BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Red Line: A Railway Journey Through the Cold War’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: The Red Line: A Railway Journey Through the Cold War

Author: Christopher Knowles

Total Number of Printed Pages: 220

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

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In the introductory voice-over text of the television series Star Trek, viewers were told that the spacecraft’s mission was ‘To boldly go where no man has gone before’. This is a reasonable summation of this volume, with the only real difference being that the author had a party of paying tourists with him when he ‘boldly went’ into what was at that time, a completely foreign world; one that lurked all-unknown, behind the Iron and Bamboo Curtains.

This book is part autobiography and part travelogue, and, while narrating events that occurred enroute, inevitably contains the author’s personal views concerning those he was travelling with, the countries being travelled through and the people and systems he encountered while doing so. Ostensibly it narrates the author’s experiences while taking a party of tourists from London to Hong Kong during 1981; a time when the Cold War was at its height and Westerners were a novelty east of the Berlin Wall, In fact, however, it is not. Despite being  presented as a single event, this volume is in reality a compendium of several journeys made over an indeterminate period. It is a narrative that is held together with what is ultimately a fictional thread. Although not evident from the title, the author makes this clear in the Preface. Within that section (and when referring to the narrative that is being presented), he states that ‘What follows, combined into a single imaginary journey, is a selection of events that occurred over the years’. He also notes that ‘All the events are true and with the exception of the incarceration in Ulan Bator, which was the unfortunate fate of another, most happened to me’. The author concludes ‘…I have taken the liberty of occasionally taking them [the events] out of their original content in order to preserve the narrative flow’. The end result is what can best be described as a work of ‘faction’; a narrative that is part fact and part fiction. There is no way of knowing which is which. That this should be the case in a volume promoting itself as a ‘truthful’ narration of a single event, raises questions concerning the veracity of the information it contains.

The bulk of the book consists of 12 Chapters, which take the reader on a train journey from London to Hong Kong. Each Chapter covers a specific section of the over-all journey and relates events that occurred while travelling over it. The section is preceded by a Preface which provides a synopsis of what the book contains. An Acknowledgements section follows; within it the author thanks those who assisted him in the volume’s creation. Unsourced colour photographs appear randomly throughout the work, and are possibly from the author’s own collection. Their captions are informative, but there is no reference to their existence on the Contents Page. A single Map traces the journey that the narrative describes. There is no Index.

Because of its subject, this volume is likely to appeal to both those who made similar journeys and to ‘armchair travellers’ in search of a good story. Those who are interested in life in Eastern Europe and Communist China during the ‘Cold War’ may also find it informative. Sociologists seeking information about life in micro-communities (train passengers on long journeys) or of everyday life under Communist rule might also find it of interest. Although it is more concerned with the journey rather than the ‘technical details’, railway enthusiasts might also find the descriptions of trains interesting.

This book is well-written and engages the reader with its narrative. However, the fact that (in this reviewer’s opinion) it is a volume of ‘faction’ reduces its usefulness considerably. This is reflected in its Rating. It was potentially worthy of a much higher rating than it received.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Red Line: A Railway Journey Through the Cold War’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘England’s Historic Churches by Train: A Companion Volume to England’s Cathedrals by Train’

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Reviewer:  NZ Crown Mines

Title: England’s Historic Churches by Train: A Companion Volume to England’s Cathedrals by Train

Editor: Murray Naylor

No. of Pages: 215

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 9

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In the motor-vehicle dominated Twenty-first Century, the idea of travelling by train to a location with the expressed intention of viewing a Church is, for many people, ludicrous and ‘So Nineteenth Century’. No-one does that anymore; the motor vehicle is so much faster. For many, trains are ‘quaint’ and only to be used to commute to and from work.  Murray Naylor begs to differ.

In this well written and very-readable volume, the reader is taken through the length and breadth of England in pursuit of Church of England (Anglican) churches large and small. There are approximately 16000 such establishments within England’s borders, and of these the author has chosen thirty-two. In choosing these, he states ‘Some are great abbeys or priories…while others are…of no particular distinction but which provided a special interest for me’. To be chosen however, these churches had to fit certain specific criteria. The author wanted to use London as his base and, through the use of standard, scheduled railway services, make rail journeys over as wide a spread of England as he could. He also wanted to get to within 15 miles of each location by train, the remainder of the journey being made using either taxi or bus. With a single exception (that of Milton Abbey) these criteria were met, and the result is part railway narrative, part tourist guide, part history book and part picture book. When combined together the result is impressive.

An Acknowledgements section prefaces the book, with the author thanking those who assisted in its creation. This is followed by a Foreword by the Bishop of Carlisle, then a six-page List of Illustrations. A Summary of Railway Notes section then uses a single sentence format to précis the larger Railway Notes sections which appear within each chapter. An Author’s Note following the Summary of Railway Notes details the reasons for the book’s creation. A Preface (subtitled The Dissolution) is next. This provides an historical background to the creation of the Church of England and the Monarchy’s role within it. Finally, a two-page section titled The Journey provides helpful rail-related information for any reader wishing to visit the churches described within the volume. These sections are in turn followed by the 16 Chapters that comprise the main part of the book. These Chapters replicate England’s geographical regions (South East, Yorkshire, East Midlands etc.). Each Chapter is prefaced by a section titled Getting There. This provides clear rail-based instructions for a reader to reach the locations described within that Chapter. This section is followed by a Railway Notes section in which the author gives a ‘Presentation of information appropriate to railways…’  Sometimes a second Railway Notes section is also placed at the chapter’s end. The individual regions are subdivided into counties (Devon, Northumberland, Suffolk etc.). The chosen church or churches within that county are then described.

At the start of each descriptive section, two short passages précis the structure’s importance, physical location or other salient detail, together with its ‘Points of Note’ (windows, arches etc.). A more detailed description and history then follows.  An Epilogue is placed after the Chapters. Within it the author muses about the future of both the Churches within the book and the national railway network. A one-page Bibliography follows with an Index completing the volume. For unknown reasons, a map and an advertisement for the volume’s companion work are placed after the Index. Numerous colour photographs are provided, together with a small number of black and white images. Clear, well drawn, and easily interpreted maps appear throughout the work.

This reviewer’s only criticism of this book concerns the absence of a Glossary. As not every reader will be English, Anglican or an Architect, providing a list of the various Architectural and ‘Church’ terms used throughout the volume would have been helpful.

It is probable this volume will have wide appeal. At its simplest, and as an informative Tour Guide, it will appeal to the ‘Day Tripper’ with an interest in English history, who wants to travel by train and to see something different. Historians with an interest in Mediaeval and Tudor England, the English Monarchy and the evolution of the Church of England are likely to find this volume of interest. Architectural Historians may also find it of use. Those readers with a more general interest in the Kings of England, their times and tragedies may also find it worthy of their attention.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given this volume a 9.

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

BOOK REVIEW: ‘England’s Historic Churches by Train: A Companion Volume to England’s Cathedrals by Train’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘BRITAIN’S DECLINING SECONDARY RAILWAYS THROUGH THE 1960s’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: Britain’s Declining Secondary Railways Through the 1960s

Authors: Kevin McCormack and Martin Jenkins

Total Number of Printed Pages: 168

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

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According to the song Big Yellow Taxi, ‘…You don’t know what you’ve got, til its gone’ and in many ways this volume is reflective of those words. It records the demise of Britain’s branch line railways in all their faded glory, and while so-doing-so, also unintentionally records the attributes of a society that is now but a fond and increasingly-distant memory.

The volume is of the ‘Enthusiasts picture-book’ genre and was the result of a very deliberate campaign by one Blake Paterson to record scenes from the branch-line railways  being closed as Dr. Beeching attempted  to rationalise Britain’s  railways by the removal of   uneconomic lines. The result of Mr. Paterson’s efforts is a series of beautiful and evocative photographs. These depict trains of all sizes, shapes and varieties, in railway settings that range over the entire British Isles and include both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. That in itself is commendable and an admirable record has resulted. . However, at least for this reviewer, even more commendable is the unintentional recording that occurred; the ‘background things’ that portrayed 1950’s and ‘60’s Great Britain.   The image of Blower’s Green on page 101 is a case in point. Unintentionally, the volume has become a document of social history and on that basis it is possible that the images may have greater value beyond being merely ‘pictures of trains’.

The book consists of a two-page Preface written by Blake Paterson (the photographer and source of the images that appear within this work). This provides details of Mr Paterson s quest, with an Author’s Note from Messers McCormack and Jenkins adding some additional information. This is followed by the photographs which form the main body of the work. A single-page Index appearing on the book’s last page provides page numbers for the stations appearing within it. The volume contains no maps.

Although the authors’ of this volume (actually ‘Compilers’ in this reviewer’s opinion), state that: ‘An attempt has been made to arrange the images … on a rough geographical basis’,  they have not provided any maps to assist in locating where the images were taken. Although to an ‘enthusiast’, this is likely to be of little consequence, many readers of this volume will not be familiar with the British railway network.  In addition, and despite the excellent captions accompanying the photographs, readers will also be unlikely to know exactly where the photographs were taken. This could well reduce the volume’s usefulness and desirability.

Regrettably, and despite the fact that he is the sole source of the images it contains, the book contains no biographical details about Blake Paterson,  The previously-referred-to Preface and Author’s Note provides details of the ‘How’ and ‘Why’, for the volume’s photographs, with full biographical details of the Authors / Compilers appearing on the dust jacket. Mr. Paterson is not however, given the same courtesy. Although useful as the source of the photographs, he remains anonymous. To know more about him, his methods and the equipment he used, would have been of value – especially to those interested in railway photography.

This work is likely to appeal to a variety of readers. These could include railway enthusiasts, especially those with a specific interest in Branch Railways within the British Isles. Railway modellers with an interest in transition–era railways of the British Isles are also likely to find this volume of interest, while transport, social and political historians could find the images (especially what appears in the backgrounds) useful in their  researches.

As previously noted, the absence of both maps and biographical information about the photographer lessens this volume’s value, and for this reviewer, it is ultimately just a collection of very pretty pictures. Were that that was not so.

On that basis, and using a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I would give it a 7.

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

BOOK REVIEW: ‘BRITAIN’S DECLINING SECONDARY RAILWAYS THROUGH THE 1960s’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘RAILS ACROSS EUROPE: EASTERN AND SOUTHERN EUROPE’; ‘RAILS ACROSS EUROPE: NORTHERN AND WESTERN EUROPE’.

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Reviewer: N Z Crown Mines 

Title: Rails Across Europe: Eastern And Southern Europe

Rails Across Europe: Northern And Western Europe

Author: David Cable

Total No. of Pages: (Rails Across Europe: Eastern And Southern Europe): 258

(Rails Across Europe: Northern And Western Europe): 245

Colour Pages: (Rails Across Europe: Eastern and Southern Europe):248

(Rails Across Europe: Northern And Western Europe): 236

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): Photographs: 8; The overall volumes: 4.

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Although these are separate titles, the author notes that they are in fact ‘sister’ volumes; it is on that basis that this reviewer has chosen to deal with them as a single entity.

These works are hard-covered examples  of the ‘Enthusiasts’ picture books’ genre and contain colour images of locomotives (both with and without attached trains), in a wide variety of locations across the European continent.   The author very-evidently loves both his subject and photography, and has travelled widely in pursuit of his subject material. |It should be noted however that although the majority of the images are his own, contributions from other photographers also appear, a fact acknowledged by the author. The quality of the images is such, that if a reader is seeking a pair of books showing only contemporary ‘European’ trains, there would be few to rival what these works contain. It should however be noted that the section on the United Kingdom is not large, the author stating that this railway system will be the subject of a separate volume in its own right.

However, although the images are of excellent quality, this reviewer believes that these works are seriously let down in other areas. Because the volumes are arranged by country, this reviewer expected to find, at minimum, a map of Europe indicating international boundaries, borders ad railway networks.  He found none. Regional maps (to assist the reader in locating the sites where the images were photographed\) were also absent. There are no maps within these volumes, and unless the reader is familiar with the continent/region/ district, the locations and captions are virtually meaningless. Each volume contains an Introduction, Notes on railways of each country [sic], and nothing else.  There is no Index, Table of Contents, or Glossary. There is no way of identifying or locating the various locomotives (or even the sections for individual countries) within the volumes. No key is provided for the numerous abbreviations that appear within these volumes, making them of little value.

In precis, the images within this work are beautiful, the photography superb, and if that is what the purchaser is seeking, they will be well-satisfied. If however, a buyer is seeking some sort of ‘authoritative’ work (if only for random ‘dipping-type’ searching) then this work may not be what they require.

The inclusion of the absent additional items (Maps, Abbreviation Key etc.) could have made this work so much more; its potential may have been compromised by their absence.

On a rating scale of 1-10 where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I would give the photographs an 8, the overall volumes, 4.


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

BOOK REVIEW: ‘RAILS ACROSS EUROPE: EASTERN AND SOUTHERN EUROPE’; ‘RAILS ACROSS EUROPE: NORTHERN AND WESTERN EUROPE’.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Rails Across Australia: A Journey Through the Continent’.

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Reviewer: N Z Crown Mines

Title: Rails Across Australia: A Journey Through the Continent

Author: David Cable

Total No. of Pages: 258

Colour Pages: 248

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): Photographs: 8; The overall volume: 4.

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The volume Rails Across Australia: A Journey Through the Continent by David Cable, is of the genre known as ‘Enthusiasts’ picture books’ and contains 248 colour images of Australian trains and locomotives; some in preservation, but most in operating situations in a wide variety of locations across the continent.   The author travelled widely while resident in Australia, taking numerous photographs when doing so. He is a very competent photographer and some of the images can only be described as ‘stunning’. My personal favourite within the book is the ‘outback picture of ‘BHP CW60AC 6071 Chichester …pass Goldsworthy Junction …etc.’ (it’s a long caption) on page 142. This image is quintessentially ‘Australian’ in its content of blue sky, red dirt and a very, very long train. As an example of Mr. Cable’s photographic abilities it is excellent.

On this basis alone, some will find it worth purchasing.

However, the volume does have drawbacks, some major, some minor, with the most obvious a complete lack of maps of any sort. As a result, unless the reader is familiar with Australia and its railways, the locations and captions are largely meaningless.  As if this was not enough, no key is provided for the numerous abbreviations that appear within the work; again rendering them of little value. The reader should not have to guess what is meant.

The order of the photographs is also perplexing as it seems to follow no rhyme or reason. Locomotives and trains from different states are frequently placed opposite each other, rather than within sections applicable to their home railway systems and states. There is no apparent order for the locations. To this reviewer, it would have been logical to start with Queensland (in the north east of the country) and follow the population centres around until finally reaching Western Australia. This has not been done, reducing the volume’s usefulness.

The work has no Index, with the result being that should a specific location, train or locomotive be sought, a search through the entire volume becomes necessary; a very time-consuming and frustrating exercise.  There is no Table of Contents.

In precis, the images within this work are beautiful, the photography superb, and if that is what the purchaser is seeking, they will be well-satisfied. If however, a buyer is seeking some sort of ‘authoritative’ work (if only for random ‘dipping-type’ searching), then this work may not be what they require.

The inclusion of the additional items (Maps, Abbreviation Key etc.) could have made this work so much more; its potential may have been compromised by their absence.

On a rating scale of 1-10 where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I would give the photographs an 8, the overall volume, 4.

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

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Rails Across Australia: A Journey Through the Continent’.