BOOK REVIEW: ‘Flight Through The Ages: A 50th Anniversary Tribute to the Guild of Aviation Artists’

121.

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Flight Through The Ages: A 50th Anniversary Tribute to the Guild of Aviation Artists

Author: Guild of Aviation Artists

Total Number of Printed Pages: 218

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): Photographs: 9, Text: 2

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A note appearing on this volume’s dustjacket states ‘This book celebrates 50 years of exhibitions [by the Guild of Aviation Artists] and includes paintings by…Guild artists, past and present, depicting aircraft from the earliest airborne activities through to the present day’. It is an accurate summary.

Within the volume itself, a section titled Introduction and Acknowledgements follows its’ Contents page. The title is self-explanatory. The section is in turn followed by a Foreword (by Michael Turner, President of the Guild of Aviation Artists), within-which a precis of the organisation’s history is presented. A five-page section titled The Guild of Aviation Artists follows. Within-this, sub-sections elaborate on the Guild’s aims its exhibitions, origins, history and current state. The Images section now follows. This comprises 195 pages and is divided into 13 Sections, these being analogous to Chapters. With the exception of Section 12 (Portraits) and 13 (Producing an Aviation Painting), each Section covers a specific era in aviation, from Early Aviation, Balloons, Airships (Section One) to Second World War (Section Four), Civil Aviation (Section Eight) and Museums (Section 11). With the exception of page 198 (Guild Sketching Days – Guild Artists at Work) which contains five small images), Sections 1-12 follow a similar format; namely a single (usually full-page) coloured image of a specific aircraft or aviation-themed event relating to the era being presented. Each image is accompanied by a caption which gives the work’s title, the aircraft or event which it depicts, the artist, and the medium used in its creation. Section 13 (Producing An Aviation Painting) does however follow a different format. It is the volume’s final section and as will ascertained from its title, takes the reader through the processes required to turn an original monochrome image into a full-coloured painting, taking eight pages to do so. The process is informative and uses both monochrome and coloured images to chart the development of a painting to meet a specific end result.

While this volume is full of beautiful and highly-coloured images, for this reviewer it was badly let down by the lack of an Index. According to its’ dustjacket, the book contains ‘…Some 200 illustrations…’ a fact which pre-supposes works by many different artists. In the absence of an Index, a reader seeking a specific artist has no choice but to laboriously peruse every page’s captions in the (perhaps forlorn) hope that they might somehow find the name of the individual they are seeking.

The same criticism can be levelled concerning the aircraft types and locations portrayed and for the same reasons; again, how can a specific aircraft type or location be found without having to view the whole volume. A significant failing! In addition, the paucity of caption information was such that this reviewer eventually started randomly counting the words of each caption to see how many words they contained; the shortest found was three, the longest, nine. Brevity has its place, but for this reviewer, this volume was not one of those places. It was also regrettable that an interpretive Glossary was not included within the wok; what (for example) do the letters GAvA, FGAvA, AGM or IWM mean? To a non-aviation, (possibly non-artistic) reader, they are meaningless. In addition, the absence of any biographical details about the contributing artists effectively dehumanises them, reducing them to mere names on a page, rather than providing possibly-inspirational details concerning their artistic-development and backgrounds.

Ultimately, this volume is a collection of pretty pictures of aeroplanes doing all sorts of interesting things. On that basis, buyers wanting beautiful pictures of all sorts of (mainly British) aeroplanes are likely to be well-pleased with this volume. However, readers seeking ‘technical’ details about said machines, or even how the individual images were created (Section 13 notwithstanding), will be disappointed by their lack, the book’s emphasis / focus being on the completed image rather than the ‘things technical / mechanical’ that got it to that stage.

That this volume contains spectacular artworks of beautiful aeroplanes and lighter than air machines is undeniable, but for this reviewer it lacks what he considers to be the most basic of items, the Index being but one of these. It is on this basis that he has given it the rating appearing below:

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given the Photographs: 9, the Text: 2.

It should have been higher.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Flight Through The Ages: A 50th Anniversary Tribute to the Guild of Aviation Artists’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Grimy 1800s: Waste, Sewage & Sanitation In The Nineteenth Century’

120. GRIMY BRITAIN

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: The Grimy 1800s: Waste, Sewage & Sanitation In The Nineteenth Century

Author: Andre’ Gren

Number of Pages: 117

Rating Scale (1: Very poor, 10 Excellent): 4

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When writing in this volume’s Introduction, the author notes that ‘Thus book does not attempt to offer an authoritative account of the reasons for the growth in  Britain’s population in the nineteenth century [sic] but concentrates instead on the consequences of that growth and the increasing need for what was called ‘nuisance control’. The result is a ‘…Series of snapshots from Britain, which was struggling to cope with rampant population growth and urbanization…’ It is a fair summary of what is to follow.

Within the volume, an Acknowledgements section placed immediately behind the Contents pages thanks those individuals and organisations who assisted in this book’s creation. The volume’s Introduction follows and précis the 14 Chapters which form its largest section. These now appear. With the exception of Chapter 1 (Nuisance Control and Removal in NineteenthCentury Britain), which provides a general background concerning the legislation which is about to be discussed, each of these is devoted to a specific subject. The subjects are diverse and range from Grime: Wells, Drains and Discharges (Chapter 3), to Human Waste: Water Closets and Shrimps (Chapter 8) to Burial Grounds (Chapter 14). Essentially, if it involved ‘Dirt’ in any form it will be discussed. The Chapters themselves follow an interesting format, and, for this reviewer, reveal a major flaw.  In respect of the format, within each Chapter, several specific Bills relevant to the subject under discussion are presented. These relate to specific locations. As part of the legislative process, the sites to which specific Bill related were visited by a Committee of Review; the intention being to obtain local feedback to what was proposed by the legislation. The volume is essentially a collection of the responses by local officials to that process. A small Table placed below each Bill subheading, shows the population growth of the area concerned. A section titled Conclusion follows Chapter 14 (Burial Grounds), and as the title suggests, acts as a summary of what has gone before. This is followed by three Appendices. These are variously of Table and Column format and cover Population Growth (Appendix 1), Occupations of  the Witnesses (Appendix 2) and Locations to Which the Evidence Secessions Relate (Appendix 3). Appendix 3 is followed by the Index; the volume’s last section. Eight pages of images appear in a dedicated section in the centre of the volume. These are monochrome in format and accompanied by informative captions. None carry Source Citations, although the author does note (On the Acknowledgements page) that ‘The selection of illustrations was eased by assistance from Rav Gopal at Newbury Library’.  neither the Contents nor Index sections carry reference to the existence of these images. The volume contains neither Maps or Bibliography, and where Quotes appear within the work, they are not supported by authenticating citations. They might just as well be imagined.

Although this volume is well-written and easy to read, for this reviewer the complete lack of authenticating and supporting documentation in the form of Citations and reference material raises severe concerns about its authority. Put simply, there is no way of knowing if what is presented as ‘fact’ is actually ‘true’ and an authentic record, or just a convenient ‘imagining’ to fit a predetermined narrative. For a volume purporting to be a ‘Work of historical significance’ this is a major failing, and on that basis (the complete lack of any authenticating documentation), this reviewer found it difficult to not conclude that the result is, at best, a highly-imaginative work of fiction. Failings in the volume’s Index only serve to compound the problem, with random checking finding numerous situations where items appearing within the narrative were not accorded the courtesy of an Index entry. The discovery that (for example) there were no  Index entries for Playfair, Museum of Geology, Liverpool Corporation Waterworks Bill, House of Commons and Department of Woods and Forests (all on page 37) raised additional questions about what else may have been omitted from the Index, and, inter alia, about its authority and veracity. There is no way to know, but as subsequent random checking for other entries produced a similar result, the problem would seem to be widespread.  The above, when combined with the previously-noted lack of verification for the Quotes appearing within the work, has resulted in what could at best be described as ‘A collection of interesting stories.’

As previously-noted, this volume is well-written and easy to read. As a result, it may well appeal to readers who are seeking a ‘once over lightly’ view of life in Nineteenth-Century Britain\, with the qualification that there  is no way of knowing if any of what is written is actually true or accurate. This complete lack of supporting, authenticating, citations also means that, for Historians, the work has little value and is very definitely not to be considered ‘Authoritative’ in any way.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very poor, 10 Excellent, I have given this volume a 4.

Were that that was not the case.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Grimy 1800s: Waste, Sewage & Sanitation In The Nineteenth Century’

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

103. Roman britain

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: ‘The Analogue Revolution: Communication Technology 1901-1914’

92. Analogue Technology

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  The Analogue Revolution: Communication Technology 1901-1914

Author: Simon Webb

Total Number of Pages: 158

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

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In this volume’s Introduction, the author observes the ‘The roots of our modern Information Revolution are to be found in the Edwardian Era’. With that pronouncement made, he then proceeds to provide reasoned and well-considered argument to support his case, using the Twenty-first Century’s Digital Revolution as a reference point for what follows. The result is a well-written, well-researched, highly informative and eminently-readable volume

Within the volume, a List of Plates immediately behind the Contents page lists, in abbreviated form, the captions carried by the 20 images appearing within an eight page images’ section in the book’s centre. The ‘List, is in turn followed by an Introduction. Within this the author precis’ what is to follow within the 10 Chapters which form the bulk of the volume.  The Chapters take the reader from the Victorian-era to the start of World War I and, in Chapter 10, to The Enduring Legacy of the Analogue Revolution, in which he discusses the ‘The astonishing durability of the physical manifestations of the information technology perfected during the Edwardian period’ and the reasons why such machinery is still ‘earning its keep’ over a century after it was originally constructed. An Endword follows. In this the author considers the similarities and differences between the current Digital Age and its Edwardian predecessor, and presents his thoughts as to what the future might hold. A two-page Bibliography follows, and is in turn followed by the Index; the volume’s final section. As previously-noted there is a small (eight page), ‘images’ (Plates) section at the centre of the volume. In addition to the usual photographs, the images appearing within it include postcards, advertisements, plans and etchings. All are monochrome, informatively and clearly captioned and are alluded to within the volume when appropriate to the narrative.

As already noted, this volume is well-written, well-researched, highly-informative and eminently readable. For this reviewer however, it is let down by its Index. While reviewing a volume, this reviewer randomly looks in its Index for words which interest him. When reviewing this volume however, he found that, in many instances, the words being sought did not appear within the Index. While numerous examples could be presented, those found on page 52 will suffice.  With words such as Port Arthur, Alan Moorhead, St Petersburg, and Petrograd appearing on that page it would be reasonable to expect to find them in the Index. Such was not the case, while the omission of Frederick Lee (on page 57, and despite appearing in the same sentence as Edward Turner; his fellow patentee) is even more curious. The omissions were both widespread and random, to the extent that this reviewer eventually ceased to rely on the Index as a reliable source of information. He now has serious reservations about the Index’s authority and veracity. Unsourced Quotes have been used throughout the volume. In the absence of verifying citations, they have little research value and authority and, indeed, could well have been written by anyone.  How important such things might be will, of course, depend on the reader / purchaser’s requirements.

Due to the width of its research, and despite the ‘limitations’ previously described, this volume bids fair to become an authoritative work on its subject. As it combines both technology and social history, this volume is likely to appeal to Historians with an interest in either or both of these subjects, particularly in the context of Great Britain in the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries.  Those with a specific interest in the invention and use of such things as Cinema, the Telephone, Radio /Wireless etc. may also find the volume of interest, while due to its easy-to-read style layman-readers wishing to learn more about the origins of both ‘Digital’ and Analogue’ technologies, and their inter-relationships, may also find it worthy of their attention.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Analogue Revolution: Communication Technology 1901-1914’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘A Soldier’s Kipling: Poetry and the Profession of Arms’

86. a soldier's kipling

BOOK REVIEW

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  A Soldier’s Kipling: Poetry and the Profession of Arms

Author: Edward J. Erickson

Total Number of Pages: 204

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

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When writing in this volume’s Preface, the author notes that the book ‘…Explores a selection of Rudyard Kipling’ military poetry relating to how the British Army waged its campaigns during what are called ‘Queen Victoria’s Little Wars’. He also notes that  ‘Kipling’s military poetry offers insights into the profession of arms’  and that his ‘…Intent for the reader is…to generate an appreciation for Rudyard Kipling’s military poetry and for the timeless themes about the nature of soldiering and the profession of arms contained in these verses’. In all these endeavours, the author has been successful.

As would be expected, the volume opens with a Contents section. This is three pages in length and within in it each poem is listed under the relevant Chapter. This provides a quick reference for a specific work and obviates the need to search the Index for a specific title. In a reversal of usual practice, a Dedication is placed immediately after the Contents section, and is itself followed by an Acknowledgements section. Within this, thanks are tendered for the organisations and individuals who contributed to the volume, and the reader is introduced to Kipling’s poetry through ‘When ‘Omer smote ‘is bloomin’ lyre…’ a selection appropriate for the location. A List of Maps follows, the title being self-explanatory, and this is, in turn followed by a List of Plates. This summarises the captions found under the 20 colour images appearing within a designated section at the centre of the volume. The existence of that section is not however mentioned on the Contents page. A Foreword appears next and is in turn followed by the previously-mentioned Preface. This summarises what is to follow, and, through the use of subsections, presents the author’s viewpoint concerning his subject and outlines the volume’s themes. It also offers the author’s thoughts as to how it should be read.  The Preface is followed by the eleven Chapters which comprise the main part of the volume. As previously noted, the volume follows a specific theme; summarised as the development of a soldier from a raw, untrained recruit (Chapter 1 Becoming Tommy Atkins – Learning to Soldier), to being a professional in his field. This is not however merely a recital of military service, and there is much, much more, all examined through the lens of Kipling’s poetry. The experiences of returning veterans are investigated, as is patriotism (both real and imagined) and, in Chapter 11 a non-military section titled Kipling for Fun. The title is self-explanatory and includes many of Kipling’s well-known, non-military verses. Within each Chapter, a designated Introduction sets the scene for what is to follow. Several poems relevant to the Chapter then appear. These are presented as subsections within the Chapter and are accompanied by relevant explanatory notes and interpretation of the verses from a military perspective. Where applicable, page-specific Footnotes are provided to clarify terminology or expand / interpret words appearing within a specific poem. Two Appendices follow Chapter 11. The titles (Britain’s Wars, Campaigns and Expeditions (and covering the period 1701-1939) and Brief Biography of Rudyard Kipling) are self-explanatory. A section titled Further Reading follows Appendix 2. This is bibliographical in nature and function and is in turn followed by the volume’s Index; its final section. The volume contains 10 Maps, and, as already noted, a 20-image colour section. Although well and informatively captioned, the images in the latter section are unsourced, and not referred-to within the Index.

When reviewing this volume, this reviewer found the Index problematical. While undertaking a random search in the course of his review, he found numerous examples where events he considered worthy of inclusion within the narrative were not to be found within the Index. To take page 79 as an example; references to The Jacobite Rebellion, Williamites and the Treaty of Limerick on that page do not appear within the Index. Equally, the Index-entry to the Charge of the Light Brigade contains no reference to the evocative image that is listed as Plate 3. It would also be reasonable for the Index to record the names of the various publications in which the poems first appeared (the English Illustrated Magazine on page 101 being but one example), or even the names of collections (The Seven Seas on the same page), yet these are also missing. Such absences serve to reduce the authority and reliability of the Index, and inevitably raise questions concerning what else may be missing. There is no way to know.

The matters referred-to above notwithstanding, this reviewer found this volume a delightful, well written, informative and (above all), memorable, volume, to the extent that it bids fair to become a Standard Reference Work on its subject. Such is the universality and appeal of Kipling’s work, this volume is likely to have a wide range of readers; from literary and military scholars and students, to members of the armed forces, to both military, political and ‘generalist’ historians and those interested in ‘Queen Victoria’s Little Wars’. Military modellers may also find the colour plates useful as research tools, while readers seeking merely to be entertained on a wet Sunday afternoon could do well to peruse its content, if only to laugh at the accents and marvel at the genius of the poetry and the way things were when ‘Britannia ruled the World’.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume an 8¾.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘A Soldier’s Kipling: Poetry and the Profession of Arms’

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: ‘Around Britain By Canal: 1,000 Miles of Waterways’

83 Around Britain by canal

BOOK REVIEW

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  Around Britain By Canal: 1,000 Miles of Waterways

Author:  Anthony Burton

Total Number of Pages: 200

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

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In Chapter 1 of this volume, the author observes that ‘Canals are one of the great loves of my life’. As a result, (and on 13 March 1975), he, together with three companions (one a ‘Daytripper’) set off on a six-week long tour of Britain’s canal system. His intention was ‘…To do a continuous [canal] tour with as little doubling-up as possible, and to cover as wide an area as [he] could’.  This volume is the result.

This book is a reprint and update of an earlier work (date of publication unknown). Accordingly, the single-page Preface placed after the volume’s Contents page provides both technological and historical updates to cover the 43 years since the original journey was undertaken. The Preface is in turn followed by the 17 Chapters which constitute the main part of the book. Within these, the reader is taken on a journey along many of Britain’s canals, and while so-doing is introduced into unique locations, individuals, circumstances and history. While the Canals are, by analogy, the base upon-which everything else rests, it is nonetheless a most excellent base for a totally idiosyncratic meander along and around Britain’s hidden canal-based and influenced byways.  The volume is well-written; the author a raconteur of some ability and the result is a delightful ‘wander’ along largely-neglected paths. An Index completes the volume. The book contains numerous colour images. Although a note in the Preface indicates that these were taken by one Phillip Lloyd (one of the author’s travelling companions), no notes to that effect accompany the individual images. Each image is captioned but the latter vary in both length and information. Curiously, the first two words of each caption are highlighted. The reason for this is unknown. No Maps are provided.

For this reviewer, this book was let down in several areas, most noticeably by the Index.  When reviewing this volume, this reviewer had cause to randomly search that section for information on subjects within the book which he found of interest. On Page 84 (for example) he sought Index references for Scaris-brook, Southport, Henry III and Johnsons Hillocks. None were found. A subsequent search for other ‘interesting’ words produced similar results, while the Index entry for Rose Skinner, although noting her as appearing on pages 138-140, ignores her photograph on page 143. There were many similar examples. As there is no way to know what else may be missing, the authority and veracity of the Index is inevitably compromised. As previously-noted, the volume contains no Maps. In their absence, a reader can have no idea about the geographical locations under discussion. A General Ordinance Map of Great Britain (or even a simple outline map showing the route travelled), would have been very helpful. Readers with no ‘local knowledge’, may well find this omission frustrating. Interpretative diagrams of both a Narrow Boat and Lock Operations would also have been useful.

This volume is likely to appeal to several different readerships. It is, ultimately, a travelogue and will no doubt interest some on that basis.  Due to the passage of time, it is also an ‘historic document; and as a result could be of use to Historians, particularly those with an interest in late Twentieth-Century commerce, water-borne transportation and, specifically, British canals. Canals and canal boating enthusiasts will, of course, find the volume of interest, while those who enjoy ‘Messing about in boats’ may also find something within its covers to entertain them. Readers seeking images of some of the more obscure parts of Britain may also find those within this book of interest.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Around Britain By Canal: 1,000 Miles of Waterways’