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’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘ A Marine Artist’s Portfolio: The Marine Paintings Of Susanne Fournais’

80. Marine artist's portfolio

Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: A Marine Artist’s Portfolio: The Marine Paintings Of Susanne Fournais

Author: Susanne Fournais Grube

No. of Pages: 103

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 8

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In this volume’s Introduction, and when explaining the reasons for this volume, the author states ‘I’ve been very fortunate in being able to demonstrate [my] love of and fascination in the sea through art’ and that she has been ‘Lucky enough to be able to devote time to painting those subjects that I find of interest as well. These paintings form the basis of this book’. It is an accurate precis of a beautifully-illustrated volume.

This volume contains no Contents page; the first section being an Introduction where-in the author provides a historical and personal background to her nautical interest, while also acknowledging the assistance she received in the book’s creation. A small, single-column section titled My Painting Techniques appears on the extreme left hand edge of the following page (page six) ; the title being self-explanatory. The six ‘Sections’ forming the main part of the work then follow. These are analogous to Chapters. They are however un-numbered and cover a wide variety of subjects from Liberty ships to Lighthouses, to Crustacea and to Shells. Although nominally on a single subject (for example Tugboats, ferries and pilots in ‘Section’ Two), the section ‘titles’ are frequently ‘catchalls’ for the artist’s work; the previously-mentioned section containing images of both naval vessels and maritime paraphernalia; subjects falling outside the nominal range implied by that section’s ‘title’. Each Section is prefaced by an introductory essay. These provide background to the types of vessel likely to be found within the section (Wooden boats and yachts in ‘Section’ 6 being one such example), and set the scene for the images that are to follow. That the images within the section might include subjects that are neither ships nor boats is not however mentioned. The images, when they appear, are spectacular, and portray their subjects (whether on land, in the sea or from below it) in all sorts of settings and situations. The majority of images are single-paged in format. However, for unexplained reasons, several pages contain groups of smaller images, provided perhaps to display as many of the artist’s works as possible within a constrained environment. The image colours are beautiful, sharp and very evocative. They display the artist’s talent and distinctive style to full advantage. Such Captions as are provided are the titles of the individual pieces. The volume contains no ‘technical’ information about the subjects being portrayed. An Epilogue placed after the last image (Marie) provides information about the artist’s travels, whereabouts and her future intentions. The volume contains no list of the images that appear within it. There is no Index.

As previously-noted, the images within this volume are beautiful and a credit to their creator. They are equally however, the source of a major criticism concerning this work; namely that there is simply no way to find a specific vessel or image. Should a reader to whom ‘A ship is a ship, is a ship’, merely want a ‘Pretty picture book’ of marine things, they will have no problems with this aspect of the volume. However, should said reader (perhaps a ship modeller or a crew-member of one of the vessels portrayed), wish to find an image of (for example) Mineral Zulu (page 51), they will have to spend time trying to find if the vessel is even actually within the work, with no guarantee of success for their efforts. In this reviewer’s opinion such searching for a possibly-disappointing end-result should not be necessary; things could have been done better.  An Index, or (at the very least), a page containing a List of Plates / Images and the appropriate page numbers, would have been extremely helpful. A Contents page showing the titles and locations of the various ‘Sections’ (while also numbering them), when combined with the previously-suggested list of plates, would have also contributed to reduced searching times.

There is no doubt that this is a beautiful book and a pleasure to view. Followers of the artist will, of course, be delighted with its content. Lovers of ships and ‘Things Nautical’ may well find it worthy of their attention, while ship modellers and other marine artists may find the colours and details useful. On the presumption that the vessels portrayed actually exist, it is also likely that the crews of such craft will find the images and the artist’s interpretations to be of interest. It is also likely to appeal to those who simply like beautiful images of ships and the sea and who would purchase a volume of images for just that reason. It is indeed a ‘Work of Art’.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given this volume an 8.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘ A Marine Artist’s Portfolio: The Marine Paintings Of Susanne Fournais’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘River Gunboats: An Illustrated Encyclopaedia’

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Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: River Gunboats: An Illustrated Encyclopaedia

Author: Roger Branfill-Cook

No. of Pages: 336

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

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In the Introduction to this volume, the author defines a ‘Gunboat’ as being ‘…The smallest type of warship able to project naval power, whether used to protect harbours and coastline…for patrol and policing duties or simply as a ‘presence’ in far-flung parts of the world’. The definition is an accurate one and an effective summary of what is to be found within this volume; small shallow-draft warships of many shapes and sizes, doing both mundane and at times astonishing, things. The author also notes that ‘This is the first work to cover the subject as fully as possible at the time of writing’.

Within the volume, an Introduction placed after the Contents page, after explaining the origins of the author’s interest in these vessels, defines the volume’s scope, while also explaining the absence of maps within it and acknowledging the problems associated with some of the sources used during its creation. A section titled Notes of the Plans and Specifications follows. The title is self-explanatory, and refers to the numerous plans within the book and the definitions used throughout it. An Acknowledgements section follows. Within it, those individuals and organisations which contributed to the volume are thanked. The main part of the volume follows. This is arranged alphabetically, and consists of 76 named ‘Sections’ (somewhat analogous to ‘Chapters’) of varying size, each devoted to lake and river gunboat operations by a nation-state, the term ‘Nation-state’ being used in this instance to include small self-governing countries / territories which, for a variety of reasons, were subsumed into a larger entities after a brief period of independence. Acre (the volume’s first entry) is one of these, existing between 1899 and 1903, in which year it became part of Brazil. There are several similar examples. Within each ‘Section / Chapter’, a brief history at the start provides a broad historical background before subsections within the ‘Chapter’ detail the activities of the various gunboats that that state operated. Where specific military activities require it, additional historical information is given at the start of individual subsections; that titled Lake Nyassa (within the larger ‘Chapter’ titled Great Britain), being but one such example. The vessels themselves are treated in two ways; either as an entire class, or, where applicable, as individual named entities. The military activities of each vessel or class is described in detail with a technical specification (Launched, Dimensions, Power / Speed, Guns / Armour and Fate) appearing at the end of each vessel-specific section. For a variety of reasons it was not possible to provide images of every class or individual vessel described within this volume. Despite that, the author has managed to illustrate the majority of entries with at least one image, some sourced, some not. Although largely photographic in nature, plans, etchings and half-tone drawings have also been used where photographs have not been available. Several ‘Chapters’ contain plans of the weapons carried by specific vessels. The Details of the 90mm De Bange System gun on page 123 is an example of this. A Bibliography follows the ‘Chapters’ section. This lists the written and electronic media used during the writing of the volume. It is in turn followed by two Appendices.  The first (Appendix 1: River and lake Gunboats in Popular Culture) explores how these craft have been portrayed in film, the print media and on stamps. The title of Appendix 2 (River Gunboat Camouflage) is self-explanatory. Unlike the rest of the volume, all images within the Appendices are in colour. An eight-page Index completes the volume. The volume contains no Maps, the author stating (in the Introduction) that ‘…I have preferred to give the space [that Maps would have occupied] over to descriptions of all the…gunboats I have found rather than dedicate many dozens of pages to maps which are freely accessible elsewhere’. Whether such a lack is important would be for the individual reader to decide.

The lack of Maps notwithstanding, this reviewer found this volume to be a most interesting, well-researched and readable volume, its encyclopaedic nature making it ideal for ‘dipping into’ should information about a specific vessel or class of vessel be sought. It was not however faultless, with the Index in particular proving problematical. The Index is ‘vessel-specific’ in its focus, to the extent that, with rare exceptions, the majority of entries are of the individual names / classes of vessels which appear within the volume. There are no references to either geographical locations or the military operations which appear within the book, the previously-mentioned Lake Nyassa being but one example of such a situation. As if this in itself was not enough, within the Index the standard entry consists of a vessel name followed by a country, but without an individual entry for the latter or the military operations within which it participated. The Index entry for Rangiriri proves the point. The entry appears as Rangiriri. GREAT BRITAIN,179,180. In this instance the Index contains no individual ‘Country’ entry for GREAT BRITAIN, potentially making searching difficult if the vessel name was not known. For this reviewer it would have been preferable to include BOTH vessel and ‘Country’ names as separate entities, the latter acting as an ‘umbrella’ under-which which the former could be located. While that is problematic in itself, in Rangiriri’s case there is also no Index-entry for NEW ZEALAND, the country where-in that vessel served exclusively. Without being able to quickly search for it under its country of origin (Great Britain) or its service use (New Zealand) a reader seeking information relating to  Rangiriri (for example) may be unable to do so; the arrangement of the Index simply does not permit it. Unfortunately, the volume contains numerous similar examples, and for a section intended to enable quick location of relevant information, the lack described-above certainly makes searching more difficult. It is, in this reviewer’s opinion, a major failing. Whether these details are important will, of course, depend on the individual reader.

It is rare for this reviewer to describe a volume as being a ‘Labour of love’, yet that is what this volume is, the author having put an incredible amount of effort into writing what should deservedly become a Standard Reference Work on its subject. Despite the previously motioned ‘difficulty’ with the Index, this book is likely to be of interest to Naval Historians, ‘Generalist’ Military Historians with an interest in ‘Small Wars’ and readers with an interest in both naval and general military operations around the world. Warship modellers with an interest in these vessels may also find the volume’s plans and photographs useful. Film and literature buffs seeking further information about gun boat-related movies and books they may have seen or read, may also find useful information within this volume.

On a Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): I have given this volume an 8½.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘River Gunboats: An Illustrated Encyclopaedia’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Taming the Atlantic: The History of Man’s Battle with the World’s Toughest Ocean’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Taming the Atlantic: The History of Man’s Battle with the World’s Toughest Ocean

Author: Dag Pike

Total Number of Pages: 222

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

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In Winds, Currents and Wild Seas, the introductory chapter to this volume, the author describes a close encounter he had with a storm in the North Atlantic [or ‘Western’] Ocean. He concludes ‘…The experience taught me to observe due reverence and respect for the Western Ocean, a wild stretch of sea that for centuries has been both a route for commerce and a barrier to trade’. Although the Atlantic Ocean actually has two sections (‘North’ and ‘South’) this book is primarily about its Northern section and, delivered with ‘Due reverence and respect’, it details mankind’s battle with what the author terms ‘The world’s Toughest Ocean’. It is a fascinating read.

The volume is prefaced with an Acknowledgements section in which the author thanks those who assisted him in its writing. Unusually, he also thanks ‘…The millions of people who have crossed the Atlantic in a variety of ships and boats…’; for this Reviewer, a nice touch. The twelve Chapters forming the main part of the book then follow. The previously-mentioned Chapter 1 (Winds, Currents and Wild Seas) acts as both a precis for the volume and a scene-setter for what is to come. In addition to the author’s personal narrative (and as the title suggests), it also details the geographical and atmospheric phenomena which contribute to the whole ‘Toughest Ocean’ appellation. Effectively, it acts as a base for what follows.  The geography and phenomena thus established, Chapters 2-9 narrate the maritime history of the ocean, and traces the exploration and exploitation of the North Atlantic Ocean over many centuries. The technological developments that occurred during this period are also explored, while the at-times bizarre attempts by individuals and groups to cross the ocean under their own power and for their own reasons are also investigated and assessed. Chapter 10 (An Ocean in Turmoil) returns again to the theme of the North Atlantic’s weather and waves, with the author’s personal experiences again adding a human touch to the narrative. Perhaps inevitably, Chapter 10 is followed by another Chapter (Number. 11) titled Disasters on the Atlantic. Within this the expected names appear (RMS Titanic being one such example), together with other, lesser known, vessels, their common theme being that they all fell victim to the ocean’s wrath. Chapter 12 (The Future) is the final part of the volume’s main section. In it the author reflects on future possibilities and liabilities associated with the Atlantic Ocean, offering his thoughts about the sea, ship design and human nature while so-doing. A Select Bibliography placed after Chapter 12 records the sources used when writing this book, while a six-page Index completes it.  The volume contains a large number of monochrome prints, and black and white and colour photographs (some sourced, the majority not), together with an assortment of Maps, Plans Diagrams, Charts and Tables that relate to the narrative. While informatively captioned, the existence the Maps, plans etc. is not noted on either the Index or Contents pages. Unusually, and  although there is a ‘local’ map (Captioned ‘The North Atlantic Ocean stretches from the Tropics to the Arctic’) there is no Mercator-type expanded global map to precisely-fix the Atlantic Ocean’s location on Planet Earth. For this reviewer, it is an unhelpful omission. Unfortunately there is also no Glossary to enlighten non-maritime readers as to the meanings of the nautical terms that the book contains. What (for example) is an ‘Astrolabe’ (page 29)? In the absence of an informative description, a reader cannot know.

While well written and informative, for this reviewer, this book was let down in several areas. Numerous unsourced quotes appear within it (Alain Gerbault’s on pages 102-103 being but one example), but with no supporting citations, their authenticity is inevitably suspect, and they have little value to researchers. The Index should also be treated with some caution. A random ‘Index’ search for La Dauphin (page 27) and  Mary Celeste (page 195) found nothing, while curiously, although the Flying Enterprise (page 197) was also missing from the Index, her captain (Curt Carlson) appears within it. As these ‘errors’ were found during a random search, there is no way to know what else may be missing, and (at least for this reviewer), the authority of the Index is now in doubt. Small grammatical errors were also noticed.

This volume is eminently readable, there being no doubt that the author of knows his subject. As a result (and despite the previously mentioned ‘failings’), it is likely to have broad appeal. It likely to be of interest to both Historians with an interest in ‘Things maritime’ and the ‘Weekend sailor’ who just wants to read and learn more about the ocean at his doorstep.  Those who love ‘ships and the sea’ in a more general way are also likely to find this book of interest, while a reader looking for something for a wet Sunday afternoon, will probably find it worthy of their attention. Ship modellers may also find some of the images of use.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Taming the Atlantic: The History of Man’s Battle with the World’s Toughest Ocean’

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’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘World Naval Review 2018’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: World Naval Review 2018

Editor: Conrad Waters

No. of Pages: 192

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 7

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To look forwards it is sometimes necessary to look back and although its’ title suggests this volume is a review of ‘things naval’ for 2018, in fact it isn’t. Rather, by virtue of being written and published in 2017, it is a ‘forecast’ of what the editor and his associates believe will be likely to happen militarily on the world’s oceans during 2018. It is simultaneously both a review and a preview.

The volume has no Chapters per se’ but consists of four Sections which function in a similar manner. Each section deals with a specific subject (for example World Fleet Reviews; Section 2; Technological Reviews; Section 4), and within each Section subsections provide more detail about a specific part of the aforementioned section. In many instances these subsections contain even smaller sections which fulfil the same function and provide even greater detail; the subsection Singapore, which forms part of the Regional Review – Asia and the Pacific (Section 2.2) of Section 2 World Fleet Reviews, being a case in point.  Within each larger Section (Chapter) the subsections follow a Section-specific numbering sequence. In Section 4 (For example), the sequence is 4.1; 4.2; 4.3 etc.  Where additional information is necessary, notes are provided at the end of the individual Sections (Chapters). These are keyed to sequentially-occurring and chapter-specific numbers within the text. The previously-mentioned subsections have been contributed by a variety of authors (Eight in total), these individuals being evidently experts in their fields. The Editor has contributed an Introduction along with various articles throughout the volume. A single-page Contributors section placed after Sub-section 4.4 is the volume’s final section. Numerous photos from a variety of sources appear throughout the book, together with tables, graphs, half-tone and line drawings. No mention of their existence appears on the Contents page. Surprisingly (for a volume which presents itself as being ‘authoritative’ on its subject), there is no Index, a detail which makes searching for a specific item difficult, there being no guarantee that what is being searched-for will even be located.  Such an omission is surprising and must inevitably reduce this book’s value and usefulness. Numerous acronyms are scattered throughout the volume, yet no central Glossary is provided to enable quick reference to their meanings should the need arise. Despite publication-sources being referred-to within each Section-end Notes section, there is also no stand-alone Bibliography. No Maps are provided.

While the lack of a Glossary, Maps and evidence of Photographs etc. is a cause for concern, for this reviewer, the complete lack of an Index in an otherwise authoritative and well-written volume is a major failure. The purpose of an Index is to be able to locate specific information quickly and easily, the corollary being that its absence must make information-location both slow and difficult. As already noted, searching through this volume confirms the corollary’s premise! Where quick reference could be crucial, to have to fruitlessly search through innumerable pages could, at minimum, be farcical…

The provision of an Index in future editions of this title is strongly recommended.

The Index and other limitations notwithstanding, this volume provides a comprehensive coverage of the contemporary international naval scene. On that basis it is likely to find a home on many military bookshelves, while readers with ties to the defence industry could also find it useful. Naval and aviation modellers interested in ‘modern’ naval equipment   may also find that this volume of use, while civilian readers with a more general interest in naval and military matters, international relations, or ships in general, may also find it worthy of their attention. .

In precis, this is an excellent, comprehensive and well-written book. For this reviewer however, it was let down by the small but important details, especially in respect of the Index.

On a rating scale of 1-10 where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I would give this volume a 7.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘World Naval Review 2018’