in Art’

84. ARMISTACE AND ART

BOOK REVIEW

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  The Armistice and the Aftermath: The Story in Art

Author:  John Fairley

Total Number of Pages: 192

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7½

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When describing this volume’s content,  a note on its dustjacket states that ‘…The Armistice and the Aftermath…brings together in one book a superb collection of the most epic paintings of the [World War I] era. The result, with informed and perceptive commentary is a unique record of those momentous days…’ It is an accurate summary of what is to follow.

The volume consists of 40 Chapters, these appearing immediately after the two page Contents section. There are none of the usual introductory sections one would expect to find within such a volume as this. While each Chapter nominally contains at least one full-page art work, in at least one instance (The Wartime Leaders, Chapter Forty), the image is out of sequence and appears before the section rather than within it. As it loses a certain relevance by doing-so, the reasons for this ‘displacement’ are unknown. While the majority of art works within the volume are from British, French or American artists, pieces by German artists also appear. The works displayed are in a variety of media, and are accompanied by an informative narrative. By this means, the reader is taken through the last year of the War, the first years of the Peace, while being introduced to important individuals, groups and occasions while so-doing. Where appropriate to the narrative, eyewitness descriptions also appear. It must however be noted that in some instances (and again for unknown reasons), the author of this volume does not consider it necessary to specifically name each plate within the text which accompanies it. In such situations he prefers to allude to it rather than name it specifically. Chapter 12 (Peace in the Mediterranean) is a case in point. Although four images appear within that Chapter, at no time are they specifically named; referred-to certainly, but not actually named. In addition, in several instances, the images that appear within a specific Chapter are not even mentioned within the text that supposedly relates to them.  They are instead used as vehicles to present the artist’s thoughts on the events which prompted their eventual creation. The images of HMS Mantis on the Tigris and The Navy at Baghdad  which appear in Chapter 11 (Peace in the Middle East), are but two such examples of this practice. Neither image is mentioned within the text, but the wartime reminiscences of their creator (David Maxwell) are. On the basis of the above, a reader expecting a detailed description of the individual images and their creation is likely to be disappointed. Most, but not all, of the images are captioned, the information provided tending-to consist of the individual piece’s title and the name of the creating artist. It was however noted there were several exceptions to this rule. An Appendix (The Armistice Terms) follows Chapter 40. Its title is self-explanatory. The Appendix is in turn followed by the volume’s final section titled Picture Credits. The title is self-explanatory but while naming the sources of the images, it also lists the pages within the volume on which they appear. This book contains neither Maps nor Index, and aside from the previously-mentioned Picture Credits section, the Contents pages contain no mention of those images which appear within the volume. Numerous unsourced Quotes appear throughout the work. Without supporting citations, their authenticity is inevitably under question; they might just as well be imaginary. A Glossary would have been of value: what for instance is Post Expressionist Painting (page 169)?

While this is a most-informative volume, for this reviewer it is let down by the total absence of an Index. As a result, a reader has no way of knowing which artists and individuals are mentioned within the book; which artistic works are represented, which geographical locations are mentioned, or which military actions have been recorded or commented-on. In the absence of such information, he believes it is both unreasonable and time-consuming to expect a reader to have to search through the volume’s 192 pages in a possibly-fruitless attempt to locate a specific individual, piece of art, geographical location or event. In his opinion this is a major failing, which serves to significantly-reduce the volume’s usefulness. The lack of Maps is also unhelpful as it gives a reader neither context nor location for the events mentioned within the narrative. Although the lack of citations for Quotes has been previously-mentioned, the presence of undefined terms is also unhelpful. What (for example) is ‘…The local Murdoch newspaper (page 165)? Who / what, was ‘Murdoch’? Why is he / it associated with a newspaper? In the absence of clarifying detail, such a statement is, at minimum, baffling, and to many, the reasons being unexplained, probably totally incomprehensible.

As the focus of this volume is on art, the works appearing within its pages are likely to be of interest to aficionados of such matters, while Historians and ‘Generalist’ readers with an interest in World War I may also find it of interest. As they portray contemporary military machinery, it is also possible that military modellers might find some of the images useful as reference material.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 7½.

It should have been much higher.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Armistice and the Aftermath: The Story in Art’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Around Britain By Canal: 1,000 Miles of Waterways’

83 Around Britain by canal

BOOK REVIEW

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  Around Britain By Canal: 1,000 Miles of Waterways

Author:  Anthony Burton

Total Number of Pages: 200

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

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In Chapter 1 of this volume, the author observes that ‘Canals are one of the great loves of my life’. As a result, (and on 13 March 1975), he, together with three companions (one a ‘Daytripper’) set off on a six-week long tour of Britain’s canal system. His intention was ‘…To do a continuous [canal] tour with as little doubling-up as possible, and to cover as wide an area as [he] could’.  This volume is the result.

This book is a reprint and update of an earlier work (date of publication unknown). Accordingly, the single-page Preface placed after the volume’s Contents page provides both technological and historical updates to cover the 43 years since the original journey was undertaken. The Preface is in turn followed by the 17 Chapters which constitute the main part of the book. Within these, the reader is taken on a journey along many of Britain’s canals, and while so-doing is introduced into unique locations, individuals, circumstances and history. While the Canals are, by analogy, the base upon-which everything else rests, it is nonetheless a most excellent base for a totally idiosyncratic meander along and around Britain’s hidden canal-based and influenced byways.  The volume is well-written; the author a raconteur of some ability and the result is a delightful ‘wander’ along largely-neglected paths. An Index completes the volume. The book contains numerous colour images. Although a note in the Preface indicates that these were taken by one Phillip Lloyd (one of the author’s travelling companions), no notes to that effect accompany the individual images. Each image is captioned but the latter vary in both length and information. Curiously, the first two words of each caption are highlighted. The reason for this is unknown. No Maps are provided.

For this reviewer, this book was let down in several areas, most noticeably by the Index.  When reviewing this volume, this reviewer had cause to randomly search that section for information on subjects within the book which he found of interest. On Page 84 (for example) he sought Index references for Scaris-brook, Southport, Henry III and Johnsons Hillocks. None were found. A subsequent search for other ‘interesting’ words produced similar results, while the Index entry for Rose Skinner, although noting her as appearing on pages 138-140, ignores her photograph on page 143. There were many similar examples. As there is no way to know what else may be missing, the authority and veracity of the Index is inevitably compromised. As previously-noted, the volume contains no Maps. In their absence, a reader can have no idea about the geographical locations under discussion. A General Ordinance Map of Great Britain (or even a simple outline map showing the route travelled), would have been very helpful. Readers with no ‘local knowledge’, may well find this omission frustrating. Interpretative diagrams of both a Narrow Boat and Lock Operations would also have been useful.

This volume is likely to appeal to several different readerships. It is, ultimately, a travelogue and will no doubt interest some on that basis.  Due to the passage of time, it is also an ‘historic document; and as a result could be of use to Historians, particularly those with an interest in late Twentieth-Century commerce, water-borne transportation and, specifically, British canals. Canals and canal boating enthusiasts will, of course, find the volume of interest, while those who enjoy ‘Messing about in boats’ may also find something within its covers to entertain them. Readers seeking images of some of the more obscure parts of Britain may also find those within this book of interest.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Around Britain By Canal: 1,000 Miles of Waterways’