BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Grimy 1800s: Waste, Sewage & Sanitation In The Nineteenth Century’

120. GRIMY BRITAIN

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: The Grimy 1800s: Waste, Sewage & Sanitation In The Nineteenth Century

Author: Andre’ Gren

Number of Pages: 117

Rating Scale (1: Very poor, 10 Excellent): 4

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When writing in this volume’s Introduction, the author notes that ‘Thus book does not attempt to offer an authoritative account of the reasons for the growth in  Britain’s population in the nineteenth century [sic] but concentrates instead on the consequences of that growth and the increasing need for what was called ‘nuisance control’. The result is a ‘…Series of snapshots from Britain, which was struggling to cope with rampant population growth and urbanization…’ It is a fair summary of what is to follow.

Within the volume, an Acknowledgements section placed immediately behind the Contents pages thanks those individuals and organisations who assisted in this book’s creation. The volume’s Introduction follows and précis the 14 Chapters which form its largest section. These now appear. With the exception of Chapter 1 (Nuisance Control and Removal in NineteenthCentury Britain), which provides a general background concerning the legislation which is about to be discussed, each of these is devoted to a specific subject. The subjects are diverse and range from Grime: Wells, Drains and Discharges (Chapter 3), to Human Waste: Water Closets and Shrimps (Chapter 8) to Burial Grounds (Chapter 14). Essentially, if it involved ‘Dirt’ in any form it will be discussed. The Chapters themselves follow an interesting format, and, for this reviewer, reveal a major flaw.  In respect of the format, within each Chapter, several specific Bills relevant to the subject under discussion are presented. These relate to specific locations. As part of the legislative process, the sites to which specific Bill related were visited by a Committee of Review; the intention being to obtain local feedback to what was proposed by the legislation. The volume is essentially a collection of the responses by local officials to that process. A small Table placed below each Bill subheading, shows the population growth of the area concerned. A section titled Conclusion follows Chapter 14 (Burial Grounds), and as the title suggests, acts as a summary of what has gone before. This is followed by three Appendices. These are variously of Table and Column format and cover Population Growth (Appendix 1), Occupations of  the Witnesses (Appendix 2) and Locations to Which the Evidence Secessions Relate (Appendix 3). Appendix 3 is followed by the Index; the volume’s last section. Eight pages of images appear in a dedicated section in the centre of the volume. These are monochrome in format and accompanied by informative captions. None carry Source Citations, although the author does note (On the Acknowledgements page) that ‘The selection of illustrations was eased by assistance from Rav Gopal at Newbury Library’.  neither the Contents nor Index sections carry reference to the existence of these images. The volume contains neither Maps or Bibliography, and where Quotes appear within the work, they are not supported by authenticating citations. They might just as well be imagined.

Although this volume is well-written and easy to read, for this reviewer the complete lack of authenticating and supporting documentation in the form of Citations and reference material raises severe concerns about its authority. Put simply, there is no way of knowing if what is presented as ‘fact’ is actually ‘true’ and an authentic record, or just a convenient ‘imagining’ to fit a predetermined narrative. For a volume purporting to be a ‘Work of historical significance’ this is a major failing, and on that basis (the complete lack of any authenticating documentation), this reviewer found it difficult to not conclude that the result is, at best, a highly-imaginative work of fiction. Failings in the volume’s Index only serve to compound the problem, with random checking finding numerous situations where items appearing within the narrative were not accorded the courtesy of an Index entry. The discovery that (for example) there were no  Index entries for Playfair, Museum of Geology, Liverpool Corporation Waterworks Bill, House of Commons and Department of Woods and Forests (all on page 37) raised additional questions about what else may have been omitted from the Index, and, inter alia, about its authority and veracity. There is no way to know, but as subsequent random checking for other entries produced a similar result, the problem would seem to be widespread.  The above, when combined with the previously-noted lack of verification for the Quotes appearing within the work, has resulted in what could at best be described as ‘A collection of interesting stories.’

As previously-noted, this volume is well-written and easy to read. As a result, it may well appeal to readers who are seeking a ‘once over lightly’ view of life in Nineteenth-Century Britain\, with the qualification that there  is no way of knowing if any of what is written is actually true or accurate. This complete lack of supporting, authenticating, citations also means that, for Historians, the work has little value and is very definitely not to be considered ‘Authoritative’ in any way.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very poor, 10 Excellent, I have given this volume a 4.

Were that that was not the case.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Grimy 1800s: Waste, Sewage & Sanitation In The Nineteenth Century’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Spanish Flu Epidemic And Its Influence on History: Stories from the 1918-1920 global flu pandemic’

119. SPANISH FLU'

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: The Spanish Flu Epidemic And Its Influence on History: Stories from the 1918-1920 global flu pandemic

Author: Jaime Breitnauer

Total Number of Printed Pages: 136

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

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When writing in the volume’s Author’s preface, the author states that what follows is ‘A creative re-telling of the experiences of real people, giving an authentic face to the many tragedies that unfolded’. While an admirable concept, the end result may not be as the author intended.

Within the book itself, the previously mentioned Authors Preface, follows the Contents page and is in turn followed by a section titled Prologue: the month before war. Within this the author attempts to detail the political situation which led to the advent of World War 1, and the appearance of what subsequently became known as The Spanish Flu’. She does largely through the use of the Stream of Consciousness narrative technique (a method used more commonly used in works of fiction). This technique takes the reader into the mind of a specific individual and attempts to explain their actions by means of an imagined narrative of their thoughts. The individual chosen in this instance is Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian anarcho-nationalist who’s assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand; heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire (of which Serbia was then a region) ultimately started World War I, the reader being privy to that individual’s thoughts immediately prior to the assassination. That what is related is fictional is not mentioned.   The 11 Chapters and Epilogue which form the bulk of the volume now follow. These are divided into four sections (termed Parts) and cover the origins, effects and decline of the Spanish Influenza pandemic from 1914 to 1920. Within each Part, individual Chapters cover specific aspects of the disease and its effects on local populations, regions and economies. Each Chapter follows a similar format and starts with a ‘Retelling of the experiences of real people’ (as indicated by the author in her Author’s preface). Again the Stream of Consciousness technique is used for the purpose. Where necessary,(and to fit the prevailing narrative), additional and similar Stream of Consciousness-embroidered ‘Tales’ may also appear within the individual Chapter. These ‘Retellings’ are intertwined with detailed  (and presumably ‘true’ and ‘accurate’; in many instances there is no way to know) accounts of what is known about the origins of the disease within the specific geographical specific area, the medical and political individuals involved and the preventative measures (or the lack of) taken in response to its onset. Where additional information is required, End-note–type citations are used. These are Chapter-specific and numeric in sequence, with the relevant citations appearing in a dedicated Notes section placed towards the back of the book. Unlike its companions, Part 4 (Secrets in the Snow: What Have we Learned in 100 years) and its subsections (Chapter 11 Peace In the Time of Influenza…) and the volume’s Epilogue (Northern Exposure…) deal with the post-pandemic world and subsequent scientific research into the causes of the original outbreak, the chances of a recurrence, and the medical and social options available should the disease reappear. A section titled About the Author follows the Epilogue. Its’ title is self-explanatory, and is in turn followed by the books’ Notes section, this being the repository for the previously-mentioned End-note-type Citations which appear throughout the volume.  A seven-page-long Bibliography follows.  This section lists the Books, Periodicals/ Articles and Websites used in the volume’s preparation. The Volume’s Index now appears. It is its final section. The book contains 16 pages of Images. These are monochrome in format, and cover a variety of subjects from viruses to advertisements. While they are informatively captioned, it was noted that several carried no supporting citations. The existence of the images is not mentioned in either Index or on the Contents page. The volume contains no Maps.

As previously-noted, the author states that what she has written is ‘A creative re-telling of the experiences of real people, giving an authentic face to the many tragedies that unfolded’. In support of that statement this reviewer expected to find such tales accompanied by authenticating citations and that the volume itself would be awash with the associated End-note type numbers. Such was not the case. Who (for example) were Messers. Clark, Da Cunha, or Lewis (page 19)? Did they actually even exist? Certainly reference is made to the ‘…Diaries of military chaplain Ed Clark’ but without any authenticating citations, how can a reader know if these documents, or even the individuals so-named are anything but mythical? The author’s use of the term ‘creative’ in her statement only serves to add to the possibility, such a term traditionally implying an ‘active’ imagination and ‘inventiveness’ on the part of whichever author uses it. The combination of ‘creative’ and lack of citations gave this reviewer no confidence in the authenticity of the narrative. The use of the Stream of Consciousness ‘imagined dialogue’ writing form further compounds the problem, as that writing-style has no verifiable basis of fact. Its use in a volume purporting to be a Serious Historical Record is immediately suspect, diluting and cheapening the narrative and its possible historical value. Statistics, where given, are equally unsupported. The statement (for example, and on page 44) that ‘In Uppsala…a record 5,000 cases were recorded in just one month…’ is meaningless in the absence of supporting, verifying and (most importantly) AUTHENTICATING documentation. In addition, the Index is best described as being ‘Patchy’; with random checking finding numerous ommissions; those of NHS (p.viii) and Pioneer Health Services (page 36) being but two of many. This reviewer was also surprised to find that countries such as New Zealand, Japan and Australia were missing from the Index; this despite having entire sections written about them. The reasons for such significant omissions are unknown.

Although this volume is well-written and intentioned, the lack of supporting citations, use of the Stream of Consciousness writing style, and poor indexing has resulted in a book best–described as ‘imagined’ history. It does not conform to historical-writing ‘best practice’ and as a result cannot and should not, be considered to be a true and accurate record. It might just as well be a novel.

Although, due to the previously-noted ‘failings’ it cannot be considered to be an ‘Authoritative Source’ this volume may be of interest to Sociologists and Historians of various persuasions. Readers with an interest in unusual ‘Medical’ events might also find it of interest, as might those with an interest in their national histories and the impact that the ‘Flu had on their countries. The information it contains however, should be taken with considerable caution.

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

It could have been so much better.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Spanish Flu Epidemic And Its Influence on History: Stories from the 1918-1920 global flu pandemic’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Man Who Discovered Antarctica: Edward Bransfield Explained – The First Man to Find and Chart the Antarctic Mainland’

118. BRANSFIELD

Reviewer: Michael  Keith

Title:  The Man Who Discovered Antarctica: Edward Bransfield Explained – The First Man to Find and Chart the Antarctic Mainland

Author: Sheila Bransfield MA

Total Number of Pages: 318

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7

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While the names of the so-called ‘Great’ Explorers (De Gamma, Columbus, Cook etc.) are well-known, there were others, equally courageous and intrepid, who are, for unknown reasons, lost to history. Edward Bransfield is one of these, and this work is an effort by a distant relative to set the record straight and to bring his hitherto-unknown name back into the spotlight; to gain the recognition that she believes he deserves.

Within the volume a page titled List of Plates follows the Contents pages. The title is self-explanatory, with the section listing the captions and sources of the 16 images which appear within a dedicated images section in the centre of the volume. It should be noted that one image contains no source details. A Foreword (by HRH The Princess Royal) follows, and is in turn followed by a six page Acknowledgements section. Within this the author thanks the various individuals and organisations who have assisted in the creation of the volume. The section is followed by another titled Why Me? This is autobiographical in nature and provides background to the author’s interest in both the volume’s subject specifically and Antarctica and Antarctic exploration in general. The 21 Chapters which form the main part of the volume now appear. Within these the life of Edward Bransfield is narrated in copious and well-researched detail, with the reader being acquainted with innumerable details relating to not only Bransfield’s life, but the social conditions (both naval and shore-based) of Nineteenth-Century Great Britain. An Epilogue follows Chapter 21 (Merchant Commander and Beyond 1821-1852). Titled The Memory of Edward Bransfield Lives On it lists the various ways in which the name of Edward Bransfield has continued to be memorialised. These range from the naming of locations, geological formations and ships of various sizes, to articles, publications and productions in a variety of media. The author’s experiences and contributions to these activities is prominent! Where necessary, the volume uses Endnote citations to provide additional information and reference sources. These are numeric in format, and sequential and Chapter-specific. The relevant citations appear within a dedicated Notes section placed after the Epilogue. A Bibliography follows the Notes section, and lists the various print and electronic sources used within the work. It is in turn followed by an Index (the volume’s final section). As previously-noted, the volume contains a 16-image photographic section. This is placed in the centre of the book.

The images within the section are monochrome in format and in addition to diagrams, art-work and museum-related images, carry photographs taken by the author in the course of her quest to rehabilitate her ancestor.  Curiously, and despite the focal point of the volume being the fact that Edward Branson was the first individual to ‘Chart’ the Antarctic Mainland, the volume contains no Maps. It is an unusual and unexpected ommission, and to a degree serves to negate the point of the exercise. No Glossary is provided; What (for example) is a ‘Press Gang’? In the absence of an explanation, the average reader cannot be expected to know. This was but one of several such ommissions. An author’s familiarity with terminology does not guarantee that others will have the same degree of knowledge.

In addition to the above, for this reviewer, the volume’s Index proved problematic. It could be best-described as being ‘Patchy’ in its application. It is largely ‘name-focussed’ (and even then limited to only a relatively few individuals) to the exclusion of other items (especially those of a geographical nature) within the narrative. To use but one example (page 260), no Index entries were found for Rio de Janeiro, Valparaiso, Port of London Authority, or Sir Charles Price. As similar ommissions were also found on other pages, how widespread the  problem is can only be guessed at. There is no way to know.

There is however another aspect to this volume which should be noted; the subjectivity of its author and what could be described as a ‘tainting’ of the narrative. This reviewer has found that where an author writes about a relative (no matter how distant), there is inevitably an element of ‘Golly-gosh, Gee-whizz’ (aka, ‘My relative can do no wrong’) in what results and that subjectivity rules. Unfortunately, this volume follows this pattern, and although the subject (Edward Bransfield) is not apparently a direct relation, the author’s position is best summarised in her own words when she states ‘I had no idea…just how extraordinary and spectacular his contribution [to Antarctic Exploration] really was or that I would become obsessed with a fascination for his life and times’. This ‘obsession’ permeates the volume and as already noted, for this reviewer has resulted in a very evident lack of objectivity, best evidenced by the inclusion of Explained within the title’s subheading; justification of another’s actions is never wise, especially when they bear the same surname.

That detail and those previously noted notwithstanding, this is a well-written, highly detailed and quite readable volume. As it is unlikely that other works on Edward Bransfield will be written, it will inevitably become the ‘Standard Reference Work’ on its subject. As such it may find an audience amongst Historians of various persuasions, while readers with an interest in the Nineteenth Century Royal Navy, Military History and especially Antarctic Exploration may well find it of interest.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 7.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Man Who Discovered Antarctica: Edward Bransfield Explained – The First Man to Find and Chart the Antarctic Mainland’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Hindenburg Line’

117.

Reviewer: Michael  Keith

Title:  The Hindenburg Line

Author:  Peter Oldham

Total Number of Pages: 208

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7

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A note on the rear cover of this volume states that this book forms part of a series titled Battleground Europe and is ‘…Designed for both the battlefield visitor and the armchair traveller’. It provides ‘Extensive guidance on how to make the most of [a] battlefield visit and describes ‘The historical significance of each site…in detail with the aid of maps and photographs’.  In this volume specifically, ‘Peter Oldham [the book’s author] looks at the area under discussion, dividing it into manageable sections and explains its importance’. It is an accurate precis of the volume.

Within the book itself, an Acknowledgments section placed immediately after the Contents page thanks those who have assisted in the preparation of the volume. This is followed in turn by a section titled Series Introduction; the title being self-explanatory. The volume’s actual Introduction follows. This summarises the book’s content while also reinforcing its purpose; namely to be ‘…A general guide to the region in which…British troops had some major trials and tribulations’. This is in turn followed by a section titled Advice to Travellers, the title of which is also self-explanatory.  The four Chapters which form the main part of the book now appear. Chapters 1-3 are devoted to military activities around, under and over the line of defence commonly known as the Hindenburg Line during the 1917-1918 period. Chapter 4 however is intended for the visitor. Titled Driving The Hindenburg Line and described as a ‘Sectioned guide to the location of the Hindenburg Line and actions and battles in every sector’, it consists of 20 subsections (titled A-T) each of which is devoted to a particular section of the Hindenburg line. It should however be noted that Sections S and T have been combined, the nominal Section T consisting of a single Map without any supporting, section-specific and clearly-defined text. Within each section, a standardised format is followed, and consists of two clearly-defined subsections. Within the first, several pages of historical notes are provided, together with at least one contemporary area-specific map and photographs of various military fortifications, both as they were when in military use and as they currently appear. Within the section, bracketed numeric references direct the reader toward specific locations within the adjacent map. These numbers are however Volume rather than Chapter sequential. Noticeably, these Maps do not carry titles; it being evidently assumed that the reader will know to what they refer. Where appropriate, portraits of individuals mentioned within the adjacent narrative are provided. As with all images within the volume, these are monochrome in format.With the exception of that of that of Citation-winner Second Lieutenant Rambo on page 162, these are all Victoria Cross Winners. Where appropriate, additional subsections provide more detail concerning significant military operations within the specific area. The historical background thus defined, the second section (titled variously The Area Today or XX Area Today) describes what military-based remains can be seen within the area under discussion. As already noted, the volume contains both Maps and Photographs and in addition Plans and Diagrams also appear within its pages. However, neither the Contents nor Index sections carry references to the existence of any of these items.  While informatively captioned, no source-related information is provided. Where necessary, additional information is provided through end-note citations. These are volume-sequential, with the citations themselves appearing in a References section placed towards the rear of the volume. A small section titled Further Reading follows Chapter 4’s Section S/T and is in turn followed by the previously-mentioned References section. The book’s Index follows; it is the volume’s last section.

Although this volume is well-written and researched, for this this reviewer it was let down by its Index. Random searching for Index entries for (for example), Canal du Nord Line (page 94); Francilly-Selency (page 78) and Battle Nomenclature Committee (page 142) found nothing, while that for  Mt Metier, although indicating that pages 79 and 83 contained the necessary information, omitted an entry on page 80. Why this should be is unknown, but when combined with the previously-mentioned omitted entries (and others of a similar nature) did nothing to engender confidence in the Index’s authority or veracity. The lack of a large-scale general-ordnance map of France was also unfortunate as without it, it is difficult to determine the Hindenburg Line’s geographical relationship with the rest of France.

Due to its nature, this volume may appeal to a variety of readers. Military Historians and readers with an interest In World War I may find it of interest. The ‘military’ images may also be of interest to military modellers, while wargamers with an interest in World War I may find the fortification details both useful and informative.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 7.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Hindenburg Line’