BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Spanish Flu Epidemic And Its Influence on History: Stories from the 1918-1920 global flu pandemic’

119. SPANISH FLU'

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: The Spanish Flu Epidemic And Its Influence on History: Stories from the 1918-1920 global flu pandemic

Author: Jaime Breitnauer

Total Number of Printed Pages: 136

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

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When writing in the volume’s Author’s preface, the author states that what follows is ‘A creative re-telling of the experiences of real people, giving an authentic face to the many tragedies that unfolded’. While an admirable concept, the end result may not be as the author intended.

Within the book itself, the previously mentioned Authors Preface, follows the Contents page and is in turn followed by a section titled Prologue: the month before war. Within this the author attempts to detail the political situation which led to the advent of World War 1, and the appearance of what subsequently became known as The Spanish Flu’. She does largely through the use of the Stream of Consciousness narrative technique (a method used more commonly used in works of fiction). This technique takes the reader into the mind of a specific individual and attempts to explain their actions by means of an imagined narrative of their thoughts. The individual chosen in this instance is Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian anarcho-nationalist who’s assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand; heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire (of which Serbia was then a region) ultimately started World War I, the reader being privy to that individual’s thoughts immediately prior to the assassination. That what is related is fictional is not mentioned.   The 11 Chapters and Epilogue which form the bulk of the volume now follow. These are divided into four sections (termed Parts) and cover the origins, effects and decline of the Spanish Influenza pandemic from 1914 to 1920. Within each Part, individual Chapters cover specific aspects of the disease and its effects on local populations, regions and economies. Each Chapter follows a similar format and starts with a ‘Retelling of the experiences of real people’ (as indicated by the author in her Author’s preface). Again the Stream of Consciousness technique is used for the purpose. Where necessary,(and to fit the prevailing narrative), additional and similar Stream of Consciousness-embroidered ‘Tales’ may also appear within the individual Chapter. These ‘Retellings’ are intertwined with detailed  (and presumably ‘true’ and ‘accurate’; in many instances there is no way to know) accounts of what is known about the origins of the disease within the specific geographical specific area, the medical and political individuals involved and the preventative measures (or the lack of) taken in response to its onset. Where additional information is required, End-note–type citations are used. These are Chapter-specific and numeric in sequence, with the relevant citations appearing in a dedicated Notes section placed towards the back of the book. Unlike its companions, Part 4 (Secrets in the Snow: What Have we Learned in 100 years) and its subsections (Chapter 11 Peace In the Time of Influenza…) and the volume’s Epilogue (Northern Exposure…) deal with the post-pandemic world and subsequent scientific research into the causes of the original outbreak, the chances of a recurrence, and the medical and social options available should the disease reappear. A section titled About the Author follows the Epilogue. Its’ title is self-explanatory, and is in turn followed by the books’ Notes section, this being the repository for the previously-mentioned End-note-type Citations which appear throughout the volume.  A seven-page-long Bibliography follows.  This section lists the Books, Periodicals/ Articles and Websites used in the volume’s preparation. The Volume’s Index now appears. It is its final section. The book contains 16 pages of Images. These are monochrome in format, and cover a variety of subjects from viruses to advertisements. While they are informatively captioned, it was noted that several carried no supporting citations. The existence of the images is not mentioned in either Index or on the Contents page. The volume contains no Maps.

As previously-noted, the author states that what she has written is ‘A creative re-telling of the experiences of real people, giving an authentic face to the many tragedies that unfolded’. In support of that statement this reviewer expected to find such tales accompanied by authenticating citations and that the volume itself would be awash with the associated End-note type numbers. Such was not the case. Who (for example) were Messers. Clark, Da Cunha, or Lewis (page 19)? Did they actually even exist? Certainly reference is made to the ‘…Diaries of military chaplain Ed Clark’ but without any authenticating citations, how can a reader know if these documents, or even the individuals so-named are anything but mythical? The author’s use of the term ‘creative’ in her statement only serves to add to the possibility, such a term traditionally implying an ‘active’ imagination and ‘inventiveness’ on the part of whichever author uses it. The combination of ‘creative’ and lack of citations gave this reviewer no confidence in the authenticity of the narrative. The use of the Stream of Consciousness ‘imagined dialogue’ writing form further compounds the problem, as that writing-style has no verifiable basis of fact. Its use in a volume purporting to be a Serious Historical Record is immediately suspect, diluting and cheapening the narrative and its possible historical value. Statistics, where given, are equally unsupported. The statement (for example, and on page 44) that ‘In Uppsala…a record 5,000 cases were recorded in just one month…’ is meaningless in the absence of supporting, verifying and (most importantly) AUTHENTICATING documentation. In addition, the Index is best described as being ‘Patchy’; with random checking finding numerous ommissions; those of NHS (p.viii) and Pioneer Health Services (page 36) being but two of many. This reviewer was also surprised to find that countries such as New Zealand, Japan and Australia were missing from the Index; this despite having entire sections written about them. The reasons for such significant omissions are unknown.

Although this volume is well-written and intentioned, the lack of supporting citations, use of the Stream of Consciousness writing style, and poor indexing has resulted in a book best–described as ‘imagined’ history. It does not conform to historical-writing ‘best practice’ and as a result cannot and should not, be considered to be a true and accurate record. It might just as well be a novel.

Although, due to the previously-noted ‘failings’ it cannot be considered to be an ‘Authoritative Source’ this volume may be of interest to Sociologists and Historians of various persuasions. Readers with an interest in unusual ‘Medical’ events might also find it of interest, as might those with an interest in their national histories and the impact that the ‘Flu had on their countries. The information it contains however, should be taken with considerable caution.

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

It could have been so much better.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Spanish Flu Epidemic And Its Influence on History: Stories from the 1918-1920 global flu pandemic’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘All Things Georgian: Tales from the Long Eighteenth Century’

97. ALL THINGS GEORGIAN

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: All Things Georgian: Tales from the Long Eighteenth Century

Authors: Joanne Major, Sarah Murden

Total Number of Pages: 170

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

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When describing the contents of this volume, its Dustjacket notes that it is a ‘…Collection of twenty-five true tales‘…’In roughly chronological order, covering the reign of the four Georges, 1714-1830 and set within the framework of the main events of the era’. It also notes that within it, the reader will ‘Meet actresses, whores and high-born ladies, politicians, inventors, royalty and criminals…’ It is an accurate summary of what follows.

Within the book itself, an Acknowledgments section is placed immediately after the Contents page. As would be expected, it thanks those individuals and organisations who assisted the authors in the preparation of the volume. This is in turn followed by an Introduction. Within this, two sub-sections provide both historical background to the era and of the Hanoverian royal dynasty which so-dominated the United Kingdom during the time under discussion. A section titled Timeline of Events Relevant to the Long Eighteenth Century follows; its title is self-explanatory. The 25 Chapters which form the main part of the work now appear. As previously-noted these comprise 25 stories relating to the activities of various notorious and well-known individuals within Eighteenth Century Britain and Europe. It should be noted that of the 24 tales presented (Chapter 25 being a summary of the era) 19 could be described as ‘Female focussed’. The reasons for this are unknown. A section titled Notes and Sources follows Chapter 25. As indicated by its title, it is equivalent to a Bibliography. The final section of the volume is an oddity, and consists of three pages listing books written by the authors, together with accompanying reviews. The section is unashamedly self-promotional and whether it is appropriate for the volume is something that only the reader can decide. There is no Index. The volume is well illustrated with both monochrome and colour images including plans and other images relevant to the narrative. Where possible the individual being discussed within each Chapter, is also depicted. However, a lack of such images has meant that at times these are of the ‘supporting cast’ to the tale. Although the images are certainly captioned and carry the appropriate citations, for a large number, the captions are single-sentence in format and can best be described as being ‘adequate’. It should be noted that, in several instances, although there was no ‘cross-referencing’ between the two sections, (text and image) it appeared that the reader was expected to associate the image with the text they were reading. The volume contains numerous Quotes. However, these do not carry supporting citations and in the absence of the latter, the authenticity of said Quotes must inevitably be questioned, together with their value as a research tool.  The volume contains one Map. This is an outline of the British Isles, and carries the names of various locations that are apparently mentioned within the volume. It does not however have a formal title, leaving the reader to guess at its function and usefulness, while its existence does not rate a mention on the Contents page.

As previously-noted, the volume has several ‘mechanical’ shortcomings, including the lack of an Index, unsupported Quotes, an untitled Map and Captions which are, at best, ‘adequate’. These are not unexpected. However, when requesting this volume for review purposes, and on the basis of its title (All Things Georgian: Tales from the Long Eighteenth Century) this reviewer expected to find a social history of the period. To a limited degree that is what he received, with the qualification that such information was an adjunct to the narrative rather than its focus. He did not however expect to meet the ‘… Actresses, whores and high-born ladies, politicians, inventors, royalty and criminals’ previously mentioned, to the extent that the endless repletion of the activities of such individuals became monotonous and (eventually) boring. The writing and research was excellent, but the basic topic (humankind’s largely-sexual failings), when repeated over and over again, deprived the volume whatever literary charm it might have held.

Undoubtedly this volume will appeal to those with an interest of any kind in the lifestyles of the Eighteenth Century’s rich and famous. Social historians might also find it useful, while readers with an interest in the art and architecture of the era may also find it worthy of their perusal.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘All Things Georgian: Tales from the Long Eighteenth Century’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Armistice and the Aftermath: The Story in Art’

84. ARMISTACE AND ART

BOOK REVIEW

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  The Armistice and the Aftermath: The Story in Art

Author:  John Fairley

Total Number of Pages: 192

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7½

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When describing this volume’s content,  a note on its dustjacket states that ‘…The Armistice and the Aftermath…brings together in one book a superb collection of the most epic paintings of the [World War I] era. The result, with informed and perceptive commentary is a unique record of those momentous days…’ It is an accurate summary of what is to follow.

The volume consists of 40 Chapters, these appearing immediately after the two page Contents section. There are none of the usual introductory sections one would expect to find within such a volume as this. While each Chapter nominally contains at least one full-page art work, in at least one instance (The Wartime Leaders, Chapter Forty), the image is out of sequence and appears before the section rather than within it. As it loses a certain relevance by doing-so, the reasons for this ‘displacement’ are unknown. While the majority of art works within the volume are from British, French or American artists, pieces by German artists also appear. The works displayed are in a variety of media, and are accompanied by an informative narrative. By this means, the reader is taken through the last year of the War, the first years of the Peace, while being introduced to important individuals, groups and occasions while so-doing. Where appropriate to the narrative, eyewitness descriptions also appear. It must however be noted that in some instances (and again for unknown reasons), the author of this volume does not consider it necessary to specifically name each plate within the text which accompanies it. In such situations he prefers to allude to it rather than name it specifically. Chapter 12 (Peace in the Mediterranean) is a case in point. Although four images appear within that Chapter, at no time are they specifically named; referred-to certainly, but not actually named. In addition, in several instances, the images that appear within a specific Chapter are not even mentioned within the text that supposedly relates to them.  They are instead used as vehicles to present the artist’s thoughts on the events which prompted their eventual creation. The images of HMS Mantis on the Tigris and The Navy at Baghdad  which appear in Chapter 11 (Peace in the Middle East), are but two such examples of this practice. Neither image is mentioned within the text, but the wartime reminiscences of their creator (David Maxwell) are. On the basis of the above, a reader expecting a detailed description of the individual images and their creation is likely to be disappointed. Most, but not all, of the images are captioned, the information provided tending-to consist of the individual piece’s title and the name of the creating artist. It was however noted there were several exceptions to this rule. An Appendix (The Armistice Terms) follows Chapter 40. Its title is self-explanatory. The Appendix is in turn followed by the volume’s final section titled Picture Credits. The title is self-explanatory but while naming the sources of the images, it also lists the pages within the volume on which they appear. This book contains neither Maps nor Index, and aside from the previously-mentioned Picture Credits section, the Contents pages contain no mention of those images which appear within the volume. Numerous unsourced Quotes appear throughout the work. Without supporting citations, their authenticity is inevitably under question; they might just as well be imaginary. A Glossary would have been of value: what for instance is Post Expressionist Painting (page 169)?

While this is a most-informative volume, for this reviewer it is let down by the total absence of an Index. As a result, a reader has no way of knowing which artists and individuals are mentioned within the book; which artistic works are represented, which geographical locations are mentioned, or which military actions have been recorded or commented-on. In the absence of such information, he believes it is both unreasonable and time-consuming to expect a reader to have to search through the volume’s 192 pages in a possibly-fruitless attempt to locate a specific individual, piece of art, geographical location or event. In his opinion this is a major failing, which serves to significantly-reduce the volume’s usefulness. The lack of Maps is also unhelpful as it gives a reader neither context nor location for the events mentioned within the narrative. Although the lack of citations for Quotes has been previously-mentioned, the presence of undefined terms is also unhelpful. What (for example) is ‘…The local Murdoch newspaper (page 165)? Who / what, was ‘Murdoch’? Why is he / it associated with a newspaper? In the absence of clarifying detail, such a statement is, at minimum, baffling, and to many, the reasons being unexplained, probably totally incomprehensible.

As the focus of this volume is on art, the works appearing within its pages are likely to be of interest to aficionados of such matters, while Historians and ‘Generalist’ readers with an interest in World War I may also find it of interest. As they portray contemporary military machinery, it is also possible that military modellers might find some of the images useful as reference material.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 7½.

It should have been much higher.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Armistice and the Aftermath: The Story in Art’

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

51. DSCF0680 (2)

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’