BOOK REVIEW:’The Desert Air Force in World War II: Air Power in the Western Desert 1940-1942′

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: The Desert Air Force in World War II: Air Power in the Western Desert 1940-1942

Author: Ken Delve

Total Number of Printed Pages: 282

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

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Historians have tended to view the conflict in the Middle East during World War II as being largely a sideshow when compared to the more militarily-important events in Europe. It was however a contributor towards the ultimate Allied victory and an area where air power played a significant role. The nature of that role is discussed within this volume.

Within this volume, the author describes the development of British air power from its pre-World War II beginnings to the end of 1942, when the British Imperial Military Forces in North Africa were facing defeat at the hands of the German Afrika Korps under the command of General Irwin Rommel. It is a tale of the Royal Air Force (aka The Desert Air Force), the military air arms of Italy and Germany and, to a lesser extent those of Australia, South Africa, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and the United States of America. It is a tale of men and machines operating in extremely difficult conditions and, ultimately it is also a tale of the desert itself and its local climatic peculiarities.  However, and despite its title, this volume is not a complete history of Allied air operations in the Middle East during World War II. It is instead concerned with only part of those operations, and is evidently ‘Part One’ of a multi-volume series. Regrettably the title does not convey this information, which only becomes evident in the final sentence of the final chapter. That sentence states: ‘…The clearing of North Africa and the invasion of Italy are the subject of a forthcoming book’. Whether or not that detail is an important one is something that only the reader can decide.

Within the volume, an Acknowledgements section placed immediately behind the Contents page thanks those who contributed towards this volume. It is in turn followed by 6 Chapters, with Chapter 1 being subtitled Introduction. This both summarises the volume’s content and outlines the reasons for its creation. The remaining Chapters provide detail of the aviation-based operations undertaken by the Desert Air Force until 1942. Seven Appendixes follow. Appendices I-V cover such items as Battle Honours and Awards, pets, aircrew who survived crashes in the inhospitable desert, aircraft supply route and airfields. Appendices VI and VII present a Chronology and an Order of Battle relating to the over-all narrative. Although Maps, Photographs, Tables and Technical Diagrams appear throughout the volume, there is no reference to their existence on the Contents page. No Bibliography or Index is provided. A list of the numerous abbreviations that appear throughout the volume would have been useful.

This book is likely to appeal to a variety of readers. These could include those interested in the Royal Air Force and its history, those interested in the North African military campaign of World War II, and those with a general interest in aviation. Modellers of both aviation and military persuasions could find the many photographs useful as a resource.  It is also possible that genealogists seeking information about the military service of family members within the British Military Forces may find it of use. The lack of an Index could however make this searching both difficult and tedious.

As previously noted, and contrary to the title, this is not a ‘complete’ work in respect of its subject, Although to some this will be little consequence, that fact when combined with the absence of both a Bibliography and Index, has served to reduce this volume’s value as an ‘Authoritative Source’. On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given it a 7.

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BOOK REVIEW:’The Desert Air Force in World War II: Air Power in the Western Desert 1940-1942′

BOOK REVIEW: ‘VC10: Icon of the Skies: BOAC, Boeing and a Jet Age Battle’.

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  VC10: Icon of the Skies: BOAC, Boeing and a Jet Age Battle

Author:  Lance Coles

Total Number of Pages: 224

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

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In commerce the adage; ’The Customer is always right; even when he is wrong’ is well known. But what happens if the ‘Customer;’ continually changes his mind? If he makes outrageous demands, yet when these are met, changes his mind once more? What happens if he then says that it’s ‘All the (metaphorical) shopkeeper’s fault anyway’ and then buys an inferior product from the opposition? Absurd?  Unfortunately no, and this is essentially the narrative presented within this book. Yet despite such actions, the result was a magnificent, much loved and very beautiful aeroplane; the Vickers (later BAC) VC10. This volume relates its story.

This well-written and readable book tells two parallel and frequently-intertwined stories. One concerns the design and development of an aircraft; the other, the machinations, confusions and incompetency’s which repeatedly altered, stalled and frustrated the development of that particular machine. The author well-summarises the situation when he states that ‘This is the story of not just an airliner, but also the airline industry, an airline and the nation and society it served’. He then adds ‘Other national airlines have served political , as well as passenger needs, but the circumstances surrounding BOAC [the British Overseas Airways Corporation], the end of an era, and government edict to a national, yet State-supported carrier are circumstances unique to BOAC and the VC10’.

The ‘aircraft’ story relates the story of the development of the concepts and airframes which ultimately led to the design and construction of the VC10; the aviation-subject of this volume. In the process it details at length the sad and sorry story of the VC7 / V1000, an airliner with the potential to have given Great Britain a significant portion of the international aviation market during the late 1950’s – mid 1960’s period.  That it didn’t do so is largely as a result of BOAC’s actions, although experience gained with the VC7 /VC1000 contributed significantly to the VC10’s design and development. The ‘airline’ story, in contrast, narrates the attempts by BOAC to eliminate both the VC7/V1000 and the VC10 in favour of another, foreign, and less-capable machine. That the VC10 was even built under such circumstances is in itself remarkable. That it survived despite BOAC’s machinations, indecisions and (at times) deliberate opposition, is even more so; it is a most unusual tale. BOAC was not however the VC10’s only operator.

There were others (both civil and military) and their activities are described in detail. Proposed developments of the basic design are also discussed and illustrated.  Unsurprisingly, the VC10 had several competitors. These and their parent companies are analysed in detail and at length in Chapter 8 (Boeing’s Big Beast: Deltas, B-52s and Stratotanker to Stratoliner).

 Within the volume, and after the Contents page, separate Acknowledgements and Introduction sections precede the 10 Chapters which present its narrative. The former thanks those who contributed to the volume; the latter both precis’s the volume’s contents, and contains  personal reminiscences from the author. The Chapters themselves detail the development of the aircraft and the various machinations that attended its use by BOAC. They also provide background to the development of that airline and its role within the British Empire. Endnotes are used to provide additional information within the volume. They are numeric in format, chapter-specific and sequential. The relevant citations appear in a designated Notes section after the volume’s last chapter. A two-page Bibliography and Sources section then follows. Curiously, an Appendix (Designated Appendix I), is placed after the Bibliography and Sources section instead of after the final chapter; the usual place for Appendices. It records the individual Registrations of each VC10, together with some details of its airline and military service. It does not give individual airframe histories. An Index placed behind the Appendix concludes the volume. The book contains plans, schedules, monochrome photographs and half-tone drawings. There is no mention of their existence on either the Contents page or in the Index. There are no maps.

While this reviewer found the volume informative, he believes it to be let down by a lack of attention to small details, the description of the 1934 De Havilland Comet racer as being ‘Single seat’ on p.56 being a case in point (it was actually two seat), In a similar vein, diagrams within Chapter 5 do not appear on the pages which refer to them (p.84 being one such example; the statement ‘The early sketches (see below)…’  revealing only more text, not the expected diagrams). Although minor, the discovery of such details raised doubts about the veracity of the larger narrative.

These ‘imperfections’ notwithstanding, this volume may appeal to a variety of readers. Devotees of the VC10 aircraft will definitely find it of interest as will aviation enthusiasts of a more ‘generalist’ nature, particularly those interested in airline history and operations. Geopolitical researchers and Historians interested in corporate histories and Government-private sector interaction may find the machinations of BOAC of interest, while modellers may find the photographs to be 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: ‘VC10: Icon of the Skies: BOAC, Boeing and a Jet Age Battle’.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘History of British European Airways: 1946-1972’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  History of British European Airways: 1946-1972

Author: Charles Woodley

Total Number of Pages: 206

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

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Formed to take over ‘…Most UK domestic and European routes under the British government\s nationalisation policy’, during the 26 years of its existence British European Airways (BEA) expanded, experimented and diversified, before being amalgamated with a sister organisation in 1972, ostensibly ‘To avoid waste and duplication’. This is its story.

Originally published in 2006, this well-researched and eminently readable volume traces the history of  British European Airways from its creation in 1946 to its demise (through amalgamation with British Overseas Airways; BOAC) in 1972; the merger resulting in the creation of British Airways. In the process the reader is introduced to such topics as mail-carrying helicopters, beach landings, air ambulances and aircraft of many types from a variety of manufacturers. Where they relate to BEA, many other topics are also detailed. Although it is possible to read this volume from cover to cover in one sitting (as this reviewer did) he believes that it is more suited for a ‘dipping’ search, an approach that proved especially useful when referring to Appendix 4 (Details of Major Aircraft Types). A chapter is devoted to the circumstances resulting in the formation of British Airways.

An Acknowledgements section placed at the front of the book, thanks those who have contributed to its creation. An Introduction follows, providing a two-page precis of BEA’s history. The volume’s main section consists of 20 Chapters. Of these, 10 relate directly to the ‘flying’ side of the Company, while 10 describe such things as Company corporate structure, finances, crew training, and personnel. Five Appendices follow, and cover such things as BEA Chairmen, Route Maps illustrating the Development of the Networks and Technical Details of Major Aircraft Types. A Bibliography and an Index complete the volume. Numerous photographs, plans, diagrams and half-tone advertisements appear throughout the book, with a 16-page block of colour images being placed in its centre. These latter are numbered1-26, but as no complimentary numbers were found within the book itself, the reason for this is  unknown. No reference to the existence of any of the aforementioned photographs, plans, diagrams and half-tone advertisements appears on either the Contents page or within the Index.

For this reviewer, the History of British European Airways: 1946-1972 was something of a ‘mixed bag’. It is certainly well-written and researched. However, the previously mentioned lack of reference to the volume’s numerous photographs, plans and half-tone images within either the Content or Index sections made searching for specific items both difficult and tedious. In addition, by displaying very-evident pixels, several of the images within the centrally-placed ‘colour’ section (including No.’s 9, 10, 11, 14, 15 and 23, although there were others) were disappointing. While appreciating that they were possibly ‘computerised’ in origin, for this reviewer they were not of the quality he expected to find within a volume of this nature.

As BEA has a substantial ‘fan following’ such enthusiasts are likely to find this work of great interest, while those with a more ‘general’ aviation interest may also find it useful. Aviation modellers with an interest in either BEA, British aviation or airliners in general could also find this book to be a useful resource.

As it is well written and researched, and despite the limitations noted above, this volume is likely to become a standard reference work on its subject, On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent), I have given it an 8.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘History of British European Airways: 1946-1972’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Railway Guns: British and German Guns at War’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  Railway Guns: British and German Guns at War

Author: John Goodwin

Total Number of Pages: 122

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

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Until aircraft could be used to damage an enemy’s distant infrastructure, long-range artillery was the only option available for land-based armies to complete that task, This book chronicles the development and uses of such weapons; paying particular attention to the use of  rail-mounted super-heavy artillery in Western Europe during both World Wars.

This volume details the invention of very long-distance, ultra-heavy artillery, with particular (but not exclusive) emphasis on the railway-transportable sub-variant of that type of gun. While British use of railway guns forms the main focus of the book, American, French and German guns and experiences are also related and chronicled. Although they were fixed-position units, the German-built Cross-Channel Bombardment Batteries are also described in a separate chapter, as are the railway guns which operated alongside them.

An Acknowledgements section which appears at the front of this book thanks those who contributed to its creation. This is preceded by a Dedication page, which, curiously, is placed on the reverse side of a page instead of the more-usual page-front. The Dedication, after stating that it was ‘Written as a tribute to happy memories of my railway family in wartime…’ then proceeds to list both military and railway service by the author’s family, and five books evidently written by another family member. The Dedication is not listed on the Contents page. The largest section of the volume consists of 10 Chapters. These cover the invention of very long-distance, ultra-heavy artillery, with particular (but not exclusive) emphasis on the railway-transportable sub-genre of these weapons  Within each Chapter, subsections cover specific topics relevant to that chapter. A Bibliography at the back of the book lists sources used while writing this volume. A three page Index completes the volume. Numerous captioned Photographs, Maps, Technical Diagrams and Plans appear within the book, as do two Tables, three Pen and Ink drawings and a halftone illustration. The cover of an Official Training Manual for Siege Artillery is also reproduced, as is a page illustrating Water Cranes copied from a manufacturer’s catalogue. Although nominally placed at the end of each chapter, the locations of the photographs etc. can vary. There is no reference to these items on either the Contents page or within the Index.

Despite being very informative, this reviewer did not find this volume an enjoyable read.  This was due to a variety of factors, including the previously mentioned Dedication, the use of colloquialisms and a lack of interpretive information on maps.

The use of long sentences and a lack of commas within some sentences was also frustrating, The lack of any reference to the existence of photographs, maps etc. in either the Index or on the Contents page made searching for specific items difficult. The misidentification of several of the steam locomotives within the volume was also disappointing.

This volume may appeal to several potential purchasing groups. These could include Military Historians with an interest in both World Wars I and II or the defences and fortifications used during those conflicts. Students of British Army practices, siege weapons or extra-heavy artillery may also find this book of interest, as could military modellers or war gamers. Railway enthusiasts and modellers with an interest in ‘Things military’ may also find it to be useful for reference purposes.

Because of its specialisation, and despite the previously-mentioned limitations, this book is likely to become a standard work on its subject, On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given it a 6.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Railway Guns: British and German Guns at War’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Fighters over the Fleet: Naval Air Defence from Biplanes to the Cold War’.

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: Fighters over the Fleet: Naval Air Defence from Biplanes to the Cold War

Author: Norman Friedman

Total Number of Printed Pages: 460

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

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Aircraft carriers are essentially sea-going military airfields, tasked with both protecting the naval vessels they are associated with, and, if possible, undertaking offensive actions against an enemy. The task of protection requires the use of fighters; small, highly manoeuvrable (and usually single-seat) aircraft, designed for the specific task of protecting the ships of the fleet to which they are attached, and flown with the intention of destroying any enemy aircraft they encounter . This is their story.

As the subtitle indicates, this well-written and researched volume chronicles the development of naval fighter aircraft ‘…From Biplanes to the Cold War’. It concentrates on the activities of what the author calls the ‘Three major carrier navies’, defining these as being of Great Britain, the United States of America and ‘Pre-1941 and Second World War Imperial Japan’.  When describing these entities, the author provides detailed analysis of their individual naval histories, the technologies, ships and aircraft that were employed and the tactics developed by each navy in response to specific situations. The result is a book which is likely to be become a standard reference work on its subject. Due to the amount of information it contains, this is not however a book which can be read in one sitting, but is rather encyclopaedic in coverage and well-suited to ’dipping into’ in pursuit of specific information.

Four separate sections precede the 13 Chapters which comprise the main part of this book. They are titled Abbreviations; A Note on Sources; Acknowledgements and Introduction. The Abbreviations section provides ‘Plain English’ interpretations of the numerous military–type abbreviations appearing within the work, while the Sources section indicates the origins of much of the information it contains. Those who have contributed to the work are thanked within the Acknowledgements section, while a general overview of the place of naval aviation as part of a larger defence system is presented in the Introduction. The volume’s first two Chapters chronicle both the development of the aircraft carrier and carrier-based aircraft, the latter being largely United States focused. The remaining chapters are devoted to the technical evolution of naval aviation. These focus on technical responses to perceived crises, whether political or technological.  Where necessary, sub-sections within each chapter provide additional information on specific topics. An Epilogue discusses the political, military and technological situation as the author perceives they exist in 2016. Within each chapter, sequentially-numbered and chapter-specific citations are provided. These are endnote in format, the relevant information appearing in a Notes section placed after the Epilogue.  A Bibliography follows the Epilogue. An Aircraft Data section following the Bibliography provides technical information relating to many of the aircraft-types appearing within the volume. Curiously and although arranged in column format, the Aircraft Data section uses a modified form of footnotes to provide additional sources. As a result, citations appear at the end of an ‘individual’ section rather than at the foot of the page. An Index completes the volume. The book contains numerous photographs, half-tone illustrations and plans (the two latter termed ‘Diagrams’ in the index) from a variety of sources. Although well-captioned, there is no reference to their existence on the Contents page.

This reviewer could find little to fault with this work. He would however question the placing of the Aircraft Data section behind the Bibliography as in his view, by containing additional information, the former should have been an Appendix rather than ‘merely ‘just another section at the back of the book’. The section deserves better.

In addition, and despite their notation within the Index, the Contents page contains no reference to any of the numerous photographs, half-tone illustrations and plans (aka ‘Diagrams’) appearing within the volume. As many readers will not peruse an Index to find such information, an indication of their existence (preferably an actual list) would have been helpful and avoided unnecessary searching in pursuit of a single item. How important these ‘faults’ may be, will depend on the individual reader.

In the opinion of this reviewer, this volume is likely to have wide appeal and could be of interest to both Naval and Aviation historians and to hobbyists with an interest in ‘matters naval’ in general, naval fighter aircraft, aircraft carriers and aerial combat. Those with a specific interest in United States Navy tactics and aircraft carrier operations are especially fortunate in this regard. In addition, by providing a ‘naval’ perspective on political events, those with an interest in international affairs (such as the ‘Korean War’) could also find it worth perusing.

As previously-noted, this volume bids fair to become an authoritative work on its subject; ‘Naval Fighters’ although it does have its flaws. Despite these, and on a Rating Scale 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given it a 9.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Fighters over the Fleet: Naval Air Defence from Biplanes to the Cold War’.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘ British Armoured Car Operations In World War One’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  British Armoured Car Operations In World War One

Author: Bryan Perrett

Total Number of Pages: 157

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

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It easy to focus on the ‘Big Picture’ and ignore the small things; those details which, contribute-to and ultimately comprise the larger image. World War I is no exception, there being a tendency to focus on events in Europe to the exclusion of the smaller alarums and excursions which played a part in the larger conflict. This book, in the course of the narrative about its specific subject, deals with the ‘smaller things’, and does it well.

This is a well-written and very readable volume. It details the origins, development and operations of armoured cars used by British forces during World War I. A detailed background gives insight into the origins of the armoured-car genre. The majority of British armoured car operations during World War I occurred in obscure locations far removed from Europe and the Western Front.  As a result, the reader is taken into Russia, the Balkans, Iran, the Levant and Africa; into small places and small wars. The relevant details are well-narrated. This reviewer found the chapters relating to the Russian / Balkan experiences of the British armoured car units particularly interesting, but was left with the impression that many of the non-British participants viewed the World War as being totally irrelevant to their own particular machinations. By their free-roaming, almost piratical nature, armoured cars attracted some interesting ‘personalities’. When these individuals make their appearance within the volume, they are treated with sympathy, although their foibles are not overlooked. The volume contains a selection of contemporary and informative photographs.  Disappointingly, one of these (No.15) although notated as being ‘A rare coloured photograph…’, appears only in a monochrome format.

The book consists of 11 Chapters. Maps are provided. Photographic captions are placed alongside their respective images and also appear in a separate List of Plates section in the front of the volume.  A Foreword relates the volume to a previously-published work by the author.  A Bibliography and Index are provided. No Source Notes are provided for the various quotations appearing within the work.

This book is likely to appeal to a variety of readers. These could include military historians and those with a particular interest in land-based warfare and military vehicles. Military modellers specialising in World War I would probably find the photographs of use. It may also appeal to those who simply like an enjoyable read about an unusual subject.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘ British Armoured Car Operations In World War One’

Book Review: ‘Victorians and Edwardians Abroad: The Beginning of the Modern Holiday’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  Victorians and Edwardians Abroad: The Beginning of the Modern Holiday

Author: Neil Matthews

Total Number of Pages: 135

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

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The concept of package holidays is a familiar one as are the advertisements reminding us of the desirability of ‘Two sun-filled weeks in Ibiza’, or Greece or even in the Caribbean. We also think nothing of flying immense distances to, ‘soak up the rays’.  But where did it all start?  This well-written and researched book attempts to answer that question.

The British are no strangers to the concept of ‘holidays’, both at home and abroad and were sufficiently adept at it by the middle of the Eighteenth Century to create what was known as ‘The Grand Tour’. Intended as ‘… A means of education and particularly social finishing’,   the ‘Tour was effectively a journey around both Britain and Europe by the upper classes, with the added bonus that it ‘…Also came to acquire a reputation for one specific benefit; it could improve your health’. Unsurprisingly, the ‘lower orders’ were not encouraged to participate in such ventures. The rise of the British Middle Class and the development of reliable railway transport systems radically changed the situation. Prompted by the perceived health-benefits of both sea and salt air, Middle Class Britain increasingly patronised the seaside towns. Some brave souls even ventured across the English Channel into Europe. It was however Thomas Cook’s railway-based day excursions that really revolutionised British holiday-travel. They enabled the average worker to visit places hitherto reserved for those with money, while his  subsequent development of package holidays gave the British populace access to Europe. However, and although he is probably the best known, Thomas Cook was not alone in developing such concepts. Others were doing similar things and the activities of both Cook and his contemporaries are examined within this work. They are not, however, its main focus. That is reserved for an organisation called the Polytechnic Touring Association (PTA).

The Polytechnic Touring association was a natural development of a larger organisation known simply as ‘The Polytechnic’. Privately-funded and developed to provide educational ‘improvement’ for the increasing numbers of ‘White Collar’ workers within the City of London, the Polytechnic was formed in 1888 and was described as being ‘… A blend of club and classroom’.  At the time this concept was revolutionary. The Polytechnic’s founder and (initially) chief financier was a seasoned traveller, and, naturally, travel came to be part of the new school’s ethos. The PTA was the result, becoming an organisation which the author suggests was ‘One of the most enduring and successful travel agencies of the latte Victorian and Edwardian era’. Whether this statement is correct or not will be for the reader to decide.

An Acknowledgements  section at the front of the volume thanks those involved in its creation, and this is followed by an Introduction which provides a general historical background to both British holiday practices, the origins of the original Polytechnic and the PTA itself . The Introduction is followed by 10 Chapters which form the main body of the work. These are essentially detailed elaborations on the information provided in the Introduction. A section titled A Note about Money gives a small amount of information concerning currency-values and invites interested readers to peruse a website for additional calculations. This section is in turn followed by a Select Bibliography, while a two-page Index completes the work. Within the volume, two separate photographic sections provide images of persons and documents important to the narrative together-with examples of postcards relevant to the PTA story. The latter are largely uncaptioned, and no mention of their existence appears on either the Contents page or in the Index. No maps are provided.

This volume is ‘specialist’ in nature and this reviewer believes that it is likely to be of most interest and use to historians specialising in British social history, the history of British education (especially the development of ‘technical’ education), and the British Industrial Revolution. As it details the rise of British mass-travel, social-history researchers with an interest in that subject may also find this work useful, while those with a more ‘generalist’ interest in Britain may well find something to interest them.

For this reviewer, the absence of maps, captions for many of the images, and an indication of the latter’s existence on the Contents page, reduces this volume’s research value. As a result, and on a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent: I would give it a 7. It could have been higher.

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Book Review: ‘Victorians and Edwardians Abroad: The Beginning of the Modern Holiday’