BOOK REVIEW: ‘Adrian Shooter: A Life in Engineering and Railways’

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Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: Adrian Shooter: A Life in Engineering and Railways

Author: Adrian Shooter

No. of Pages: 240

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

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To quote this volume’s Dustjacket, ‘This book is the tale of a small boy from Surrey who had a fascination with anything on wheels and, also, loved to learn about people and what motivated them’. While so-doing ‘He describes his upbringing and…takes the reader on a voyage of discovery into the world of 1960’s engineering before he joined British Railway [sic] in 1970’. The narration of his experiences with that organisation ‘…Presents readers with a whole new picture of what was really going on within British Rail at various levels’. It is an accurate summation of a very readable and interesting volume.

The volume itself consists of nine Chapters. These take the reader from the author’s childhood to approximately 1992 (the exact date is not stated).  As already noted, these detail his experiences in the world of mechanical engineering and within British Rail; the latter during the ‘Transition-era’ when steam was being replaced by both diesel-electric and electric locomotives, and new rolling stock was entering service It was a change of immense proportions and the author’s narrations of his experiences during that time make for always interesting reading. The Chapters are followed by a single-page Index. The volume contains numerous monochrome and colour photographs and newspaper-based images from a variety of sources. These are all relevant to the larger narrative and indicative of the author’s ever-upward progress through the British railways hierarchy. The Contents and Index pages contain no reference to their existence. No Maps are provided, and although numerous acronyms and abbreviations appear throughout the book, there is no master Glossary to provide a quick reference and so jog the reader’s memory

This is a very entertaining book, but this reviewer was disappointed by the person-centric nature of its Index. With but three exceptions (Bletchley TMD, Crewe Works and Derby Loco Works) the focus of the Index is entirely on individuals that appear within the volume. Regrettably, even that coverage is, at best, ‘Patchy’, with many of those named within the book being omitted, and in some instances (Beeching, Richard for example, referenced on pages 22 and 68) only given a single Index entry (page 22 in this example). As many railway-enthusiast readers rely on a book’s Index to learn if their favoured locations appear within it and purchase accordingly, by not including such information this volume’s Index has effectively eliminated a potential readership of considerable size. With little interest in searching for a possibly non-existent location, many potential ‘enthusiast’ purchasers will forego that privilege. The volume’s lack of maps only serves to compound the difficulty.

As it gives a ‘Management’ perspective on activities within the British mechanical engineering and railway industries during the 1960’s and ‘70’s, this volume may be of interest to transport and social historians with an interest in that time. The contents of some of the photographs may also be of use to railway modellers and to railway enthusiasts with an interest in British Railways during the same period. As an example as to how things might be done, those involved in Business Management may also find it of interest.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Adrian Shooter: A Life in Engineering and Railways’

AN IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT!

My fellow blog readers, you will have noticed tat recently there has been little activity on this page.

No doubt some would say, ‘Who cares’, but for those wh DO care, there is a simple explanation: My health!

Unknowingly I have for many years been operating on onl 30% of my heart, a situation which has only recently come to light, and even then only through a series of unusal and seemingly-urelated events.

Suffice to say that as I write this Blog, I am resident in the local district hospital, recovering from a quadrupple (4) heart bypass.

Thanks to the brilliant efforts of the local hospital staff, the amazing support of my incredible wife and children, and the support of numerous marvellous friends, I am well, and recovering by the minute.

AND I WILL RETURN!

Rest assured, blog readers, I will come back; just not immediately.

Thank you.

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AN IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT!

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Seventy Years of Railway Photography: Seven Decades Behind the Lens’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  Seventy Years of Railway Photography: Seven Decades Behind the Lens

Author:  Colin Boocock

Total Number of Pages: 255

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

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In this volume’s Preface, the author makes the following statement: ‘This book serves a modern need…by showing how anyone interested in railways can photograph them, and can keep up-to-date throughout a long photographic career as technology improves’. He then notes that ‘The book is also a celebration. The year 2017 marks the seventieth anniversary of the year in which I took my first railway photograph, 1947’. These statements are an excellent precis for what is to follow.

This volume is of the ‘Enthusiasts Picture Book’ genre of railway publications. However, unlike many of that genre, it has the bonus of both a well-written and very readable narrative and several sections about the actual process of railway photography; the latter being something rarely encountered within such books.

Within the volume itself, an Acknowledgements page placed immediately after the Contents page thanks those who contributed to the volume, while clarifying the matter of Copyright in respect of the small number of images that are not the author’s own. The author also notes that within the volume his ‘…Views are based on his own experience and cannot be attributed to the publisher or its agents’. A Preface follows. Within it the author simultaneously explains the volume’s rationale and clarifies various technical matters relating to the photographic equipment he has used over the years. The Preface is followed in turn by an Introduction within which the reader is introduced to both the origins of the author’s photographic passion and to descriptions of the various types of railway photography and the unique technical difficulties and solutions associated with these. The eight Chapters which comprise the bulk of the volume follow the Preface. Each Chapter covers a specific decade (for example The 1940s; The 2000s etc.). The Chapters are arranged in a standard format consisting of several pages of explanatory text outlining the author’s photographic adventures during that time, followed by a selection of photographs relevant to the narrative.  While initially the photographs are monochrome, over time (and as colour film became less expensive), these become increasingly of coloured format. Helpfully, and at the beginning of each collection of photographs, the author provides details of the camera/s used to take the images that are to follow. The Chapters are in turn followed by four Appendices.  According to the author ‘These appendices draw on my experience over the years’, and are devoted to the ’technical’ aspects of photography.  A two-line Postscript conveys St. Augustine’s thoughts on travel. It is the volume’s final section.  The book contains neither Index or Maps, nor a list of the photographs within it.

Unfortunately while this volume is both well-written and copiously illustrated, for this reviewer it is badly let down by the lack of an Index, with the additional lack of any Maps serving to compound the problem. In this reviewer’s opinion, without the assistance of an Index, it is unreasonable to expect a casual reader to (for example) know where an image of Ryde Pier Head (page 47) might be found, where a Eurostar (page 153) is located within the volume, or where to look to learn about Mobile phones as a useful photographic device (pages 242-243). The absence of such assistance reduces this volume to essentially a ‘Collection of Pretty Pictures’ with some useful words thrown in – if the latter can be found! A similar situation pertains to the lack of Maps; where (for instance) is Grindleford (page 81) or AoBaoGou (page 177)? The average reader (especially if they are a layman) cannot be expected to have to repeatedly confer with refer to an atlas when perusing this volume. Again, this lack reduces the volume’s value, particularly to the ‘off-shore’ reader not familiar with the geography of the British Isles (the book’s primary area of focus).

Because it provides a unique photographic record of the period 1947-2017, there is no doubt that this volume will appeal to readers with an interest in the railways of Great Britain over that time. In many instances, the images capture now-departed aspects of British culture, and as a result, Social Historians might also find the volume useful as a research tool. Photographers and railway modellers are likely to find the images and articles relating to their interests useful, with the qualified assumption (due to the lack of an Index) that they can actually locate such material. Non -‘railway enthusiast’ readers looking for pictures of ‘pretty trains’ might also find it worthy of their attention. In summary: An excellent, well written and very informative volume; a shame about the Index and Maps

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

It should have been much higher.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Seventy Years of Railway Photography: Seven Decades Behind the Lens’

Book Review: ‘Above the Battle: An Air Observation Post Pilot At War’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  Above the Battle: An Air Observation Post Pilot At War

Author: Roland, Lyell, Munro

Total Number of Pages: 276

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 9

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In war, necessity is frequently the mother of invention, a fact attested-to by this volume. It records the origins of that arm of aviation now commonly-known as ‘Battlefield support’ and the author’s role in applying the concept while in Europe during World War II.

At its most basic, this volume is a family’s homage to a now-deceased soldier (the author having died in 2002). However, it is much more than that.  The introduction to the narrative notes that the author ‘…First wrote about his experiences… partly for his children and partly … to make sure that what he and his comrades… achieved would not be forgotten’. As such it is both autobiographical, and a reminiscence, the manuscript being finally published through the joint efforts of the author’s children, a nephew and an unnamed editor. As the work covers a largely unknown area of military endeavour, historians have cause to be thankful for their efforts. There is however even more, as the work is also a history of the development of the Air Observation Post concept of artillery support for the British Army. In that context, it details the evolutionary steps which ultimately led to the establishment of the Army Air Corps as a separate and stand-alone part of the British Defence Forces.

The main part of this book consists of nine Chapters, together with four Appendices. Maps, a Bibliography and an Index are also provided.  An introduction and Forward to the Original Manuscript give background and provide detail of the some-what convoluted path that the volume followed to its eventual publication. Where relevant to the narrative, parts of romantic correspondence between the author, and the lady whom he subsequently married appears within the volume. The work is well-illustrated, and includes two of the author’s ‘in-field’ sketches. Numerous photographs are provided, although these are small in size. Several of the photographs are noted as being from the Imperial War Museum, but the majority appear to have been from the authors own collection, although this cannot be stated with certainty.  No mention of either photographs or sketches appears on the Contents page. Where necessary, Source Notes appear within each chapter. These are of the Endnote variety, are numbered sequentially, with the appropriate reference appearing at the end of each chapter. Curiously, asterisks are used on several pages to provide additional detail; this information appearing as footnotes on the relevant page.

The author has an understated sense of humour and tells his tale well, with the various sketches and images contributing to the over-all enjoyment. The insertion of additional detail by the volume’s editor provides background information, and adds to the reader’s understanding.

This reviewer enjoyed reading this work, and believes that it is likely to appeal to a variety of interests. These could include military historians; and those with a specific interest in British Army history. Aviation enthusiasts are also likely to find the information it contains of interest, while ‘generalist’ students of World War II, and especially the D-Day landings and the Invasion of Europe will probably find it informative. Military and aviation modellers may also find it useful.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given it a 9.

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nzcrownmines is also available for book reviewing: Contact: nzcrownmines@gmail.com

 

 

 

Book Review: ‘Above the Battle: An Air Observation Post Pilot At War’