BOOK REVIEW: ‘Ocean Liners: An Illustrated History’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Ocean Liners: An Illustrated History

Author: Peter Newall

Total Number of Printed Pages: 192

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

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In his Foreword to this volume, Dr Stephen M. Payne describes this book in the following manner: ‘Ocean Liners provides a very informative voyage through the history of many of the ships, the advancing technologies that drove innovation and the companies that operated them’. It is a reasonable summation.

The volume opens with the previously-mentioned Foreword. Placed after the Contents page, this is in turn followed by the author’s Introduction in which he precis’ what is to follow and explains that what he has ‘…Tried to achieve with this book is a balanced coverage of the 100-year history of ocean liners…’ An Acknowledgements section on the same page thanks those who assisted with the book’s creation. The nine Chapters which form the bulk of the volume then follow. These cover the development of the ocean liner from its Nineteenth Century origins to its final demise in the 1970’s. Within each Chapter, subsections provide information about a specific technological or historical development, each subsection being accompanied by one (sometimes two), monochrome photographs of vessels which are relevant to the specific narrative. An Index completes the work.

The volume is of the ‘Enthusiasts Picture Book’ genre and it consequently contains numerous photographs. These are of high quality and have reproduced well. They are however, unsourced. Numerous shipping companies are mentioned within the text, many being abbreviated; P&O (the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company) being one such example. There is however, no central list for either the Companies or the abbreviations. There are no maps.  The volume’s Index contains the names of those vessels which appear as illustrations within it. Where a named / illustrated vessel’s sisters are mentioned in the context of the narrative, these are frequently (but not always) omitted from the Index; Lhasa, Lama and Lunka (page 47) being a case in point. The inclusion or omission of such names appears to be random. Curiously, where a vessel has been renamed (and the new name is  specifically mentioned within the narrative), no Index entry for the new name appears. For readers who might know only the ‘rename’, this lack could prove problematic when undertaking a search. The owning Companies, the builders who constructed them and their countries of origin are also not mentioned. While it is probable that such information will be found within the volume, the absence of relevant Index entries renders this invisible to the reader.  With no certainty that what is being searched for actually exists, for this reviewer this lack is a major failing. It will  inevitably impact on the volume’s usefulness as a reference source. In addition, and although various ‘nautical’ terms are used throughout the volume, no interpretative Glossary is provided. What (for example) does the abbreviation ‘gt’ mean, and what is a ‘knot’? In the absence of an explanation, the layman-reader cannot know.

This is a ‘Beautiful’ book; the images being a pleasure to look at.  As a result it may well appeal to readers (even those with little nautical interest) who seek beautiful black and white images of beautiful ships. Serious researchers may however be disappointed, the previously-mentioned ‘difficulties’ with the Index et al making searching for specific information more of a chore than should be necessary. Ship Modellers with an interest in specific passenger vessels are likely to find this volume a useful resource.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Ocean Liners: An Illustrated History’