BOOK REVIEW: ‘Atomic Thunder: British Nuclear Testing in Australia’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  Atomic Thunder: British Nuclear Testing in Australia

Author: Elizabeth Tynan

Total Number of Pages: 373

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7 ½

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In the book’s Acknowledgements section, the author writes that, in her opinion ‘The Maralinga story is a vast sprawling saga. This book is an attempt to provide a concise overview that will be of interest to the general reader, as well as offering a fresh perspective based upon years of analysis of the many diverse forms of evidence available…I have…sought to…show marlinga in its historical and scientific context’. As a ‘Statement of intent’, it is admirable. She also notes (in the volume’s Prologue) that ‘The word Maralinga means ‘thunder’ in Garik…It was exactly the right name. The thunder that rolled across the plains was an ominous sound that heralded a new leading player in a nuclear-armed and infinitely dangerous world’. The volume ends with the following sentence: ‘If there is a word that speaks not only of thunder but also of government secrecy, nuclear colonialism, reckless national pride, bigotry towards indigenous peoples, nuclear scientific arrogance, human folly and the resilience of victims, surely that word is maralinga’.

Regrettably (and despite the noble intentions expressed above), what has eventually resulted is a subjective volume written to meet a pre-determined outcome. To the author, the Maralinga saga has no redeeming features.

Within the volume itself, the Contents page is followed by a four page Acknowledgments section within-which the individuals and organisations (and even animals) which contributed to this book are thanked.  It also reveals the volume’s origins, these being that a visit to an organisation in Melbourne in 2004 ‘…Planted the seed of an idea that later became my PhD thesis and still later became this book’. An Abbreviations section is next, giving interpretation to the numerous acronyms and abbreviations which appear throughout the book. A single page Measurements section follows. This gives the equivalents necessary to convert British Imperial measurements into their metric equivalents, while also noting the differences between Australia’s ‘Imperial’ currency (comprising Pounds Shillings and Pence) and the metric-based one that replaced it in 1966.Two pages of Maps follow. This section contains four maps. One is a general outline of Australia indicating the location of the nuclear test sites in relation to the rest of the continent. Its companions show the individual test sites in greater detail. Curiously (and although noted only as Map on the Contents page), the section itself carries the additional title British nuclear tests in Australia – test sites within its pages. Which one is correct is not known.  A Prologue follows.  This provides a summary of what is to follow; the 12 Chapters which comprise the main part of the volume.  These largely record the decisions and events that were associated with the various nuclear tests which comprised the ‘Maralinga’ series. However (and for unknown reasons), throughout the volume the author also uses the ‘Stream of consciousness’ narrative-form to describe events. Chapter One (Maralinga buried, uncovered) is one such example.  This writing style is more commonly associated with works of fiction. Where used within the volume, and with no supporting citations to provide verification, the result is, at best, a work of ‘Faction’ (that is ‘Facts combined with imagination to produce an end result that is a combination of both’). The appropriateness of such narrative-forms within a volume purporting to be an authoritative work is debatable. An Appendix is placed after the final chapter. Its title (British Atomic tests in Australia) is self-explanatory. A Glossary follows, and is in turn followed by a section titled References. This is somewhat analogous to a Notes section in a volume in which Footnote or Endnote citations appear. As such devices are not used within this book, its presence is unexplained.  A Bibliography placed after the References section records both the electronic and printed material used in creating this work and is followed in turn by the Index; the volume’s final section.  The book contains no photographs.

This reviewer found several areas of concern when viewing this volume. In addition to the ‘stream of consciousness’ writing style previously-noted, the lack of citations for the numerous Quotes reduces the latter’s authority (and consequent research value) to almost zero; they might just as well be imagined.  The authority of the Index is also questionable, as random checking found several omissions; New Zealand (for example) although mentioned twice on page 23, is absent from the Index.  As the absence of other entries was also noted, the true extent of such ‘omissions’ cannot be known. The lack of photographic images is also unfortunate as their presence would have provided visual reinforcement to the narrative.

As previously noted, this volume is subjective in its treatment of its subject. As such it will no doubt confirm well-held and entrenched viewpoints. That detail notwithstanding, it is likely to be of interest to Political Scientists with a specific interest in British nuclear policies and international Cold War politics. Australians seeking information about the Maralinga tests and their country’s relationships with the British are also likely to find it of interest. Academic librarians might also find it worthy of inclusion within their collections. The author’s lack of objectivity does however mean that is not the ‘Standard Work of Reference’ that it could have been; it should be treated accordingly.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 7 ½.

Note: This title was originally published in Australia in 2016, with this edition, published in 2018, being the first in Great Britain. It has not been updated in the interval.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Atomic Thunder: British Nuclear Testing in Australia’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Bayly’s War: The Battle for the Western Approaches in the First World War’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Bayly’s War: The Battle for the Western Approaches in the First World War

Author: Steve R. Dunn

Total Number of Printed Pages: 304

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

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In A Note on the Structure and Intent of this Book, the author states that ‘First and foremost it is the intention …to tell a story; a true story of sacrifice and quotidian bravery. The method is to use individual incidents which build to a whole hopefully greater than the sum of the parts…It is not a day-to-day history but a story compounded of many parts. Neither is it a biography, although [Admiral, Sir] Lewis Bayly…provides a linking theme and his character and role are important to the telling of the narrative’. It is an accurate summation.

Within the volume, a List of Plates placed after the two-page Contents section contains the captions and sources of the images placed within a dedicated Images section placed at the book’s centre. An untitled page containing three Quotes relative to the narrative then appears. It is followed by the previously-mentioned A Note on the Structure and Intent of this Book section. The volume’s Preface then summarises the volume. A Prologue follows. Within it a fictional (although probably fact-based) narrative is used to set the scene for what is to come. The main part of the volume follows. It consists of 25 Chapters, divided into three sections (defined as Parts). These cover three specific time periods and periods of action (1914-April 1917; 1917-1918; 1919-2017). Within each Part individual Chapters cover specific time periods, and, where relevant, subheadings are used to provide additional information relevant to the larger narrative. Six Appendices have been placed behind Chapter 25 (Envoi), and these are in turn followed by a section titled Author’s Note; effectively the book’s Acknowledgments section. Within each Chapter, additional information is provided through the use of Endnotes. Numbered numerically and chapter-specific; their citations being placed in a designated Notes section placed after the Author’s Note. A Bibliography placed after the Notes section lists the sources used in the book’s preparation. It is followed by the Index; the volume’s final section. As previously-noted, end-note-type Citations provide additional information within each Chapter, However, where ‘additional’ additional information is required, the author uses Asterisks (sometimes one, frequently two, occasionally three) to provide this, these additional entries being placed at the bottom of the page as quasi-footnotes. As previously-noted the volume contains a multi-page Images section placed between pages 128 and 129. The images are monochrome and contain a mix of, ships (both Naval and Merchant Marine), personnel, structures, documents and events relevant to the narrative.  The volume contains a single map (titled Queenstown and the Western Approaches) although its existence is not noted on either the Contents page or within the Index.

Although it is undoubtedly well-written and researched, for this reviewer, the volume was badly let down by its Index. Random searching during the review process found numerous instances where items noted in the text did not appear in the Index. These omissions seemed especially prevalent with geographical locations; Fort Westmoreland (Page 22) and Bantry Bay (Page 238), being but two examples where this occurs. Curiously, Whiddy Island, while appearing in the same sentence as Bantry Bay, merits an Index entry; the former does not. The reasons for this are not known. In light of the above, the authority of the Index must inevitably suffer. Unsourced quotes appear through-out the volume (that of Sir Halford John Mackinder on page 15 being one such example). Regrettably, the absence of supporting citations severely reduces their research value. Despite the use of numerous military acronyms and terms within the volume, there is no explanatory Glossary; What (for example) is ‘Tinned dope’ (page 156)? A layman-reader cannot be expected to know. Although discussed in a Chapter of their own (No. 20 War from the Air), the volume contains no images of the relevant aircraft.

As previously-noted this book is well-written and researched, and may well become a standard reference work on its subject. The ‘difficulties’ noted-above notwithstanding, it is likely to be of considerable use to military historians. American and British naval historians with a specific interest in activities off the Irish coast during World War I will probably find it especially informative. Layman readers interested in submarines (specifically U-boats), warships or British, American and German naval operations during World War I may also find this volume worthy of their attention. Irish Historians, and readers seeking a different perspective on ‘The Troubles’, may also find it enlightening. The photographs of ships within the Images section may also be of use to warship modellers.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume an 8.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Bayly’s War: The Battle for the Western Approaches in the First World War’

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’