BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Roman Invasion of Britain: Archaeology verses History’

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Reviewer: Michael  Keith

Title: The Roman Invasion of Britain: Archaeology verses History

Author: Birgitta Hoffmann

Total Number of Printed Pages: 222

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

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A statement on this volume’s Dust jacket explains its intent well. It notes that ‘The purpose of this book is to take what we think we know about the Roman Conquest of Britain from historical sources, and compare it with the archaeological evidence, which is often contradictory’. It is an accurate summary of what is to follow.

Within the book, a List of Illustrations is placed immediately after the Contents page; it’s function being self-evident. The section reproduces the captions and citations of the monochrome images contained in a 16-page section placed in the centre of the volume. It is in turn followed by a Preface. Within this, the author both provides background as to the book’s origins and acknowledges those who contributed towards its creation. An Introduction follows. This details the academic background to the study of Roman History in Great Britain. The 13 Chapters forming the main part of the volume now appear. With the exception of Chapter 1 (A Few Things to Consider When Reading Ancient Historians) the majority of these are directly-concerned with the Roman conquest and occupation of Britain. Chapter 1 (as its title implies) is instead both a dissertation-on and a guide-to the material likely to be encountered by both Historians and generalist readers, together with the pitfalls that should be expected when such an encounter occurs. The remaining Chapters (2-13) cover specific aspects of Roman Britain. Within each, the author presents both the contemporary versions of events, and, through the use of subsequent archaeological information, either confirms the accuracy of the ancient narrative, or, where this is not the case, a revised and more accurate account of what actually occurred. Where necessary, sub-sections within each Chapter provide greater detail about specific subjects. Two Appendices are placed after Chapter 13. Appendix 1 (Orosius on the Conquest of Britani under Claudius) is an English-language translation of a document originally written in by Josephus, a noted chronicler of the Roman Empire. Appendix 2 (Notitia Dignitatium) is a discussion on the accuracy of this controversial document. A Bibliography follows Appendix 2, and is in turn followed by the volume’s Index; its final section. As previously noted, the book contains a 16-page images section, yet several additional images appear within the body of the work itself. For unknown reasons their existence is not acknowledged within the already-mentioned List of Illustrations’. Although the book also contains several Chapter-specific Maps, no reference to their existence appears on either the Contents page or within the Index. There is also no large Ordnance-Survey-type map of the British Isles to both give context to the narrative and aid in the location of significant events and settlements. Despite the use of subject-specific terminology, the volume contains no Glossary. What (for example) is a dendro-date (Page 12)?  In the absence of a clear and concise explanation, the term is meaningless and one which an average reader cannot be expected to know the meaning of. This was but one example of a considerable number found in the course of the review process.

This volume is undoubtedly well-researched and written. However, this reviewer was left with the distinct impression that what has resulted is a university thesis masquerading as a book. That the author uses the APA reference style for citations instead of the more usual MHRA style reinforced that perception. It was also evident that the author presumed a certain level of reader-knowledge and as already noted, did not consider it necessary to include a Glossary of terms used for the benefit of the layman reader. The Index is also problematical, with random searching finding entries either omitted or incomplete; Portus Itius (page 18) being an example of the former, York (page 155) the latter; with Index entries for pages 115 and 123, but none for page 155.  Other, similar, examples were also found, while the previously-mentioned lack of an Ordnance Survey Map was unhelpful.

Although members of the general public may well find this dissertation about the Roman world in Great Britain of interest, the level of research and the language it contains means that its greatest users may be Teachers, Historians, Archaeologists and those with a specific interest in  the Roman Empire and ancient Britain.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Roman Invasion of Britain: Archaeology verses History’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Castrum to Castle: Classical to Medieval Fortifications in the Lands of the Western Roman Empire’

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Reviewer: Michael  Keith Rimmer

Title:  Castrum to Castle: Classical to Medieval Fortifications in the Lands of the Western Roman Empire

Authors:  J.E. Kaufmann, H.W. Kaufmann,

Total Number of Pages: 278

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

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According to this volume’s dustjacket, this book is the ‘First volume in a two-part study of the history of fortification from the time of the Romans to the renaissance’. A statement appearing on page viii further-defines its intent. This states that ‘This volume covers the history of the fortifications in the lands that were part of the Western Roman Empire and its successors from the first century to the fourteenth century. It concentrates mostly on England and France’. It also notes that ‘This work includes historical background associated with fortifications in addition to their descriptions’. It is a succinct and accurate description of what is to follow.

Within the book, a two-page Preface placed after the Contents page clarifies and defines the various eras (Dark Ages, Middle Ages etc.) which appear within it. This is followed by a two-paragraph Acknowledgements section which thanks those individuals and orgnisations which contributed to the work. The eight Chapters which form the main part of the volume then follow. These are arranged in sequence and follow the development of the ‘castle’-type structure from Roman times to the Fifteenth Century.  Each Chapter is subdivided into Subsections, and, where necessary, (and in support of the larger narrative), into even smaller sections within the individual Subsections. Within the smaller sections, the text will sometimes appear within a green-coloured rectangle. The volume contains no reference to the practice, but it would appear that it has been adopted to highlight information considered important by the authors. A Conclusion placed after Chapter 8 (From Wales to Italy-Twelfth to Fifteenth Centuries) act as a summary for what has gone before. The content of this work’s companion volume is also summarised. An Appendix follows. The title (Table of Monarchs), is self-explanatory in both content and format, and covers the period 1000-1555. Throughout the volume additional information is provided through the use of End-notes. These are Chapter-specific and sequentially-numbered within that Chapter. The relevant citations appear within a designated Notes section placed after the Appendix. The volume’s Glossary and  Bibliography sections follow, together-with an Index; the latter being the final section within the work.  The volume contains numerous monochrome and colour photographs, together with plans, maps, tables, half-tone drawings and paraphernalia relevant to the narrative.Although these are informatively captioned, only some indicate their sources, the origins of the majority being omitted. Although the Index states ‘Page numbers in italics refer to illustrations’, the Contents pages carry no references to their existence.

When reviewing this volume, this reviewer found the Index to be somewhat problematic.  While randomly searching for ‘entries of interest’ within that section, entries were noted as being either absent or with page numbers omitted. An Index-search on page 53 (for example) for both Birdoswald and King Arthur found no entries, while it was noted that Chester, although accorded an Index entry and three page numbers, did not include a reference to its existence on page 53. As this was a random sample on a single page, by implication other entries are also likely to have been omitted. How many, and where, cannot, of course, be known, but the mere fact that these ommissions have been found causes doubt and the authority and veracity of the Index is inevitably questioned. A small number of spelling mistakes was also noted.

The matter of the Index notwithstanding (and due to the comprehensiveness of its coverage), this volume bids fair to becoming a ‘Standard Reference Work’ on its subject. The quality of its research is such that it is likely to be of interest to scholars in a variety of fields, while equally, a ‘layman’ reader with an interest in ‘Castles’ and ‘Things Medieval’, may well find it worthy of attention. War gamers and military modellers may also find its content of interest.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 9.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Castrum to Castle: Classical to Medieval Fortifications in the Lands of the Western Roman Empire’

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: ‘Duel Under The Stars: The Memoir of a Luftwaffe Night Pilot in World War II’

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BOOK REVIEW

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Duel Under The Stars: The Memoir of a Luftwaffe Night Pilot in World War II

Author: Wilhelm Johnen

Total Number of Printed Pages: 320

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

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In his Foreword to this volume, James Holland (According to the book’s dust-jacket fly-leaf; ‘…An award-winning and internationally acclaimed historian, writer and broadcaster’), states ‘The best war memoirs are those that feel honest and appear to be written as a cathartic process rather than for a specific audience. They are not so obviously self-conscious and the writer and his voice emerge as a clearly-defined and real character’. This is one of those memoirs. Holland continues ‘ This…book  paints a…picture of what it was like to be at the coalface of the Allied bomber onslaught and reminds us of the unquestioned courage of the Luftwaffe crew sent to meet this menace’. It is an excellent summation.

This volume is a reprint of an English-language edition first published in 1957. It is prefaced by the previously-mentioned Foreword and is followed by 19 Chapters of varying length. While Chapter One (The First Kill By Night) provides historical background for German night-fighting operations, it simultaneously introduces the author to the reader and recounts his first ‘adventures’ in night flying. In the Chapters that follow, the author takes the reader from his first aerial combat to his final operations and the end of World War II in Europe. In between these events (and to again quote Holland), what emerges is ‘Fascinating…and perhaps surprisingly humane…’ It is indeed both of those things. Although The Contents page contains no mention of their existence, the volume contains four ‘blocks’ of unsourced black and white photographs. Three of these are of aircraft-types, personnel and technologies relevant to the narrative, the fourth being of the author’s contemporary night-fighter pilots and commanders.  No Maps or Index are provided and the volume contains no Technical Specifications or Three-view drawings of the aircraft-types the author flew.

For this reviewer, the volume was let down by its lack of both Index and Maps. An Index would have simplified searching for places, personnel, aircraft-types and events within the narrative. As there are many of these, the absence of an Index means that searching for a specific object (with no guarantee of success) becomes analogous to seeking the proverbial needle within a haystack. It is unfortunate that the opportunity was not taken to create such an entity (an Index) prior to republication. In addition (and as many of the locations mentioned within the volume underwent name changes in the Post-World War II period), Maps showing where the author served (with appropriate post-war modifications) would have been helpful. The volume’s narrative ends abruptly on 28 April 1945 with the cessation of hostilities in Europe. Not-unreasonably, a reader might wonder ‘What happened next; what became of the author’? Despite there being no indication of Herr Johnen’s fate within the book itself, the dust jacket flyleaf indicates that he did in fact have a ‘Life after the War’. As dustjackets can frequently become lost, it is regrettable that this ‘fly-leaf’ information was not printed as an Addendum to the larger narrative. Specifications and Three-view drawings of the aircraft-types flown by the author would have been both useful additions to the volume and helpful to the narrative, although it is appreciated that this information may not have been available at the time of original publication.

It is probable that this volume will have wide appeal. Readers with an interest in the World war II-era Luftwaffe (especially in night operations against the Royal Air Force), military aviation or World War II in general may find it of interest. Aircraft modellers may also find the photographs a useful resource, while those seeking an undemanding, well-written and easily-read ‘War Book’ may also find it an enjoyable read.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Duel Under The Stars: The Memoir of a Luftwaffe Night Pilot in World War II’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘C-130 Hercules: A History’.

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BOOK REVIEW

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: C-130 Hercules: A History

Author: Martin Bowman

Total Number of Printed Pages: 320

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

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On the opening page of Chapter I of this volume, the author states ‘Everyone knows the Hercules – even those who are unaware of its C-130 military designation know exactly what it does, this bulky, squat but lovable aircraft with the reassuring face of a friendly seal pup and whaled tail’. It is a fair summation of both the aircraft and the book; the latter being about the many faces and uses of the former.

The volume consists of 12 Chapters, there being no Introduction prior to Chapter 1.Within these the reader is introduced to the personnel who flew (and still fly) the aeroplane. It should be noted however that many of the Chapters take the form of personal reminiscences that have been sourced from other publications; they are not original to this volume. Technical details relating to the C-130’s development, variants, and uses in both military and civilian roles are also provided. Where additional information is required, this is presented in the form of sequentially-numbered and chapter-specific end-notes, the relevant citations appearing at the end of each Chapter.  Three Appendices follow the Chapters. Their self-explanatory titles are: Commercial and Humanitarian Operators past and Present (Appendix I); World Military User Dictionary (Appendix II); and Models and Variants (Appendix III). A single-page Acknowledgments completes the book. Within it, the author thanks those who assisted him in writing the volume. Numerous colour and black and white photographs appear in the book, some being sourced, some not. Their existence is not however mentioned on the Contents page.  The single map that the book contains, refers to a specific series of events narrated within Chapter 3 (The Last flight of the ‘Stray Goose’). The volume contains no plans, 3-view drawings or diagrams relating to its subject. There is also no Bibliography, Glossary (To explain the myriad military acronyms that occur throughout the volume) or Index.

When requesting this volume for review, this reviewer had certain expectations of it. One of these was that he would be able to find specific locations, units and variants of the basic C-130 airframe quickly and easily through the use of an Index. In that expectation he was wrong; there is no Index. Perhaps spoiled by his experience with other books of a similar nature, he also expected to find at least a basic 3-view drawing of the aircraft. In this he was again wrong, Although regrettable, these failings could possibly have been overlooked. However, what could not be overlooked was the complete absence of any reference to either Australia or New Zealand in the World Military User Directory (Appendix II); this despite an entire chapter (Chapter 9 The Antipodean Hercules) being devoted to these two air arms!! The discovery of proof-reading errors was also not helpful, and created an overall impression of a ‘sloppy’ book, while raising doubts about the volume’s veracity and authority on its subject.

The previous details notwithstanding, this volume is likely to appeal to all and anyone who has been associated with the C-130 in whatever capacity, with Vietnam-era C-130 aircrew in particular likely to find some of the content nostalgic. Those with a more-general interest in the type may also find the volume worthy of their attention. The colour photographs may be of use to both aircraft and military modellers.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 6.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘C-130 Hercules: A History’.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Maginot Line: History and Guide’

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BOOK REVIEW

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  The Maginot Line: History and Guide

Author:  J.E. Kaufmann, H.W. Kaufmann, Aleksander Jankovič-Potočnik and Patrice Lang

Total Number of Pages: 308

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

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This volume narrates the story of the Maginot Line; a series of fortifications constructed along the Franco-German border after World War I. In concept, the ‘Line was well-thought-out and constructed. It was built on the premise that should hostilities ever resume between France and Germany recommence, the German invader would be contained by the supposedly-impregnable fortifications and would be unable to enter La Belle Francoise. Unfortunately for the French, when the Germans did eventually re-enter (during World War II), they did so through an area of the border which the French considered to be impenetrable and through which the ‘Line did not extend.  The much-vaunted and highly-expensive Maginot Line was thus neutralised and ineffective. Despite this, the Maginot Line did subsequently see combat, although this was between German and American forces and did not occur until the latter period of World War II,  The  Maginot Line continued to play an ever-decreasing  role in French defence plans, although it had been overtaken by technology (especially with the development of nuclear weapons). In 1968 it was deemed surplus to French military requirements, with such structures as remained being sold-off to non-military organisations and individuals. This well-written and researched book is the Maginot Line’s story, and is a reprint of a volume originally published in 2011.

A two page Contents section appears at the front of the volume. Unusually, this is followed by a single-sentence Dedication. Why this should be placed where it is, instead of in the more-usual front of the book (and ahead of the Contents pages) is not explained. An Acknowledgements page then thanks those who contributed to the volume. A Glossary of Terms section is next. It provides English-language interpretation for the numerous French-language terms that the book contains, The Glossary is followed by the eight Chapters which form the main part of the book. These are divided into two sections, The first (titled ‘Part I : the Maginot Line) consists of Chapters 1-5 and provides historical and technical ‘background. The second (titled Part II: The Maginot Line and Other Sites Today), consists of Chapters 6-8 and is intended as a ‘guide book’ for use by interested visitors. Where necessary, sub-headings appear within each chapter. Additional information is provided within each chapter by chapter-specific end-notes. These are arranged sequentially within each chapter; the citations being placed at chapter-end. To assist visitors to what remains of the Maginot defences, the second section (titled Part II: The Maginot Line and Other Sites Today) contains ‘… A list of sites that can be visited today and that we recommend’ [Author’s italics]. Associated with this is a star-based system that ‘… Indicates accessibility in the main tourist season’. Six Appendices are placed after Chapter 8. They information they contain supplements that appearing within the main part of the volume. A Bibliography then details the printed and electronic sources which were used when the volume was being written. A six-page Index completes the book. In addition to the above, this volume contains numerous Photographs, Half-tone drawings, Maps, Plans and Tables from a variety of sources. There is no mention of their existence on either the Contents pages or within the Index.

Military historians with a specific interest in either static fortifications or the Maginot Line itself, are likely to find this volume of interest. It may also appeal to both military and ‘civilian’ historians with a more generalist perspective. Readers interested in World War II’s European Theatre may also find it worthy of inspection Part II of the volume may also be useful to holiday-makers with an interest in the Maginot Line, while war-gamers and military modellers could find the volume’s diagrams and photographs of use.

This volume is impressively well-researched and full of information. As previously noted however, there is no mention of the existence of Photographs, Half-tone drawings, Maps, Plans and Tables on either the Contents pages or within the Index. This absence makes searching for specific information time-consuming, with no guarantee that the information being sought will even be found. Although this reviewer found such omissions frustrating, how important they are will depend on the individual reader.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Maginot Line: History and Guide’

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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nzcrownmines is available for book reviewing. Contact: nzcrownmines@gmail.com

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