BOOK REVIEW: ‘The NHS At 70: A Living History’

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Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: The NHS At 70: A Living History

Author: Ellen Welch

No. of Pages: 149

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

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In the Preface to this volume the author writes the following: ‘At midnight on 5 July 1948 the National Health Service [NHS] was born, with the founding principle to be free at the point of use and based on clinical need rather than a person’s ability to pay’. The background thus established, she concludes ‘This book attempts to summarise the foundations of the NHS and discuss why it was formed, provide an understanding of its current structure and problems and consider what the future may hold’. It is an excellent summation of what is to follow.

Within the volume, the Contents page is followed by an Acknowledgements section. In this, the author clarifies her position vis–a-vis the NHS (‘The views in this book are my own’), and thanks those who assisted her in the volume’s creation. The section is in turn followed by a Preface from which the quotes in paragraph one were taken. The section summarises the content of the four Chapters placed after it; the latter forming the bulk of the book. The Chapters take the reader through the history of health services in Great Britain, and while so-doing cover a time period from 500A D to 2018. Chapters 1 and 2 provide background, while Chapter 3 (Timeline of the NHS) precis ‘events of significance’ that have occurred within the 1950-2018 period. The title of Chapter 4 (The Modern NHS) is self-explanatory. The latter Chapter is followed by a section titled Sources and Additional Reading. This is bibliographical in nature, and lists the books, articles and online sources used by the author when writing this volume. The Index follows and is the volume’s last section. Within each Chapter, subheadings are used to provide additional Chapter-relevant information. These are accompanied by personal reminiscences (Titled My NHS Story), which provide a ‘human’ perspective to the events and times that the Chapter is discussing. The volume contains numerous photographs, advertisements, and a building-plan, together with assorted paraphernalia and cartoons relevant to the narrative. These are informatively captioned, monochrome in format and from a variety of sources. Tables and Flow-charts also appear where appropriate. The existence of such items is not however acknowledged on either the Contents page or within the Index. The volume’s single ‘footnote’ appears on page 43; it is however, more an ‘aide memoir’ than a formal citation.

Regrettably, for this reviewer at least, this volume, while well written and researched, was let down by the ‘small things’, especially in regard to the Index. In his considered opinion, the Index could best be best described as ‘patchy’ and so-focussed on the ‘mechanics’ of its NHS subject as to exclude almost everything else. These exclusions included such random items as Elizabeth I (Page 19), Caribbean, Ireland (both on page 60), Great Ormond Hospital (page 72), John and Rosemary Cox (page 85), Sugar Tax (page 109) and Commonwealth Fund (page 134).  Other omissions were also found and what else has been left out cannot be known. As a result, the authority and veracity of the Index must be inevitably be in doubt. In addition it was noted that both the previously-mentioned My NHS Story personal reminiscences and those of other individuals are not accompanied by verifying citations. This reduces their value to researchers. Citations for the various Official Documents, Reports, Acts of Parliament etc. quoted within the volume are also missing. A Glossary for the volume’s large numbers of acronyms and abbreviations would also have been helpful, as a non-medical reader has no way of knowing (for example) what an OT (page 73) might be.

Potentially, this volume could have been the ‘Standard Reference Work’ for its subject. For readers seeking an easily-readable ‘once over lightly’ history of the NHS it might still achieve that status. Regrettably however, for academic-level researchers, the ‘difficulties’ with the Index and the lack of citations, Glossary etc. have considerably reduced its value as a research document; it is an ‘aide’ rather than being the ‘authoritative document’ it could so easily have been.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The NHS At 70: A Living History’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘ A Marine Artist’s Portfolio: The Marine Paintings Of Susanne Fournais’

80. Marine artist's portfolio

Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: A Marine Artist’s Portfolio: The Marine Paintings Of Susanne Fournais

Author: Susanne Fournais Grube

No. of Pages: 103

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

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In this volume’s Introduction, and when explaining the reasons for this volume, the author states ‘I’ve been very fortunate in being able to demonstrate [my] love of and fascination in the sea through art’ and that she has been ‘Lucky enough to be able to devote time to painting those subjects that I find of interest as well. These paintings form the basis of this book’. It is an accurate precis of a beautifully-illustrated volume.

This volume contains no Contents page; the first section being an Introduction where-in the author provides a historical and personal background to her nautical interest, while also acknowledging the assistance she received in the book’s creation. A small, single-column section titled My Painting Techniques appears on the extreme left hand edge of the following page (page six) ; the title being self-explanatory. The six ‘Sections’ forming the main part of the work then follow. These are analogous to Chapters. They are however un-numbered and cover a wide variety of subjects from Liberty ships to Lighthouses, to Crustacea and to Shells. Although nominally on a single subject (for example Tugboats, ferries and pilots in ‘Section’ Two), the section ‘titles’ are frequently ‘catchalls’ for the artist’s work; the previously-mentioned section containing images of both naval vessels and maritime paraphernalia; subjects falling outside the nominal range implied by that section’s ‘title’. Each Section is prefaced by an introductory essay. These provide background to the types of vessel likely to be found within the section (Wooden boats and yachts in ‘Section’ 6 being one such example), and set the scene for the images that are to follow. That the images within the section might include subjects that are neither ships nor boats is not however mentioned. The images, when they appear, are spectacular, and portray their subjects (whether on land, in the sea or from below it) in all sorts of settings and situations. The majority of images are single-paged in format. However, for unexplained reasons, several pages contain groups of smaller images, provided perhaps to display as many of the artist’s works as possible within a constrained environment. The image colours are beautiful, sharp and very evocative. They display the artist’s talent and distinctive style to full advantage. Such Captions as are provided are the titles of the individual pieces. The volume contains no ‘technical’ information about the subjects being portrayed. An Epilogue placed after the last image (Marie) provides information about the artist’s travels, whereabouts and her future intentions. The volume contains no list of the images that appear within it. There is no Index.

As previously-noted, the images within this volume are beautiful and a credit to their creator. They are equally however, the source of a major criticism concerning this work; namely that there is simply no way to find a specific vessel or image. Should a reader to whom ‘A ship is a ship, is a ship’, merely want a ‘Pretty picture book’ of marine things, they will have no problems with this aspect of the volume. However, should said reader (perhaps a ship modeller or a crew-member of one of the vessels portrayed), wish to find an image of (for example) Mineral Zulu (page 51), they will have to spend time trying to find if the vessel is even actually within the work, with no guarantee of success for their efforts. In this reviewer’s opinion such searching for a possibly-disappointing end-result should not be necessary; things could have been done better.  An Index, or (at the very least), a page containing a List of Plates / Images and the appropriate page numbers, would have been extremely helpful. A Contents page showing the titles and locations of the various ‘Sections’ (while also numbering them), when combined with the previously-suggested list of plates, would have also contributed to reduced searching times.

There is no doubt that this is a beautiful book and a pleasure to view. Followers of the artist will, of course, be delighted with its content. Lovers of ships and ‘Things Nautical’ may well find it worthy of their attention, while ship modellers and other marine artists may find the colours and details useful. On the presumption that the vessels portrayed actually exist, it is also likely that the crews of such craft will find the images and the artist’s interpretations to be of interest. It is also likely to appeal to those who simply like beautiful images of ships and the sea and who would purchase a volume of images for just that reason. It is indeed a ‘Work of Art’.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘ A Marine Artist’s Portfolio: The Marine Paintings Of Susanne Fournais’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Atomic Thunder: British Nuclear Testing in Australia’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  Atomic Thunder: British Nuclear Testing in Australia

Author: Elizabeth Tynan

Total Number of Pages: 373

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7 ½

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In the book’s Acknowledgements section, the author writes that, in her opinion ‘The Maralinga story is a vast sprawling saga. This book is an attempt to provide a concise overview that will be of interest to the general reader, as well as offering a fresh perspective based upon years of analysis of the many diverse forms of evidence available…I have…sought to…show marlinga in its historical and scientific context’. As a ‘Statement of intent’, it is admirable. She also notes (in the volume’s Prologue) that ‘The word Maralinga means ‘thunder’ in Garik…It was exactly the right name. The thunder that rolled across the plains was an ominous sound that heralded a new leading player in a nuclear-armed and infinitely dangerous world’. The volume ends with the following sentence: ‘If there is a word that speaks not only of thunder but also of government secrecy, nuclear colonialism, reckless national pride, bigotry towards indigenous peoples, nuclear scientific arrogance, human folly and the resilience of victims, surely that word is maralinga’.

Regrettably (and despite the noble intentions expressed above), what has eventually resulted is a subjective volume written to meet a pre-determined outcome. To the author, the Maralinga saga has no redeeming features.

Within the volume itself, the Contents page is followed by a four page Acknowledgments section within-which the individuals and organisations (and even animals) which contributed to this book are thanked.  It also reveals the volume’s origins, these being that a visit to an organisation in Melbourne in 2004 ‘…Planted the seed of an idea that later became my PhD thesis and still later became this book’. An Abbreviations section is next, giving interpretation to the numerous acronyms and abbreviations which appear throughout the book. A single page Measurements section follows. This gives the equivalents necessary to convert British Imperial measurements into their metric equivalents, while also noting the differences between Australia’s ‘Imperial’ currency (comprising Pounds Shillings and Pence) and the metric-based one that replaced it in 1966.Two pages of Maps follow. This section contains four maps. One is a general outline of Australia indicating the location of the nuclear test sites in relation to the rest of the continent. Its companions show the individual test sites in greater detail. Curiously (and although noted only as Map on the Contents page), the section itself carries the additional title British nuclear tests in Australia – test sites within its pages. Which one is correct is not known.  A Prologue follows.  This provides a summary of what is to follow; the 12 Chapters which comprise the main part of the volume.  These largely record the decisions and events that were associated with the various nuclear tests which comprised the ‘Maralinga’ series. However (and for unknown reasons), throughout the volume the author also uses the ‘Stream of consciousness’ narrative-form to describe events. Chapter One (Maralinga buried, uncovered) is one such example.  This writing style is more commonly associated with works of fiction. Where used within the volume, and with no supporting citations to provide verification, the result is, at best, a work of ‘Faction’ (that is ‘Facts combined with imagination to produce an end result that is a combination of both’). The appropriateness of such narrative-forms within a volume purporting to be an authoritative work is debatable. An Appendix is placed after the final chapter. Its title (British Atomic tests in Australia) is self-explanatory. A Glossary follows, and is in turn followed by a section titled References. This is somewhat analogous to a Notes section in a volume in which Footnote or Endnote citations appear. As such devices are not used within this book, its presence is unexplained.  A Bibliography placed after the References section records both the electronic and printed material used in creating this work and is followed in turn by the Index; the volume’s final section.  The book contains no photographs.

This reviewer found several areas of concern when viewing this volume. In addition to the ‘stream of consciousness’ writing style previously-noted, the lack of citations for the numerous Quotes reduces the latter’s authority (and consequent research value) to almost zero; they might just as well be imagined.  The authority of the Index is also questionable, as random checking found several omissions; New Zealand (for example) although mentioned twice on page 23, is absent from the Index.  As the absence of other entries was also noted, the true extent of such ‘omissions’ cannot be known. The lack of photographic images is also unfortunate as their presence would have provided visual reinforcement to the narrative.

As previously noted, this volume is subjective in its treatment of its subject. As such it will no doubt confirm well-held and entrenched viewpoints. That detail notwithstanding, it is likely to be of interest to Political Scientists with a specific interest in British nuclear policies and international Cold War politics. Australians seeking information about the Maralinga tests and their country’s relationships with the British are also likely to find it of interest. Academic librarians might also find it worthy of inclusion within their collections. The author’s lack of objectivity does however mean that is not the ‘Standard Work of Reference’ that it could have been; it should be treated accordingly.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 7 ½.

Note: This title was originally published in Australia in 2016, with this edition, published in 2018, being the first in Great Britain. It has not been updated in the interval.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Atomic Thunder: British Nuclear Testing in Australia’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘ Hidden Nature: Uncovering the UK’s Wildlife’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith  Rimmer

Title: Hidden Nature: Uncovering the UK’s Wildlife

Author: Isla Hodgson

Total Number of Printed Pages: 192

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7 ½

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In the Forward to this volume, the author notes that ‘…Wildlife is everywhere in Britain, if you just know where to look’, and that she ‘…Decided to embark on a little mission; to write about our under-appreciated wildlife, in the hope that [she] could enthuse others to get passionate about it too’. The result? A ‘…Guide to re-discovering Britain’s hidden wild life’, written in the hope that ‘It inspires you [the reader] to step outside the door and seek out just what the natural world has to offer’. Admirable sentiments indeed.

The volume is arranged in four sections, preceded by a Foreword in which the author relates the circumstances which led to the book being written and why the format used was chosen and a precis of what is to follow. The main part of the volume comprises four sections (analogous to Chapters, but not notated as such). In the author’s opinion these constitute the main habitat types found in the United Kingdom, and comprise coasts, freshwater, inland areas (forests, grasslands, mountains) and urban spaces respectively. Sub-chapters appear within each larger Chapter. These concern specific geographical areas and the creatures found within them while also recording the author’s personal experiences when observing the creatures under discussion.. As a result, the reader is introduced to a variety of wildlife that includes seals, red deer, various types of birds, foxes and garden insects. As noted, the experiences are all personal, and while certainly introducing the reader to the subject, owe more to the ‘What I did on my holidays’ style of writing  rather than serious scientific study.  That detail notwithstanding, the author has included what she describes as ‘…A wee section that details how you [the reader] might find those species or habitats…the best places across the country to catch a sighting [of the creature being described] [and] where applicable how to encourage these animals to your local patch and …how we can help them’. While admirable in sentiment, these ‘Wee sections’ are arranged in a variety of formats with little consistency being evident. A section titled A Final Word  presents and elaborates-on the author’s view that ‘’…The human race are responsible for the rapid increase in [species] extinction rates’ and provides ideas as to how this may be prevented and reversed. It is followed by the volume’s final section; a three-paragraph section titled Thank you, within which all who contributed to it (creatures included) are acknowledged. The volume contains Colour Photographs, Line Drawings and Half-tone Illustrations by the author. Their existence is not mentioned on the Contents page. .Despite discussing various locations around the British Isles, the volume contains no Maps. No Index is provided.

As already noted, this volume contains neither Maps nor Index, details which could be problematic for those readers living outside the United Kingdom seeking information concerning both the wildlife described and their locations within the British Isles. For this reviewer, a General Ordnance Survey Map showing (at minimum) such locations as the Ythan Estuary and the Isle of Canna would have been helpful. The absence of an Index also creates unnecessary problems for those who may not know where the creature they are seeking may be found within the volume. The title (for example|) Garden Birds (a subsection of Section 4), is meaningless if you don’t know if the bird you are observing fits that category, and where, within the volume, is a ‘Common Pipistrelle’ to be found? Without an Index, one cannot know. Whether or not such an omission is important will depend-upon the individual reader. A separate ‘Identification / Recognition’ section containing a brief description and silhouette of the creatures mentioned within the volume, would also have been helpful.

This is an idiosyncratic volume, written by someone who is clearly passionate about her subject. It is likely to appeal to those interested in ‘Conservation’ as a concept, those seeking advice as to what can be done to assist survival of endangered species, and to readers simply interested in learning more about the creatures which may be lurking in their own immediate area – ‘The ‘critters’ in the back yard’, if you will. Readers seeking beautiful photographs of British wildlife may also find it of interest.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 7 ½.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘ Hidden Nature: Uncovering the UK’s Wildlife’

Musings: A Year on…

Some of  those who follow this thread might recall that a year or so ago, I attained the noble status of being a ‘Pensioner’ (aka ‘An Old Git’!), and that I was ruminating about what might lie ahead.

A year has passed, and things have come and gone.

In the interval, I have become partly used to the idea that I am now a ‘Dependant of the Government’ and am also becoming just a little  ‘physically’ old (especially on cold days when injuries from my ‘Mis-spent Youth’ return to remind me of my younger years). To use an aviation analogy, my airframe hours are increasing and the fatigue life is declining. It’s a curious senstion (at times literally) to discover that previously-easy , everyday things can suddenly become awkward to do; that which I did yesterday may not necessarily be done yesterday!

The ‘Computer’ is however still working, I can still think and reason, and as long as that is the case, there is hope to be had.

To my surprise during the past year I was also compelled to spend time in hospital. There was nothing serious; merely one of the previously mentioned and sustained injuries deciding that it would remind me of its existence; and did so with some enthusiasm. The fact that I was in another country at the time it decided to remind me, only served to heighten the experience. Suffice to say that I was able to return to my home, only to be ‘hospitalised’ 16 hours later, and to be subsequently operated on! Not exactly what was intended or expected nor one of the better ways to return from a holiday, although that detail was somewhat compensated-for by the fact that I was declared ‘unfit to work’ and had a futher six weeks at home while I recovered. Thank you the nationalised health service.

And of other events? The previously-mentioned (and totally-impromptue) overseas trip to visit one of my children and their Grandmother, involvement with a local community-based organisation and (inevitably) the continuation of my gold-mining-related research. Publication of a product of said research is expected to occur within the next few months. A significant anniversary as well ; Fortytwo years of marriage to the same delightful lady, who still puts up wih me and encourages my interests. She is definitely a ‘Keeper’… Attendance at a recent model railway exhibition as an ‘invited guest’ was also an interesting experience, in that I was surrounded by others of a similar age. If ‘silver hair’ is an indication of knowledge, then that event was very ‘knowledgeable’. There was ‘silver’ for miles… I did however enjoy the experience, and, according to my goood lady, survived it in better shape physically than I had at any previous shows. An interesting observation.

And finally to this Blog.

I admit to being somewhat remiss recently in not attending to its ‘feeding’ but ‘Due to circumstances beyond my control…’  Thank you to those who read what I write; the knowledge that ‘Someone somewhere’ might read my efforts is appreciated, although I have absolutely no idea who my audience might be, and have to rely on whatever appears in my email as ‘WordPress likes’.  In that context a bit of ‘feedback’ on here would be nice, ‘cos otherwise I’ll just waffle on… 🙂

Thank you though, whomever you are and wherever you might be…

Michael Keith

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Musings: A Year on…

BOOK REVIEW: ‘River Gunboats: An Illustrated Encyclopaedia’

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Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: River Gunboats: An Illustrated Encyclopaedia

Author: Roger Branfill-Cook

No. of Pages: 336

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

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In the Introduction to this volume, the author defines a ‘Gunboat’ as being ‘…The smallest type of warship able to project naval power, whether used to protect harbours and coastline…for patrol and policing duties or simply as a ‘presence’ in far-flung parts of the world’. The definition is an accurate one and an effective summary of what is to be found within this volume; small shallow-draft warships of many shapes and sizes, doing both mundane and at times astonishing, things. The author also notes that ‘This is the first work to cover the subject as fully as possible at the time of writing’.

Within the volume, an Introduction placed after the Contents page, after explaining the origins of the author’s interest in these vessels, defines the volume’s scope, while also explaining the absence of maps within it and acknowledging the problems associated with some of the sources used during its creation. A section titled Notes of the Plans and Specifications follows. The title is self-explanatory, and refers to the numerous plans within the book and the definitions used throughout it. An Acknowledgements section follows. Within it, those individuals and organisations which contributed to the volume are thanked. The main part of the volume follows. This is arranged alphabetically, and consists of 76 named ‘Sections’ (somewhat analogous to ‘Chapters’) of varying size, each devoted to lake and river gunboat operations by a nation-state, the term ‘Nation-state’ being used in this instance to include small self-governing countries / territories which, for a variety of reasons, were subsumed into a larger entities after a brief period of independence. Acre (the volume’s first entry) is one of these, existing between 1899 and 1903, in which year it became part of Brazil. There are several similar examples. Within each ‘Section / Chapter’, a brief history at the start provides a broad historical background before subsections within the ‘Chapter’ detail the activities of the various gunboats that that state operated. Where specific military activities require it, additional historical information is given at the start of individual subsections; that titled Lake Nyassa (within the larger ‘Chapter’ titled Great Britain), being but one such example. The vessels themselves are treated in two ways; either as an entire class, or, where applicable, as individual named entities. The military activities of each vessel or class is described in detail with a technical specification (Launched, Dimensions, Power / Speed, Guns / Armour and Fate) appearing at the end of each vessel-specific section. For a variety of reasons it was not possible to provide images of every class or individual vessel described within this volume. Despite that, the author has managed to illustrate the majority of entries with at least one image, some sourced, some not. Although largely photographic in nature, plans, etchings and half-tone drawings have also been used where photographs have not been available. Several ‘Chapters’ contain plans of the weapons carried by specific vessels. The Details of the 90mm De Bange System gun on page 123 is an example of this. A Bibliography follows the ‘Chapters’ section. This lists the written and electronic media used during the writing of the volume. It is in turn followed by two Appendices.  The first (Appendix 1: River and lake Gunboats in Popular Culture) explores how these craft have been portrayed in film, the print media and on stamps. The title of Appendix 2 (River Gunboat Camouflage) is self-explanatory. Unlike the rest of the volume, all images within the Appendices are in colour. An eight-page Index completes the volume. The volume contains no Maps, the author stating (in the Introduction) that ‘…I have preferred to give the space [that Maps would have occupied] over to descriptions of all the…gunboats I have found rather than dedicate many dozens of pages to maps which are freely accessible elsewhere’. Whether such a lack is important would be for the individual reader to decide.

The lack of Maps notwithstanding, this reviewer found this volume to be a most interesting, well-researched and readable volume, its encyclopaedic nature making it ideal for ‘dipping into’ should information about a specific vessel or class of vessel be sought. It was not however faultless, with the Index in particular proving problematical. The Index is ‘vessel-specific’ in its focus, to the extent that, with rare exceptions, the majority of entries are of the individual names / classes of vessels which appear within the volume. There are no references to either geographical locations or the military operations which appear within the book, the previously-mentioned Lake Nyassa being but one example of such a situation. As if this in itself was not enough, within the Index the standard entry consists of a vessel name followed by a country, but without an individual entry for the latter or the military operations within which it participated. The Index entry for Rangiriri proves the point. The entry appears as Rangiriri. GREAT BRITAIN,179,180. In this instance the Index contains no individual ‘Country’ entry for GREAT BRITAIN, potentially making searching difficult if the vessel name was not known. For this reviewer it would have been preferable to include BOTH vessel and ‘Country’ names as separate entities, the latter acting as an ‘umbrella’ under-which which the former could be located. While that is problematic in itself, in Rangiriri’s case there is also no Index-entry for NEW ZEALAND, the country where-in that vessel served exclusively. Without being able to quickly search for it under its country of origin (Great Britain) or its service use (New Zealand) a reader seeking information relating to  Rangiriri (for example) may be unable to do so; the arrangement of the Index simply does not permit it. Unfortunately, the volume contains numerous similar examples, and for a section intended to enable quick location of relevant information, the lack described-above certainly makes searching more difficult. It is, in this reviewer’s opinion, a major failing. Whether these details are important will, of course, depend on the individual reader.

It is rare for this reviewer to describe a volume as being a ‘Labour of love’, yet that is what this volume is, the author having put an incredible amount of effort into writing what should deservedly become a Standard Reference Work on its subject. Despite the previously motioned ‘difficulty’ with the Index, this book is likely to be of interest to Naval Historians, ‘Generalist’ Military Historians with an interest in ‘Small Wars’ and readers with an interest in both naval and general military operations around the world. Warship modellers with an interest in these vessels may also find the volume’s plans and photographs useful. Film and literature buffs seeking further information about gun boat-related movies and books they may have seen or read, may also find useful information within this volume.

On a Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): I have given this volume an 8½.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘River Gunboats: An Illustrated Encyclopaedia’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Captain Elliot And The Founding Of Hong Kong: Pearl Of The Orient’

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Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: Captain Elliot And The Founding Of Hong Kong: Pearl Of The Orient

Author: Jon Bursey

No. of Pages: 274

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 8 ½

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In the Author’s Note at the front of this volume, the author, when alluding to the establishment of Hong Kong, notes that ‘…I have been struck…both by the critical nature of [Charles] Elliot’s role and by the comparative lack of recognition accorded him subsequently as a person and for his work. I have sought in this book to describe his life…the challenges that faced him, and to set them in historical context’. He also states that ‘It has been my intention to cover the whole of Elliot’s career as thoroughly as sources permit’. It is an effective summary.

An Acknowledgements section placed after the Contents page thanks those individuals and organisations who contributed to the volume. It is followed by the previously mentioned Author’s Note. Within that section (and in addition to the statements already noted), the author also details the efforts he made to ensure accuracy of the narrative and to provide modern-day equivalent-values for mid-Nineteenth Century currency. A Maps section follows. This contains four full-page maps relevant to the narrative. A List of Illustrations appears next. This replicates the captions for the 36 images appearing within a 16 page section placed at the centre of the volume. A Prologue section then precis’ what is to follow. The main part of the work then follows. Consisting of nineteen Chapters, these are in turn sub-divided to three Parts. These trace Charles Elliot’s life, with Chapter One (Forbears, Father and Family) providing ancestral background. The remaining Chapters detail Elliot’s career, while simultaneously providing background to the various events in which he played a part. Such is their detail, these ‘backgrounds’ are in themselves worthy of scrutiny. An Epilogue placed after Chapter 19 summarises and reviews Elliot’s life and his accomplishments. Three Appendices follow that Chapter. Where appropriate, the book uses End-notes to provide addition information. These are numeric, sequential and Chapter-specific, with the relevant citations being placed in a dedicated Notes and References section after the Appendices. A Bibliography follows and is in turn followed by an eight-page Index; the volume’s final section. As already noted, the book contains both Illustrations and Maps.

There is no doubt that this is an excellent and well-researched volume. For this reviewer however it was let down by inconsistencies in its Index. Random Index searching during the reviewing process for items such as Pax Britannica (page xvii) and Royal Botanic Gardens and Kew (both on page 213), found entries for neither. What else may also have been omitted is not known. In addition, the English East India Company (page xviii)  appears within the Index as East India Company. Which title is correct?  There is no way of knowing. Numerous quotes appear within the volume. Some are referenced, some are not (the quotes on page 165 being but two examples of such practices). In the absence of relevant citations to prove their authenticity, unreferenced quotes have little research value, a detail which may reduce the volume’s value as a research tool. Curiously, many quotes do not commence with a capital letter. In apparent defence of this practice the author states that ‘For the sake of authenticity I have reproduced spelling punctuation and syntax…as they appear in the original odd though they may sometimes seem including the apparently random use of capital letters’.  Whether this statement applies to the aforementioned quotes is unclear, but the presence of capitalised and non-capitalised quotes within the volume, does the narrative no favours.

This volume is well written and researched. Being biographical in nature it may appeal to readers seeking a straight ‘adventure’ story. It may also be useful to historians interested in the Nineteenth Century Royal Navy.  Historians researching British Imperial Policies and actions during the same century may well find it worthy of their attentions, while those seeking in-depth historical data on locations such as China, the ‘British’ Caribbean and the Republic of Texas may also find it of interest.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given this volume an 8 ½.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Captain Elliot And The Founding Of Hong Kong: Pearl Of The Orient’