Book Review: ‘Cathedrals of Britain: North of England & Scotland’

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Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: Cathedrals of Britain: North of England & Scotland

Editor: Bernadette Fallon

No. of Pages: 122

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 8

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In her introduction to this volume, the author observes that ‘Cathedrals provide a continuous link to the living past…They are places of worship and prayer…but also…they are places to stand and stare and marvel’. It is a fair assessment of the book’s content.

An Acknowledgments section is placed after the Contents page. In it the author thanks ‘…Everybody who generously gave their time, experience and support to this book’, before listing the individuals and organisations who contributed to the volume. An eight-page Introduction follows. This provides historical and ecclesiastical background to the material contained within the eight Chapters which form the majority of the volume. Each Chapter focuses on one specific cathedral. Within the specific Chapter, subheadings are used to provide details about the specific structure and to highlight various little ‘oddities’ which are unique to the edifice. Although the volume is nominally about a specific structure, at the end of each chapter a ‘…Where to go and what to do’ section appears. This provides additional information about the surrounding district and of any attractions which might be of interest to a visitor. A Glossary placed after the last Chapter (Number Eight: Aberdeen) clarifies the various ecclesiastical, architectural and historical terms which appear within the volume. It is in turn followed by a section titled Further Reading. In the absence of a designated Bibliography, this appears to function in that role. An Index completes the volume. Black and White photographs from a variety of sources are used to illustrate salient points within each Chapter. The Contents page and the Index carry no acknowledgement of their existence. The volume contains no Maps, a detail which could reduce its value to intending ‘Day Trippers’ and to international visitors unfamiliar with both British geography and public transport systems. Although the volume contains numerous Quotes (that by George Cavendish on page 65 being but one example), these are not referenced, reducing the volume’s value as an  historical source.

The author concludes her Introduction to this work with the words ‘Let us take you on a marvellous journey…’ As an invitation it has no peer and (the previously-noted ‘faults’ notwithstanding), for this reviewer the ‘journey’ was indeed ‘marvellous’. This is a delightful, well-written and easily-readable volume. It is definitely ‘Enjoyable’. For that the author is to be commended.

Due to its subject and the accessibility of the structures discussed within it, this volume should have wide appeal. Despite the lack of maps, the previously-mentioned ‘Day Tripping’ fraternity and international visitors could no doubt find it to be a useful souvenir of a visit or visits that they may have made to any of the Cathedrals that the volume mentions. Some might even care to use it as a ‘guide’ and attempt to ‘collect’ them all. Readers with an interest in ‘British’ architecture in general, and religious structures in particular, may also find it of interest. Readers interested in the more unusual aspects of British architecture and even folk-lore may also find it of interest. Due to the unusual items appearing within its pages, the volume may also be a useful reference book for pub-trivia quizzes. Those seeking a ‘fun’ read on a wet afternoon could also do worse than give this volume their attention.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent: I have given this volume an 8.

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Book Review: ‘Cathedrals of Britain: North of England & Scotland’

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’

An unusual way to pass the time…

It was an unusual way to pass the time. I had returned to my home early in the morning after a short overseas journey to see family, arriving in my front door at 0315. While away, an old injury had decided to make itself known; painfully!  For a variety of reasons I stuck it out while overseas and, at my wife’s behest was eventually able to see my local General Practioner (‘Doctor’) at 3.30pm on the same afternoon. After proddign and poking, the conversation went something like this: (Doctor) ‘You’ re going to hospital’. (Me) ‘When? (Doctor): ‘Now’!! (Me) : ‘Oh’!! (Since after all, what else can one say)? Our daughter was home, house sitting in our absence and as a result of her and my wife’s efforts, I was admitted to the local (state-run) hospital that evening. It ws not exactly the way I had expected the day to end. I hadn’t even unpacked!! The hospital staff were very very professional and kept me well informed. After the usual paperwork had been completed, I was put in a bed for the night and, the following morning, operated on. I won’t bore you with details, except to say that the surgery was successful. After the surgery, and on wakign up from the anesthetic, I was then monitored, fed and taken care of. The nurses did a marvellous job. Two days later, being deemed ‘fit to leave’, I was released back into the world. Aside from a slowly healing scar, and a minor difficulty as the materials used to repair the injury ‘settle in’,  there is now little to show that I was ever admitted.  My wife took a week off to care for me, and the result has ben good for us both; for her to recover from the stress of overseas travel and a husband beign unexpectedly hospitalised, and for me to just recover.  Our daughter, the ‘crises’ with the ‘Old man’ now over, subsequently returned to the university where she is staying adn studying.

As being operated on and being confined to barracks for three days is not what one would normally expect to do after returning home from an overseas journey; it was indeed, an unusual way to pass the time…

Thank you.

An unusual way to pass the time…

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Air Battle of Malta: Aircraft Crashes and Crash Sites 1940-1942’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  Air Battle of Malta: Aircraft Crashes and Crash Sites 1940-1942

Author: Anthony Rogers

Total Number of Printed Pages: 220

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

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Before the advent of nuclear weapons negated its importance and relevance, the small Mediterranean island of Malta was of vital military importance to whomever would exercise military control over the eastern Mediterranean Sea.  Because whomever controlled Malta controlled the region, it was frequently fought-over by prevailing and would-be empires. The last (and arguably the most fierce) of these conflicts occurred during World War II. Within that conflict Malta was the centre of concerted attacks between Italian and German forces. These attacks were almost exclusively from the air, and Great Britain, Malta’s ‘owner’ responded in kind. The results were aerial combats between the opposing forces; combats which invariably resulted in the destruction of the aircraft involved. Many of these landed or crash-landed on Malta itself or in the sea nearby. This volume records the locations of such sites (where known) and the combats in which they were involved.

The main part of this book consists of 10 Chapters. Each of these records the air combats that occurred over a specific period. Although some of these are for a single month, the majority cover a time frame of between two and eight months. Within the volume the author ‘…Describes the circumstances of some 200 final sorties flown during 1940-42 by those who served in and with the Royal Air Force and also by their opponents…’. The result is an impressive list which is both well-researched and readable.. A two page Contents section is followed in turn by an Illustrations section which is also two pages in length. This reproduces the captions of the images which appear within a 16-page photographic section placed in the centre of the book. Curiously, the Illustrations section is actually titled List of Illustrations on the Contents page, An Acknowledgements section then thanks those who contributed to the book and is in turn followed by the Introduction. While this section provides an overview to the volume’s content it also details both the author’s relationship with Malta and the current (2017) state of aviation-related preservation efforts on the island. The 10 Chapters which comprise the main body of the book then follow. Five Appendices appear behind the Chapters. These cover such topics as aircraft losses (in which the losses are presented in a Table format numerically-keyed to maps placed at the front of that Appendix); the abbreviations used within the book and the equivalent ranks of the combatant air arms.

Within each Chapter, the individual dates on which combat occurred appear as highlighted subsections. These contain details relating to that day’s events and their outcomes. Endnotes are used to provide additional information. These are numeric in format and sequential within each chapter. The appropriate citations appear in a separate Notes section following the Appendices. A Bibliography then lists the resources which contributed to the volume. The final section of the book consists of two Indexes. These are titled an Index of Personnel and an Index of Places respectively and relate directly to Malta itself. There is however no ‘General’ Index to cover such things as convoys, warships, army units etc. As a result, readers seeking such information are forced to search through the volume with no certainty of finding what they are seeking. The lack of such a section limits the volume’s usefulness to a wider audience. Within the volume itself, an apparent printing fault has meant that the page numbers between pages 133 and 191 of have been omitted, while page 211 suffers the same fate. Curiously however, the ‘omitted’ numbers appear alongside entries in both the Index of Personnel and the Index of Places. Five Maps are provided, but instead of being listed on the Contents page, they have been placed within and under the Illustrations section. A ‘technical’ section providing the specifications of the aircraft involved would have been useful to enable comparisons to be made between the equipment used by each combatant air arm.

As already noted, this is a well-researched and readable volume. It is likely to appeal to those with a general interest in WW II and those with a particular interest in military operations in the Mediterranean section theatre of that conflict. Aviation enthusiasts with a particular interest in the Battle of Malta are likely to find it of interest, while the photographs could be useful to aero-modellers.

This reviewer found this volume is a pleasure to read, It is a credit to the author’s penmanship, and it will probably become an ‘authoritative’ text on its subject. However, the absence of a ‘General’ Index and the small ‘detail’ errors concerning page numbers etc. have served to both reduce its value and limit its potential audience.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given it an 8. It should have been higher.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Air Battle of Malta: Aircraft Crashes and Crash Sites 1940-1942’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Superpowers, Rogue States and Terrorism: Countering the Security Threats to the West’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Superpowers, Rogue States and Terrorism: Countering the Security Threats to the West

Author: Paul Moorcraft

No. of Pages: 181

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

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If this reviewer was asked to recommend one book as a basic resource for the 2017 international geopolitical scene, Superpowers, Rogue States and Terrorism: Countering the Security Threats to the West would be it. According to the author, the volume ‘…Traces the growth of the Islamic threat and offers some domestic and international solutions by working with potential allies in Europe and the Middle East’. He concludes ‘My conclusion is positive – many of the current problems can be solved’. The result is well-written, well-researched, eminently readable and objective. It is the ideal ‘go-to’ volume for anyone with an interest in international affairs.

By way of introduction, a single page titled About the Author is placed ahead of the Contents page. This details the author’s academic and personal background, while also listing his previously- published books.  The Contents page follows. A List of Maps placed immediately after the Contents page contains eight maps relative to the volume’s narrative. It is in turn followed by a section titled List of Illustrations which replicates the captions of the 31 images that appear within the volume’s 16-pag Photographic section. An Introduction (Subtitled Saving the West) summarises what is to come in the eight Chapters that follow and which form the major part of the volume. Within these the author presents his assessment of the current international situation, while also providing solutions which could be used to neutralise the threats that he defines. Where relevant to the narrative, subsections within the individual Chapters provide additional information relative to their specific topic.  A Conclusion follows. This summarises the narrative, while tendering further thoughts about what the future might hold. The volume makes limited use of sequential and Chapter-specific Endnotes to provide additional information.  Where used, the relevant citations appear in a designated Endnotes section placed after the Conclusion. A Select Bibliography follows. In it the author lists the printed resources he used when creating the book. An Index completes the work. As previously-noted the volume contains eight Maps and 31 Images, the Maps being placed immediately after the Contents page. The Images appear in a 16-page section placed in the centre of the volume. Some are sourced, some not.  Despite the use of numerous acronyms, there is no Glossary to explain their meanings.

Although as a ‘Work of Reference’ this volume is extremely impressive, it is not without fault. For this reviewer, the Index in particular, is a matter of concern. While reviewing this volume, this reviewer randomly searched the Index for additional references to Sri Lanka, Colombia and Angola (all mentioned on page 29). Despite appearing on the aforementioned page, the Index contained no references to these locations. Believing that the omission could have been the result of an ‘Indexing’ error, when subsequently reading Chapter Four (Where did the Islamic State come from?), this reviewer again sought Index references for such words as ‘Zionists’ (page 57), ‘Jews’ (page 59), ‘Muckhabarat’  (page 60)  and Umma (page 62). Again he found nothing, and can only conclude that there are other, similar, omissions within the Index. There is, of course, no way to know what these might be.

While omitting Index-references to three words on a single page may well have been accidental, omitting four different words in four different locations is a cause for concern.  The authority of the Index may well be compromised. As if this in itself was not enough (and also on page 29), the author stated that ‘Earlier in the book I looked at 2016 as the annus horribilus’. Wishing to learn why that that specific year had been so honoured (and believing the author’s statement to be correct), this reviewer subsequently looked for mentions of annus horribilus in the Index and Chapters One and Two of the volume. He looked in vain. In addition (and when presenting his argument), the author uses numerous quotations to reinforce his point. Some of these have been given citations (that on page 27 being one such example). However, the majority have not, with those on pages 7, 85, and 153 being only randomly-chosen examples of many such omissions. In the absence of verifying citations, are these ‘imagined’ / ‘invented’ statements? The reader cannot know. The omission of capital letters for proper nouns (‘pope’ being but one example), was also noted, as were minor errors of punctuation. Although to this reviewer the omissions detailed-above are significant, whether-or-not they are of importance will depend-upon the reader.

As previously-noted (and despite the ‘problem areas’ listed above), for this reviewer, this is the ideal ‘go-to’ volume for anyone with an interest in international affairs. By providing ‘chapter and verse’ on its subject, it is likely to be useful to all and any reader interested in an objective assessment of events currently occurring around the globe. It could well become a standard reference work on the field of contemporary international relations.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given this volume a 7.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Superpowers, Rogue States and Terrorism: Countering the Security Threats to the West’