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: ‘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: ‘Joseph of Arimathea’

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Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: Joseph of Arimathea

Editor: Glyn S. Lewis

No. of Pages: 120

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 5

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On page xii of this volume, the author makes the following comment: ‘Joseph of Arimathea is…perhaps someone of whom people know only fragments of his life and the traditions that surround him. The aim of this book is to bring these fragments together in order to provide as full as is possible a biography of Joseph of Arimathea’. It is an accurate summation.

The result? A work based on an unsubstantiated (but well-held) hypothesis. This states that  Joseph of Arimathea (He who donated the tomb in which Jesus Christ was placed after his crucifixion), subsequently fled from Palestine / Israel  and, after landing in Europe, came to Great Britain,  resided there and was eventually buried in a (perhaps conveniently?) unmarked grave. In this reviewer’s opinion, what has resulted could at best be described as a work of ‘Faction’ (defined as ‘Facts combined with Fiction’) where very limited ‘actual’ facts and large amounts of legend, tradition, circumstantial evidence and imagination have been combined. The story that results is one that could have been, might have been, but which equally may not have been. It is neither fish nor fowl; an idea looking for a home; dressed up as fact and presented as the same. It is an unusual and most-curious little volume.

A List of Illustrations appears immediately behind the Contents page. That section’s title is however misleading. and rather than referring to ‘pictures’ actually refers to the two maps, a pen and ink illustration and a church plan which appear at various places within the volume. The expected images are instead listed under a subsection on the same page. Titled Unnumbered Gallery Following page 56, the list replicates the captions appearing within the eight pages which comprise that section.  An Introduction follows. Within it, the author, by using scene–setting methods more-usually found in works of fiction, introduces the reader to his subject. That such methods have been used is perhaps prescient for what is to follow. The author then proceeds to create what he terms as ‘…As full as is possible a biography of Joseph of Arimathea’. This is done by means of five sections which function as Chapters. Within each section, subheadings provide additional information relevant to the section’s narrative. A single–page Bibliography placed after the last section lists books accessed while writing this volume, and is in turn followed by the Index, the volume’s final section. As previously-noted, the volume contains two maps (one of the reputed location of ‘Arimathea’ in Roman Palestine and the other of ‘Lake villages with respect to the flooded area of Somerset, and the Mendips’). There is however no large-area map of either the Roman Empire at the time of Christ (to show the journey that ultimately led Joseph of Arimathea to Britain), or a modern Ordinance Survey map of Great Britain to show where the various locations within the narrative are placed. Where (for instance) is Glastonbury (or even Somerset) in modern Britain?  Without such a map, the reader (especially those living outside Great Britain) is ‘flying blind’, and if wishing to visit the sites mentioned in the narrative, may have no idea where to look. Foreign readers / visitors especially, may find this problematical. Numerous quotes appear within the volume. They are however without citations as proof of their authenticity, and as a result, could possibly be imaginary. There is no way to know. The authority of the Bibliography is also questionable. Titles are mentioned in the text (that by Émile Mâle on page 77 being but one such example), yet the Bibliography carries no reference to either the author or the work. The example quoted is but one of several found by this reviewer. If such details are missing from the Bibliography, what else may also be missing, and from where; an entry in the Index perhaps? Again, there is no way of knowing.

This volume bases itself on legends, traditions, circumstantial evidence and hypothesis to reach a foregone conclusion, namely that, according to the author ‘…We owe Joseph of Arimathea a great debt of gratitude’. As previously-noted, for this reviewer, it is a work of ‘Faction’, a view that he retains.

This volume ultimately asks its reader to believe; to believe that the legends and traditions and imagined conversations that exist about Joseph of Arimathea (and, inter alia the ‘Arthurian/Avalon’ narratives, as they are intertwined), actually occurred. If these are held to be ‘true’, then the reader is likely to find this volume of considerable interest. If considered to be merely ‘myths’, then this volume is, at best, a rather-long fairy story.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given this volume a 5.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Joseph of Arimathea’

Book Review: ‘The Spitfire: An Icon of the Skies’

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Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: The Spitfire: An Icon of the Skies

Editor: Philip Kaplan

No. of Pages: 234

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

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According to its author, this volume: ‘…Looks at both the magnificent restoration of a AR213 [A specific aircraft], and at the Spitfire generally. It considers the mystique and charisma associated with the type, its principle designer R.J. Mitchell, the Spitfires of the pre-war years, the Spitfire in the battle of Britain, flying the aeroplane, the roles of the Spitfire in the Second World War, the amazing career of Alex Henshaw as Chief Test Pilot…the famous Rolls Royce Merlin engine…some of the motion picture and television performances of the Spitfire, and the phenomenal evolution of the warbird movement’. It is an excellent precis.

The volume consists of 12 Chapters. These cover the subjects described above and are accompanied by numerous monochrome and colour photographs. These are of both aircraft and individuals; all are relevant to the narrative. However, the image sources are not included with the images, but are instead listed in a separate Picture Credits section placed at the back of the book (of which more anon). Art works, along with images from both print media and philately, also appear, together with numerous personal reminiscences.

Regrettably, for this reviewer, this volume has several significant faults. Of these (and the most curious and serious; at least for this reviewer),  concerns the Contents page. On it there is a complete absence of reference to the volume’s ‘support services’. That the Acknowledgements. Bibliography, Picture Credits and Index sections appear within the book is easily verifiable, yet the Contents page contains no reference to their existence. Why this is so is unknown. In addition, an un-named (but two-page) section has been placed immediately after the Contents page. Exactly what it is, and why it has been placed where it is, is unexplained. To this reviewer, that section appears to be a ‘grab-bag’ of the material that will later appear within the body of the volume, but in the absence of a title, its function is uncertain. Regrettably, the authority of the Index is also doubtful, with a random search for ‘Park, Keith within it indicating that an entry to Park Keith would be found on page 99. No such entry was found. Have other, similar, omissions occurred? There is no way to know. As previously-noted, this book contains numerous personal reminiscences and quotes from those personally involved with the aircraft. Regrettably, little effort has been made to indicate when one individual’s quotes end and another’s starts, or of their sources (whether published, personal documents, or conversations). Page 35 is but one example, with the absence of quotation marks and citations making it initially difficult for this reviewer to determine where the ‘Beurling’ section ended and the ‘Lacy’ one commenced. Similar examples appear elsewhere. Readers seeking further information about the origins of such quotes will also have no idea where to look as no citations are provided to indicate their sources. The author certainly uses the Acknowledgements section to thank those who helped him by providing ‘…Quoted and other material’.

However, this is a ‘blanket’ thanks and in the absence of specific sources for specific quotes it likely to be of little use to a researcher.  A list of the abbreviations used throughout the volume would also have been useful. No maps appear within the volume.

The volume can be considered a ‘Potted History’ of the Spitfire and its military and civilian service, with particular emphasis being placed on the restoration of AR213. On that basis it will probably appeal to Spitfire aficionados in particular and to aviation and war-bird enthusiasts in general. Aviation historians may find it worthy of their perusal, while ‘generalist’ military historians may also find it of interest. Pilots and ‘Aviation buffs’ of all persuasions may also find it worth a look. Aeromodellers specifically interested in the Spitfire (especially the early marks as exemplified by AR213) are also likely to find the colour images useful.

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

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Book Review: ‘The Spitfire: An Icon of the Skies’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Escorting the Monarch: The Story of the Metropolitan Police’s ‘Special Escort Group’’.

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Escorting the Monarch: The Story of the Metropolitan Police’s ‘Special Escort Group

Author: Chris Jagger

No. of Pages: 156

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

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In his in introduction to this volume the author writes the following: ‘The Special Escort Group (SEG) has been honing its skills for over six decades. Developing an unequivocal team culture dedicated to absolute precision, it has a reputation for excellence amongst its peers, of delivering its passengers (and cargo) on time, safely, in a  great deal of style, and without fuss or mishap…From queens, kings, presidents and emperors, to priceless works of art, terrorists and high-risk prisoners, SEG escorts them all. The skill required to protect them demands a world-class team’. This is that team’s story. It is a fair summation of the volume.

The Contents section is three pages in length and is followed by an Acknowledgements section in which all those who assisted the author are thanked. This is in turn followed by a Preface which details the reasons for the volume’s existence. An Introduction by the longest- serving Chief of SEG follows that section and is in turn followed by a Forward by HRH Prince Michael of Kent. An Introduction from the Author then talks the reader on an imaginary (but typical) journey on a typical SEG mission. The main part of the volume consists of   five Chapters. Titled sequentially (The 1950s. The 1960s etc.), these cover events in their respective decades and illustrate the development of the SEG through the 1952-199 period. Within each chapter, subheadings relate SEG-related events that occurred in that specific decade.  They make for fascinating reading. Regrettably, the volume does not cover SEG operations in the Twenty-first Century. A final chapter (The Future) is largely a multi-page (but imagined) advertisement for recruits for the SEG. However, it also contains the texts of two SEG-related letters, a list of SEG Chiefs and a list of SEG Motorcycles (approximate dates deployed to the SEG), the contents of these latter sections being self-evident from their titles. A five-page Index completes the volume. The volume is illustrated in a variety of media. Pencil sketches appear in various locations, as do pen and ink images of the various motorcycles that have been used by SEG over the years. Curiously (and although the volume does not itself cover the majority of the period), one drawing (BMW R1100RS (1997-2012) is of a motorcycle used from 1997-2012. Why this should be so, is not recorded. A sixteen page Plates’ section in the volume’s centre contains descriptively-captioned images of motorcycles, personnel, correspondence and cartoons relevant to the larger narrative. Although the sources of some of these are given, the origins of the majority are unknown. There is no mention of the section’s existence on either the Contents pages or in the Index. within the individual Chapters, Footnotes are used to provide additional information. However, their use is somewhat piecemeal and does not extend to the numerous personal quotes that appear within the chapters. Boxes containing additional quotes also appear within the Chapters. While providing extra information helpful to the narrative, for unexplained reasons their sources are not cited. It is also not known why these particular quotes have been displayed in this specific manner.  The volume also contains two untitled and uncaptioned maps, evidently related to the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill, although this is not stated, together with a half-tone rendition of the official SEG Coat of Arms.

The author’s style is readable and it is evident that he knows his subject. As a result, this volume may appeal to the general reader who is seeking an undemanding tale that gives a ‘Once over lightly’ introduction to a hitherto unknown organisation.  Because of its subject, this book is likely to also appeal to both Motorcycle and Police ‘enthusiasts’. The descriptions within this volume might also be of interest to both political and social historians researching Post-WWII Great Britain.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Escorting the Monarch: The Story of the Metropolitan Police’s ‘Special Escort Group’’.

AND THE WINNER IS: MICHAEL KEITH’S TOP TEN BOOKS FOR 2017

To my surprise, since 31 December 2016 I have placed 46 book reviews onto this site. As those who follow me will be aware, these cover a wide range of subjects and receive varying ratings out of a scale of 1-10, with 1 being very poor and 10 being excellent. (I have never given a 10 by the way, although it has at times been very tempting to do so).

On the basis of the gradings / ratings received, I thought that it would fun to list the Top Ten Titles  of 2017. They appear below:

Famous Brand Names (Martin)

  Fighters over the Fleet (N. Freidmann)

Above the Battle (Munro)

The Royal Navy in Eastern Waters: Linchpin of Victory 1935-1942  (Boyd)

The Malayan Emergency and Indonesian Confrontation (Jackson)

British Armoured Car Operations in WW I  (Perrett)

Ashley Jackson: The Yorkshire Artist (Jackson)

British Warship Recognition Vol. 3. Cruisers (1)1865-1939 (Perkins)

Lady Lucy Houston:The Mother of the Spitfire (MacNair)

Severn Valley Railway (Vanns)

Note: Although the heading of this post refers to my Top Ten Titles for 2017, there were two additional titles which, while receiving high rating for one of their component parts, equally received poor ratings for another. They are included on the list on the strength of the ‘High’ component they contained and appear below. I will leave the reader to decide the reasons for their inclusion:

Rails Across Britain: Thirty Years of Change and Colour (Cable)

Storm Chaser (Olbinski)

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

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

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AND THE WINNER IS: MICHAEL KEITH’S TOP TEN BOOKS FOR 2017