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’

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

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

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

Author: Paul Moorcraft

No. of Pages: 181

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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