BOOK REVIEW: ‘The History of the Channel Tunnel: The Political, Economic and Engineering History of an Heroic Railway Project’

82 Channel tunnel

Reviewer: Michael Keith Rimmer

Title:  The History of the Channel Tunnel: The Political, Economic and Engineering History of an Heroic Railway Project

Author: Nicholas Faith

Total Number of Pages: 223

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 5

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In the Introduction to this volume, the author notes that, in his opinion ‘The tunnel itself is an extraordinary achievement’ and that, in writing this book he is ‘…Trying, for the first time, to cover the whole story’ of the tunnel, its origins, history and the political machinations that attended its creation. The intent is admirable, but how much of the volume’s content is true?

This reviewer found himself asking that question after reading (on page 65), the following sentence `…A list of the meetings…which I have slightly embellished…’, the key word in this instance being ‘Embellished’.  The Oxford English Dictionary, when defining ‘Embellish’, states that to do so is to ‘Make (a statement or story) more interesting by adding extra details that are often untrue’.  The author’s admission that he ‘Slightly embellished’ the events he relates, inevitably raises the probability that, if ‘Embellishment’ (even if only ‘slightly’), has occurred once within this book, it is unlikely to have been an isolated instance. The volume  being now compromised by the author’s own words, the question to be asked is, ‘How much of what appears within this book is in fact ‘true’ (with ‘true’ being defined as ‘An accurate representation of what actually occurred’)?  There being no way to know, and with ‘Scepticism’ now attending every word, the volume’s reputation and authority has inevitably suffered.

Within the volume, a Dedication is placed immediately behind the Contents page, with tribute being paid ‘To the memory of Sir Alistair Morton, ‘the pilot who weathered the storm’.  This is in turn followed by an Introduction, which section precis what is to follow. The volume proper now appears. It consists of five Parts, these being equivalent to sections. The Parts cover the history of the tunnel, its construction and the political and mercantile events associated with it. The volume also contains 15 Chapters. Several of these appear within each Part, acting as ‘Sub-sections’ under the larger Part / Section heading, and relating relevant events associated with the latter. As an example, Part 3 (Decision) contains Chapters 4 (Together, at Long, long, last), 5 (Towards a Final Decision), and 6 (Alistair Morton – and Other Heroes), all these being sections relevant to the broader Part (section) heading Decision.  A section titled Bibliography follows Chapter 15 (‘Sometimes miracles happen’).  This details the printed media used in the writing of this volume, and is in turn followed by a 13-page Index, the book’s final section. Notably, the Contents page contains no reference to the existence of the Index.  A 16-page Images section placed in the centre of the volume contains a variety of relevant colour and monochrome images, plans, portraits, cartoons, charts and the volume’s only Map. The images are informatively captioned and from a variety of sources. Neither the Contents page nor the Index makes mention of their existence. Despite the use of numerous Acronyms and ‘Official’ letter combinations, no ‘quick-reference’ Glossary is provided.  The numerous quotes that the volume contains, carry no authenticating citations; they might just as well be imagined…

As already noted, for this reviewer, the authority of the information contained within this volume has been compromised by the author’s actions. There were however additional ‘difficulties’, with the Index being especially problematical.  As would be expected, this work is focussed on its subject, the Channel Tunnel, and congruent with that focus it would be reasonable to expect that its Index would list those locations, individuals and organisations mentioned within its pages. Unfortunately it does not do so, and in the course of random searching this reviewer found numerous examples where this was the case. Included were such entries as London and North Western Railway (page 41), Brockton Barn (page 184), and NCM Communication (page 203), these being organisations and locations considered worthy of inclusion within the volume, yet not important enough to grace the Index.  The existence of unsourced Quotes, lack of a Glossary and of mention of both the Index and Images sections on the Contents page have already been noted. An outline map of Great Britain would also have been helpful to place the Tunnel and its associated rail infrastructure in context.

This volume may be of interest to a wide variety of readers. These could include Political Scientists, Students of Commerce, Railway Historians, those with a general interest in British transport history, Mining Professionals  and even railway enthusiasts interested  in ‘modern era’ British Railways. However (and for reasons previously-outlined), it has been compromised both by its author’s actions, and the ‘difficulties’ mentioned above. It is undoubtedly a ‘sincere’ book, written to explain a complicated situation and doing it well, but, in this reviewer’s opinion, it cannot be viewed as an ‘Authoritative Work’. ‘Embellishment’, however ‘Slight’, comes at a cost. Were that it was not so.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 5.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The History of the Channel Tunnel: The Political, Economic and Engineering History of an Heroic Railway Project’

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’