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: ‘Steam In Scotland: a Portrait of the 1950s and 1960s’

91. Scottish Steam

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  Steam In Scotland: a Portrait of the 1950s and 1960s

Author:  Kevin McCormack

Total Number of Pages: 168

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

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In the opening paragraph of this volume’s Introduction,  the author states: ‘’This colour album covers steam in Scotland…and uses, to the best of my knowledge, images which have not previously appeared in print’. With that established, he then states that ‘Most of the pictures used have been sourced from the Online transport Archive’ and that ‘…There are even some of my colour slides included…’  He concludes by saying: ‘I hope readers will enjoy this nostalgic glimpse of the Scottish railway scene…before the Beeching axe was wielded…’  As a precis it cannot be faulted.

The volume contains no Contents page, its first section being a three page Introduction. Within this the author details his personal railway-related story, introduces the reader to Scottish railways (the subject of this volume), and provides details about the origins of the photographs that have been used within it. The 159 pages of colour images which comprise the majority of the volume then follow. The author notes that ‘The pictures…have been arranged on a roughly geographical basis, starting on the eastern side of Scotland upwards from the English border, proceeding around the top of the country and ending on the western side near the border’. Unfortunately the absence of any Maps makes the statement rather pointless, especially to those readers who are neither local residents, or who live off-shore. All images are in colour and, as indicated by the title, the volume is predominantly of photos of steam locomotives of varying shapes, sizes and classes in a variety of Scottish settings and conditions. Sometimes the locomotives are attached to trains, but most of the photographs are of single units. Curiously, two stations (Broomhill and Arrochar and Tarber on pages 108 and 138 respectively), make appearances in their own right sans steam. The photographs are from a variety of sources, are largely single-paged in format and have informative captions placed underneath. However, and where appropriate to the narrative, smaller images have been inserted into the larger and two or three smaller images appear on a single page. The sources of the images are acknowledged. A single page Index completes the volume. As previously-noted no Maps are provided.

In this reviewer’s opinion (and given the book’s title), this volume’s Index is woefully inadequate.  Although the volume is (supposedly) concerned with Steam In Scotland, the Index carries absolutely no mention of either locomotives or trains within its entries. It is totally ‘station focused’. As a result, were the Index to be the first section consulted by a potential reader, it would be easy to conclude that steam locomotives and trains were not present when the volume’s photographs were taken. Yet even with that focus, not every ‘caption’ mention of a specific station is recorded. Boat of Garten (for example), while mentioned on page 106, according to its Index entry appears only on pages 102-104. All and any references to such items as Railway Companies, Events and Geographical Entities (despite being mentioned within the captions) are also absent. The lack of Maps has already been noted. A Glossary providing quick interpretation of the various ‘Company’ acronyms within the volume would have been helpful.

For readers seeking ‘Pictures of British steam trains in a Scottish setting’ this volume will be a delight, as they are there in quantity. Due to the Index, those seeking photographs of specific Scottish railway stations are also likely to find their desires met. Enthusiasts and railway modellers seeking images of specific locomotives and / or classes (and assuming that these have even been included) may also find this volume of interest. It should however be noted that, due to the previously-noted inadequacy of the Index a lot of searching may be required with no guarantee of success. Some may not deem it worth the effort.

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

Had the Index been more indicative of the volume’s content, the rating would have been higher.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Steam In Scotland: a Portrait of the 1950s and 1960s’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Convicts in the Colonies: Transportation Tales from Britain to Australia’.

90. Oz Convicts

Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: Convicts in the Colonies: Transportation Tales from Britain to Australia

Author: Lucy Williams

No. of Pages: 202

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 5

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Writing in this volume’s Introduction, the authors states that, over a four-year period, ‘…She spent almost every day banished beyond the seas, out of time and space, in convict Australia’. She continues ‘This book is a collection of the tales I found there’. While an admirable precis of what is to follow, it must however be qualified by two of the author’s subsequent statements, both of which appear on page xiii of the volume. These are:

‘All the stories related here are based on original records’.

‘Using my knowledge of the period, places and criminal justice system, I have in some cases made suggestions for the most likely scenario…but…cannot know for sure’.

After reading these statements, this reviewer found himself asking ‘How much of what appears within this volume is in fact true (with ‘true’ being defined as ‘An accurate representation of what actually occurred’)? To state that ‘All the stories related here are based on original records’, implies very strongly that in fact ‘truth’ may be absent from the majority of the tales that are related, with the ‘original records’ have been used only as a foundation; the key word in this instance being ‘Based’. This is a definition supported by the Oxford Dictionary when it states that ‘Based on’ is as the foundation or starting point for something’, while the author, by then stating that ‘…I have in some cases made suggestions for the most likely scenario but cannot know for sure’, compounds the problem further. Against such a background, to question ‘How much of what is within the volume is true?’ is not unreasonable, and indeed, this reviewer found himself asking that question repeatedly during the review process. He believes that what has resulted from these two statements is a work of ‘Faction’ (defined as ‘A plausible mixture of fact and fiction’), but as there is no way to know which is which, and with ‘Scepticism’ now attending every word, the volume’s reputation and authority has inevitably suffered.

The volume opens with the expected Contents page, this is in turn being followed by an Acknowledgements section within-which the author thanks those individuals and organisations who assisted her in the creation of the work. The previously-mentioned Introduction follows. Subtitled The Lives of the Lagged, this summarises the narrative presented within the main part of the volume, while providing additional background concerning the records accessed during its writing, the individuals involved and the political and social circumstances which resulted in the ‘Transportation’ phenomenon. Where necessary, subheadings within the section deal with specific aspects of the story being presented.  The five Chapters which constitute the volume’s major section now appear. These take the reader from the process and reasons by which prisoners became ‘Transportees’, to descriptions of conditions within the penal colonies themselves. As with the Introduction, subheadings within each Chapter are used to detail specific individuals and events. A Conclusion section placed after Chapter Five (The Hothouse of Humanity on the Swan River) acts as a summary to what has gone before while presenting the author’s thoughts on the process. The Conclusion is in turn followed by a three-page Appendix. Although no background information is provided, its content appears to be three letters written by one Margaret Catchpole to two separate individuals in 1802. The Appendix is in turn followed by a five–page section titled Tracing Transportees: Resources for the Reader. The title is self-explanatory. A section titled Suggested Reading placed after that section is analogous to a Bibliography, and is followed by the Index; the volume’s final section. Twenty four Images appear in an eight-page section placed in the book’s centre. These are both colour and monochrome in format and contain reproductions of individual portraits, advertisements, documents, structures and ephemera relevant to the narrative. While each image is informatively captioned, not all carry citations to indicate their origins. Neither the Contents page nor the Index acknowledges the existence of the images section or its contents. The numerous Quotes that appear throughout the volume carry no authenticating citations and as a result could well be imaginary; there is no indication to the contrary. Curiously, and despite the immense distances involved in both the transportation process itself and on the continent of Australia, the volume contains no Maps.

As previously-noted (and by the author’s own admission), this volume is a work of faction; ‘actual’ history ‘embroidered’ and ‘imagined’ to create a pre-determined narrative. As such, it cannot be considered to be an authoritative historical work. The previously-mentioned lack of citations for any of the numerous quotes appearing within the book only serves to re-emphasise the point. The result is a potentially-valuable resource reduced to little more than a collection of interesting tales, some of which may actually be true. Regrettably, the Index does not help, being best described as ‘incomplete’ in its entries. When reviewing this volume, and in the course of random searching, this reviewer had occasion on to seek Index entries for  Millbank, Pentonville and Portland (all on page 21) and Ned Kelly (page 181). Nothing was found and subsequent equally-random searches, returned similar results. What other, similar, information may be missing cannot be known. The absence of Maps has already been alluded-to.

The difficulties’ mentioned above notwithstanding, while this volume may have little to offer for serious researchers, it is still a collection of ‘Convict Stories’, and as a result may appeal to readers seeking ‘Human interest’ tales about the transportee’s experiences. Readers seeking descriptions of ‘lower class’ life in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Great Britain, may also find its contents of interest, these suggestions being made with the qualification that what is appears before the reader may not in fact be true.

This is undoubtedly a ‘sincere’ book, written to explain a complicated situation and doing it well, but to present a narrative as ‘true’ when it is patently not, comes at a cost. Were that it was not so.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given this volume a 5.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Convicts in the Colonies: Transportation Tales from Britain to Australia’.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘ Regional Tramways: Wales, Isle of Man & Ireland Post 1945’

89.isleofmantrams

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  Regional Tramways: Wales, Isle of Man & Ireland Post 1945

Author: Peter Waller

Total Number of Pages: 181

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

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According to the author (when writing in the volume’s Preface), ‘This is the fourth in a series…intended to cover all the tramways of the British Isles. Its focus is primarily on those tramway systems in Ireland, the Isle of Man and Wales that operated after 1945. However, it also provides an overview of tramway development from the horse-tram era onwards’. It is a succinct and informative summary.

As would be expected, a Contents page opens the volume. This is followed by a page titled Abbreviations, within which appear the abbreviations used by the author for the various tramways under discussion. The page also contains a separate (albeit ‘boxed’) Key to Maps section. This provides both visual and textual keys to the colours the volume’s Maps employ when denoting the status of the tramways they portray. The previously-mentioned Preface follows. This section functions in the dual roles of acknowledging those who have contributed towards the volume, while clarifying points within it which may be likely to cause confusion; ‘A note on Welsh place names’ being but one example of the latter. The book’s Introduction follows. This is a section of some size and is divided into four parts, the reason being (again, according to the author) because ‘…Each of the constituent parts of this volume were covered by separate legislation’. That detail notwithstanding, what results is a consolidated and ‘potted’ history of all the lines which appear within the volume. It also includes information which the author considered relevant to the narrative, but was unable to place inside the individual Company histories. The main part of the volume follows. This consists of 15 alphabetically-arranged ‘Sections’ (analogous to Chapters, but not defined as such). Of these, 14 narrate the story of a specific tramway, the content of the 15th (Preservation) being evident from its title. With the exception of Section 15, which contains only photographs and text, each Section follows a standard format. Sequentially, this consists of a Map of the system, (although for unknown reasons The Manx Electric Railway and the Snaefell Mountain Railway are not ‘map-equipped’), several pages of text and numerous photographs. The text itself also follows a format. This consists of a history of the tramway, and (through the use of subheadings), a list of the Depots (Locomotive-shed equivalents) that existed while the line was in existence, and the dates upon-which the system’s routes were closed and ceased to operate. Histories of the vehicles that each system employed are also given. These appear at the end of each Section and cover either classes or individual vehicles as appropriate. A 14-entry Bibliography placed after Section 15 completes the volume.  There is no Index, nor outline map of Wales, the Isle of Man or Ireland to place the tramways in context to the British Isles as a whole. The volume contains numerous monochrome and colour photographs. These are clear, clearly and informatively-captioned and from a variety of well-documented sources. Curiously, the first two words of each caption are presented in ‘bold’ format. Why this practice has been adopted is unknown. The Contents page contains no reference to the existence of images within the volume. The book also contains two colour images of tickets and a copy of a letter. These relate to the final day of operations of tramways in Cardiff.

Unfortunately, for this reviewer this book was let down by its lack of an Index. Prior to reviewing the volume he knew little about its subject and, in the absence of an Index, had absolutely no way of finding out more about the interesting subjects within the volume that he encountered. Who (for instance) were the Richardson family mentioned on pages 67 and 72? There was/is no way to know and no guarantee that even the most thorough search will in fact locate the information being sought. Similar arguments could be applied to such diverse subjects as equipment manufacturers, geographical locations or organisations. The lack of context-setting outline maps has been previously noted, while the text also contained small lapses of tense.

The matter of the Index notwithstanding, this volume is well-researched, well-written and easy to read. The author definitely knows his subject. As a result, this book is likely to appeal to those railway enthusiasts with a particular interest in all forms of street tramways within Wales, the Isle of Man and Ireland since 1945. It may also be of interest to those with a more ‘generalist’ interest in public transport within the British Isles while Historians with an interest in British and Irish Social History may find the images and text informative and useful. Railway modellers with street tramway interests may also be able to make use of the images that the volume contains. For visitors to the Isle of Man who have travelled on its tramways, this book might also be a worthwhile souvenir.

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

It should have been higher.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘ Regional Tramways: Wales, Isle of Man & Ireland Post 1945’

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

88. castrum to castle

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

82 Channel tunnel

Reviewer: Michael Keith Rimmer

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

Author: Nicholas Faith

Total Number of Pages: 223

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The History of the Port of London: A Vast Emporium of All Nations’

81. History of the Port of London

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: The History of the Port of London: A Vast Emporium of All Nations

Author: Peter Stone

Total No. of Pages: 250

Rating Scale (1: very poor; 10: excellent):

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At the time of the Great Exhibition of 1851, London was described as being ‘The workshop of the world’. It was, according to the author of this volume, ‘…The [British] Empire’s economic capital… and at the heart of the vast emporium was the Port of London’. This book is that port’s story.

To state that this book is comprehensive is to be given to understatement. It is well researched, well-written and quite readable, with the qualification that it is more thesis than light romance. Because of its subject, it is also very wide-ranging in its narrative. When reading it the reader is taken from the Ice Age and the formation of both the British Isles and the River Thames, to the Twenty-first Century (specifically 2017), and the problems attendant to redeveloping a port system which technology and commerce have now passed-by. In the course of this perambulation through time, the reader partakes in the social and maritime histories which moulded and influenced the port and its surrounds, together with the occasional dose of warfare and politics for good measure. The result, as previously noted, is comprehensive and readable. It is also extremely interesting.

The bulk of this volume consists of eight Chapters preceded by an Acknowledgements section where tribute is paid to those who assisted the author in creating the book. That is in turn followed by a Preface This is six pages in length and summarises what is to follow. The Chapters are divided into sequential blocks, with each covering a specific time period. Subheadings within each Chapter provide additional detail about a specific topic appearing within that section. Reproductions of five lithographs appear within the volume to illustrate relevant points of the narrative.  They are supplemented by sixteen photographs placed within a small section in the book’s centre. The images are informatively captioned, although several give no indication of their source. There is no reference to the existence of the images (or even of the ‘Photographic’ section per se’) on the Contents page or within the Index. The volume also contains several Maps. These show both the development of the port itself over the centuries and its relationship to Great Britain, Europe and the larger world. As with the previously-mentioned images, neither the Contents page nor the Index contains any reference to the existence of Maps within the volume. A Selective Bibliography is placed after the last chapter, the author noting that the titles it contains ‘…Have been consulted to varying degrees’. An Index completes the volume. While comprehensive, this reviewer found the presence of unexplained italicised words within the Index puzzling.

While some were evidently the names of ships, others appeared to be Latin in origin. Unsourced quotations also appear within the volume. The discovery that HMS Belfast (p. 222) was a ‘Battle cruiser’ instead of her designated class of ‘Light Cruiser’ was also of interest. This reviewer hopes that this misclassification was only an isolated aberration and not indicative of other, similar, errors. There is no way to know.

Because it covers a multitude of topics under the broad umbrella of being a ‘History’ of the specific Port of London area, this book it is likely to have a wider audience than just those interested in ‘ships and the sea’. By default it is also a ‘Social’ history; its descriptions of social behaviour and micro-societies associated with the Port of London being possibly useful to social historians as a result. Political Researchers investigating British politics and their effect on the Port of London and international trade may also find it interesting. Those with an interest Twentieth Century warfare in general and the World War II London ‘Blitzes’ in particular,  may also find it worth perusing.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor; 10: excellent), I have given it an 8½.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The History of the Port of London: A Vast Emporium of All Nations’